Use these 7 tips to build a landscaping distributor relationship that pays off.

It’s a wild time in the irrigation and landscaping industries. Bottlenecks in the supply chain, rising material costs and labor shortages depress the already high seasonality of landscaping and irrigation work.

Supplier support can do or pause a job, especially if an emergency arises. The efficiency a wholesaler provides has a direct impact on the bottom line and even your reputation as a contractor.

Building a successful relationship with your distributor shouldn’t be at the bottom of your to-do list.

These seven contractor tips will help build a partnership that will benefit your business.

1. Minimize fire exercises

Do you remember Aesop’s fable “The boy who cried the wolf”?

As a joke, the young shepherd claimed that a wolf was eating his sheep. After raising false alarms too many times, the villagers ignored his request for help. When the wolf actually appeared, no one responded to his call for help.

“Even if it could be an emergency, try not to always expect service on the same or the next day,” says Tom Dudich. He is a Service Manager at Chapel Valley Landscape Company, based in Woodbine, Maryland. “There are times when I need to redeem a favor, but don’t do it often.”

Suppliers, like the villagers in the fable, juggle many priorities. The reality is that they serve hundreds of customers and communicate with manufacturers to have the inventory they need. There will be times when you need to get a favor in order to fix a problem for a customer. But you can’t make everything into one rush request.

2. Meet in person

Even though COVID has proven that it is possible to conduct sales transactions virtually, face-to-face meetings still cultivate long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

“You have to show your face more than once a year,” says Scott Todd. The contractor, based in Rochester, New York, operates innovative irrigation solutions. “Some people place a large order at the beginning of the year, but you have to stop by a few times during the year.”

If you stop by the dealer regularly, you have the opportunity to establish a personal connection. They may know you by name, phone number, or email address, but meeting face-to-face helps build trusting relationships. The show also sends a clear message that the relationship is important to your company.

3. Create an exchange of values

As a contractor, you want the best price, materials, and support to get any job done. Distributors benefit from the revenue from every sale, but meaningful relationships run deeper than dollars and cents.

Another way to foster stronger connections is to create an exchange of values. It may seem like you’re encouraging colleagues to move their business to the business of your choice. This also means taking advantage of additional benefits such as design services.

“They will often do the design for free if you buy the product from them.

4. Stay in touch

Suppliers order inventory and hire staff based on their customer volume. These decisions are made based on historical purchases but also through ongoing conversations while being open, honest and in regular communication. Open conversations help them better plan materials and services for you and their other clients.

“I work with our distributor every day,” says Dudich. He has five teams of technicians on duty every day and maximizes their time on site by making sure they have the materials they need. “I will send orders via text message, phone call or email and schedule deliveries. All of this helps to build trust. “

Technology makes it easier than ever to communicate needs, but without a process it can quickly get out of control and lead to misunderstandings, headaches and frustrations. Create a communication plan with your sales rep that will support an effective business partnership with fewer bottlenecks, more punctual deliveries, fewer rush shipping costs and, most importantly, fewer problems for you.

5. Negotiate fair prices and terms

The bottom line is that every penny counts. You have to pay employees and cover overheads; Distributors also need to generate revenue to stay in business. Understanding how suppliers set price points is key to negotiating fair prices and terms that will benefit both parties.

The best price is a little difficult to negotiate, especially given the high level of support that Robert Kerns, CID, CIC, CLIA, seeks. As President of Custom Turf Inc., Finleyville, Pennsylvania, he realizes that no company can have all three pillars of the stool: best quality, best service, and best price. He relies on the purchase volume and accordingly relies on distributors and negotiates mutually advantageous prices.

“We’re buying some ‘safer items’ online and we’re excited about the cost savings,” says Kerns. “However, we do not overlook the need for strong sales support. In the long term, these relationships have made us a more efficient company. “

When it comes to wholesale price negotiations, volume speaks. The more you buy, the more opportunities you have to take advantage of steeper discounts and more generous payable policies. Pricing is important, but additional perks like discounts and special conditions arguably offer greater opportunities to build a win-win relationship between contractors and suppliers.

“We have a very strict accounts payable policy of paying on time or even in advance and taking advantage of the payment discounts offered,” he adds. “With this guideline we have the best conditions.”

Smaller contractors do not have the purchasing power to take advantage of high product discounts themselves.

Working with a like-minded business owner to jointly plan inventory and order can help both achieve discountable sales volume.

6. Establish expectations

Nobody is a mind reader and everyone brings a different approach to the business table. It’s easy to take it for granted or assume that everyone is on the same page. Without setting clear expectations from the start, things can quickly go wrong.

Be honest with suppliers about the size of your company and discuss how often you need materials, what is most important to you in a business relationship, and what kind of support you need for the job, says Dudich. Over-selling or under-selling the size of your business to a sales rep can undermine relationships.

Talk to distributors about what is most important to you and your business model. In the Maryland / Metro DC area, Dudich has two major concerns, and price is not one of them. Location and inventory are the two most important wholesaler attributes. Even if a sprinkler head costs 5 cents more with one supplier than another, they will choose the nearest store to save just 15 minutes of travel time to collect the parts. He works with several vendors in the area and is open when they ask for purchases.

“The price usually comes up by itself. You can ask a few cents more for a head and a few cents less for a valve, so it makes up for that,” he says. “You will quickly find out whether the price is one-sided.”

In some markets, price can be a moot point. There is only one windowed irrigation distributor in Todd’s area. With just one gig in town, it’s difficult to negotiate the price on your own. You either buy it there or pay exorbitant shipping costs from suppliers outside the city.

“I’ve been around for so long that I just go with the flow and trust they’ll treat me fairly,” says Todd. “I’ve made some comparative purchases and they are in the past so I trust them.”

7. Request for product help

Distributors have incentives for stocking and promoting certain items. Many products are mature and tested.

However, redesigns and new releases are common as the industry seeks to improve efficiency. Even the most reputable brands can have production issues that lead to failures in the field.

“The distributors will of course offer the cables that they run and support. We usually have better relationships with distributors who are persistent enough to only support the best products in the industry, ”says Kerns. “We lost a sales partner relationship when they didn’t want to come to our aid with a manufacturer problem. And the industry was aware of this topic. “

Todd takes input from his suppliers into account, but experiments with new products on his lawn before installing them in the workplace. It’s not a lack of trust, but as an industry veteran with more than three decades of experience, he’s more technical than any sales person.

“I do my own research before pursuing something or buying something I’m not familiar with. It’s too expensive if it doesn’t work, ”says Todd.

Two-way street

Neither contractors nor distributors would be in business without each other, and networking is vital. Contractors reach out to their suppliers to inform them of trends, cycles and offers so that they can maximize their investments. Professionalism is contagious and respect grows from it.

“Act on the role and a good distributor will follow. Likewise customers, employees and everyone with whom we have contact in our life, ”says Kerns.

It boils down to integrity, honesty, reputation, and professionalism on both sides of the counter, he says. Both parties understand and appreciate the mutual benefit of working together. Both companies are in business to make a living, and what makes a really great relationship goes well beyond pricing.

“We are all active in the industry and know the regional distributors and their reputation,” says Kerns. “We carefully develop these relationships because we know they must reflect our business and our reputation. We cultivate these relationships over the long term with mutual respect and loyalty. “

The author is a freelance writer based in Mechanicville, New York and can be reached at

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