For the rest of the season the most-important relationship sealcoating contractors will have is with their material suppliers. This is the person (or company) that provides you the product you need to get the job done, to keep your clients happy, and to help you have a profitable year.
Sealer suppliers say many contractors can get more out of the relationship with the suppliers if they simply improve, in quantity and quality, their communication with suppliers.
"Ongoing communication back and forth goes a long way. It builds trust and lays the groundwork for a healthy relationship with your vendor," says Lee Lowis, Surface Coatings Co.
Lowis urges contractors to communicate with suppliers all the time - not only when a problem arises."Don't put value on communication with your supplier only when things are going bad," Lowis says. "If a contractor calls me up and lets me know he's beyond terms and here's why and here's what happened, then I know he's thinking about it and he's aware. If I have to chase him down and leave message after message to try to get in touch with him my view of that customer becomes skewed; it's just human nature."
Rob Vance, Vance Brothers, agrees.
"A big part of a successful relationship is communication, not just the bad but the good, whether it be products, service, price - communication is a big deal," Vance says. "A lot of the time the customer just doesn't tell us something or they don't think we need to know - or they assume that we do know. But feedback is essential."
Lowis says contractors should look to their own businesses and the relationships they try to develop with their customers, then apply that to their relationship with their suppliers.
"If they get feedback from their customers they can perform better; it works the same way with us," he says. "If a customer has an issue and they get in touch with us and say, 'Can you guys do anything for me?' That gives me an opportunity to help. I know there's value in our business relationship and that puts him in a better light for when I deal with him the next time. But if I have a customer who is unhappy and doesn't tell me, I can't fix it."
Bill Maclean, Brewer Co., says contractors should communicate with suppliers because the supplier can be a valuable resource. "Over the years we have encountered a lot of things that the contractor may have never seen before. If they see something unusual they should call us. We can almost always identify what the cause is and if there is a fix. Most of the time we get the call after something has become an issue with their customer. We are always happy to help with damage control but the customer's reaction to something unusual will be better if the contractor points it out to them with an explanation at the time."
Vance Brothers says some contractors seem reluctant to call for help or even with problems.
"It's usually the smaller contractors who are afraid to speak up a little bit. They're afraid to say 'I noticed this with your product' because they may be worried about damaging a business relationship, but that's just not going to happen," Vance says. "But if they don't tell us we can't help them, and maybe they will stop using our product when there's no reason to. Maybe it's something they're doing that we can help them with, or maybe there's something that we're doing that we need to know about. There might have been a problem on a jobsite that was resolved in the field and we didn't even know there was a problem. So just talk with your supplier. I can tell you that letting us know what's going on is not going to damage the relationship. It lets everyone know what's going on."
"The common theme here is communication," says SealMaster's Matt Purdy. "Let the supplier know what type of work you will be focusing on so they not only know what to recommend and how to use the products but also to keep you informed of upcoming projects and work that is up for bid."
Other recommendations include:
- Stay current on your account. It sounds obvious but sealer suppliers say it's possibly the most-important mistake many contractors make as the season progresses and as they wait for payment from their customers. There will be a day, and probably more than one, when you will need your supplier to do you a favor - deliver material, advance you material, open the yard early or stay late so you can buy a tank load - and those favors are much more difficult to ask (and easier to turn down) if your payables to the supplier are way behind schedule. "So the most important and honest answer would be to stay current with their accounts payable to the supplier," Purdy says.
- Follow the manufacturer's specifications. "The manufacturer knows what the products' limitations are, how they should be applied, and where so the customer gets the desired results," Purdy says. "Contractors shouldn't be afraid to call the manufacturer with questions to get answers you don't know rather than assuming what the product can or can't do and have problems rear their ugly head on you."
- Know who to contact at your supplier. This is not a problem in smaller locations or at local suppliers who operate lean when it comes to salespeople. "But at larger operations salespeople are often difficult to reach so contractors need to know who that person is and how to reach him," Vance says. "It is perfectly fine for contractors to be proactive in finding out who they should be conversing with and what the inter-dynamics of their supplier's business is. This will make for a stronger relationship for both and may reveal better insight as well." Vance suggests contractors contact suppliers early in the season to introduce themselves, to get a variety of contact options from the supplier, and to let the supplier know who you are.
- Use and market the material the supplier is marketing. "The contractor should relay the same product message as the supplier or manufacturer," Purdy says. "If the contractor is promoting one product when the supplier in their market is advertising another product, that just makes it confusing for the end user and makes it more difficult to grow the market for both parties."
- Work with the supplier (or manufacturer) on a warranty that makes sense for both of you. "If you have a few jobs that trigger some calls by the property owners, don't just assume it's the product's fault," Purdy says. "Keep detailed notes about the project when it was complete. When was the job done? What specific product was used? If mixing was required what mix design did you follow, etc. Be honest with the supplier so he knows what steps to take to help resolve the issue that will keep the customer happy with you."
- Buy in bulk. Purdy urges all contractors that can justify buying material in bulk to add a tank to their yard and do it "at your highest affordable level. You will be able to get a better price per gallon, achieve better profit margins, and save time with fewer trips to the supplier, which saves you money as well," Purdy says.