They’re often an overlooked link in the kitchen and bath industry’s product-distribution chain, but their impact on the flow of commerce is immeasurable – and far more critical than many people think.
I’m referring to the legion of independent and factory sales reps who link product manufacturers to their customer base of kitchen and bath dealers, designers, remodelers, hardware/plumbing showrooms and other key specifiers.
Manufacturers’ reps, in many ways, are the unsung heroes who make the kitchen and bath industry hum, foot soldiers in the army of sales professionals who fuel the industry’s continued vibrancy and success. Without reps, manufacturers have no way of supplying and servicing their customers and, ultimately, consumers. Without them, design pros lack access to product, sales training, marketing support and other much-needed services.
The critical role played by independent and factory sales reps is illuminated by a major new survey conducted for Kitchen & Bath Design News by its exclusive research partner, the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI). KBDN’s latest Product Specification Survey, conducted in late summer, was aimed at identifying the key criteria design professionals rely upon when selecting and specifying kitchen and bath products.
The nationwide poll revealed, among its other findings, that while superior product design, supplier reputation and consumer preference rank as the most critical factors when it comes to adding or changing a product line, the dealer/designer relationship with their manufacturers’ rep was reported to be a major factor as well – far more important than favorable pricing terms, higher profit margins, incentive programs, brand name or colleague recommendation. Nine in 10 surveyed designers, in fact, said they feel their rep is either “somewhat” or “very important” in their decision to continue to carry a product line.
Similarly, while poor product quality, negative client feedback and problems with delivery emerged as the leading reasons to drop an existing product line, not enough (or poor) rep support was identified as a major factor, too – far more significant, in the minds of surveyed designers, than lack of adequate product availability, decreased consumer demand or price.
Other survey results also point to the critical role manufacturers’ reps play in product-buying decisions. To wit:
- When identifying important supplier attributes, product quality ranks highest, followed by prompt, reliable and complete delivery and consistent, competitive pricing. But right behind those factors – and far more important than product availability, warranties, territorial exclusivity, purchasing incentives and marketing assistance – is the knowledge and helpfulness of manufacturers’ reps.
- When it comes to the characteristics they most value in a rep, surveyed designers cite a knowledge/understanding of products; a prompt response to issues that arise; consistent support, and good communication. Perks like contests, trips and tickets to events pale by comparison.
- When commenting on what attributes suppliers need to improve most, rep knowledge and helpfulness ranked just below product quality and prompt, reliable and complete delivery – but significantly higher than such factors as product availability and pricing.
The good news, as gleaned from KBDN’s survey, is that the vast majority of surveyed design pros report that their reps are either “somewhat” or “very” helpful in providing the level of service that’s needed. Less encouraging is the finding that three in four surveyed design pros report they’d like to see some or all of their manufacturers’ sales reps more frequently.
Stated succinctly, the latest KBDN/RICKI survey contains important cues for suppliers trying to make hay in today’s competitive, fast-paced market. While excellent product, competitive pricing and prompt delivery remain key components for success, the most effective strategy of all may simply be to hire, train and support sales reps who know how to service their customers. ▪