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September Is Service Tech Month

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

September is shaping up to be a busy and exciting month for GAWDA. First, we’re less than two weeks away from the Annual Convention, September 9-12 in Colorado Springs. But that’s not the only thing to be excited about for the coming month. Welding & Gases Today has declared the month of September as Service Technician’s Month.

Why dedicate a month to the industry’s service techs? Service techs play an incredibly important role for distributors. When a customer’s equipment goes down, the lost productivity can be very costly. In some industries, an hour of down time is equivalent to thousands of dollars of productivity. The experience a customer has with his or her repair is one that will have a lasting impact on a customer’s loyalty…or choice to take his/her business elsewhere.

Whether it’s welding equipment, a car or anything else in need of repair, great service from a service tech is something that people remember. As for myself, the experiences that stand out are those times when the technician took the time to listen, ask questions and then explain the problem and process of repair. The best techs I know are those who have taken a personal interest in my repair, going above and beyond the call of duty, and taking an unusual repair as a personal challenge.

Then again, I also remember the service techs who didn’t bother to call when my repair was done, or those who tried to up-sell me for unnecessary repairs. It’s also a bit jarring when a repair tech quotes you one price and then charges a very different number.

The bottom line is that a repair tech is perfectly positioned to solidify a customer relationship for life…be it through a timely repair that gets the customer back up and running, or a simple thing like knowing the customer’s name…but that same tech has the power to alienate customers.

So this September, GAWDA salutes the oft-unheralded service techs who keep customers happy and keep them running. Starting in September, we’ll have an honor roll of the industry’s best service techs. If you know a really good service tech, nominate them to honor their work and share what makes them so great. Plus, keep an eye out for a special contest involving service techs. I can’t reveal the details just yet, but needless to say, you won’t want to miss this.

Above I talked about my experiences and what stood out as good and bad service. Now I want to hear from you. What qualities in a service tech do you think make for a great customer experience?

Where Do You Rank Among Your Competitors?

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Plastic tape measurePicking up on my blog last week about being accountable for good service (“How Do You Know If You Have Bad Customer Service”), it’s important to look at service through the customer’s eyes. When it’s products—be it a welding machine, a cylinder of gas, etc—it’s easy to know if you’re meeting your customer’s needs. But service can be more elusive and difficult to measure in a customer’s eyes.

Arguably worse than bad service is spending time and resources to provide unwanted or unnecessary resources. This is just another reason why it is so important to know and weigh the ways your customers are measuring you as a distributor…So how exactly are they measuring you?

According to Bill Moore, senior vice president with bearings manufacturer SKF, “Top-tier distributors can bring into play engineering assistance from their manufacturer suppliers to optimize the performance of components.” That service, Moore goes on to tell Industry Week, can help address problems like recurring equipment failure.

Another thing manufacturers like SKF look for is how prepared a distributor is to react to an emergency situation. Within the gases and welding industry, distributors have been tested over the last year and a half by numerous challenges ranging from supply shortages like helium and acetylene to weather catastrophes (tornadoes, blizzards, etc). Moore says an emergency response plan is a sign of a top-notch distributor.

There are countless ways to measure a distributor, and perhaps the best way to know what your customers care about is to ask. Whether you use formal survey, a personal conversation or even social media, your customer will appreciate the fact that you care what he thinks.

How do your customers measure you as a distributor? Share by leaving a comment.

Why Niche Markets Are A Small Business’ Best Friend

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Niche Markets and Industry ConsolidationOver the past few weeks, there has been a great discussion in Welding & Gases Today’s On The Edge section about the impact of industry consolidation on GAWDA members’ businesses. If you haven’t had an opportunity to check it out yet, I recommend starting with small distributors’ reactions (here), then moving on to large distributors (here) and finally suppliers (here).

I was somewhat surprised to discover just how many distributors say they like the current trend of acquisitions. Although it is somewhat telling that while 73% of distributors say it will help their sales, only 42% of distributors say they like consolidation (only 35% dislike it). There is a tenor of apprehension when one distributor says, “Although it is a bit disconcerting to watch all of the independent distributors get eaten up by the giants, it also gives us hope and opportunity in our marketplace.”

Hope and opportunity are something also reflected in the view of Brandon Jones, president at Jones Welding & Industrial Supply (Albany, GA), who says he loves the effect consolidation has had on his business. “At one time we had five different distributors in our market. Now it’s us and one competitor,” he says, adding that as his competitor grows, it loses the ability to provide the same level of personal service.

“It’s still about relationships and service,” says Jones. “I know most of my customers. I sit across the table from them when I take them to lunch, or we play golf, that type of thing. If there’s a problem, they don’t have to filter up to the bureaucracy to get anything done.”

Jones says his business is more profitable than ever, and it’s largely due to finding new ways to compete and continuing to develop customer relationships. “You have to know your market, and you have to know your customers. What works for me in my market might not work for somebody up North or out West.” For his market, Jones has found success by carving out a niche selling steel.

“Steel is a different animal than welding supplies. For the most part, price determines where customers buy their steel, whereas there’s a lot more service that has to be factored in with gases. So I can go to a competitive account and say, ‘I know you don’t buy your welding supplies from me, but we sell steel. Can we quote you on your steel?’ That way, we’re able to develop a relationship through that venue, versus just trying to cold call them from time to time on their welding supply needs.”

As consolidation makes the big distributors bigger, niche markets can be a great way for smaller distributors to sweeten the pot and open doors for new accounts. But as Jones says, it’s important to make sure there is a need for those products and services. He says, “You have to know the weaknesses of your competitor, and you’ve got to know their strengths, so you don’t waste energy and money.”

What are your thoughts about industry consolidation? How are you taking advantage of the opportunities created by acquisitions?

Service And Safety On Memorial Day

Friday, May 25th, 2012

If there’s one thing the gases and welding distributors in GAWDA are known for, it’s service. So it’s no surprise that many men and women who work at GAWDA companies have also given their service to our country in the military. Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have died in service of our country, and a time to thank those who have pledged their service.

In addition to the many veterans who have served, many distributors employ members of the Reserve and the National Guard. Welding & Gases Today recently went inside the service of Guard and the Reserve members at Naval Station Norfolk. Machinery & Welder Corporation President Joe Campbell, a veteran himself, joined the Wisconsin Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in their three-day Boss Lift event.

This great program familiarizes employers with the work their citizen soldiers do when called for military duty. Says Campbell, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and made me very,

very proud.” It’s a great story, so be sure to check it out.

I want to take this opportunity to personally thank those who have served. It takes a lot of courage and discipline, traits that any GAWDA member would be happy to have in an employee. I’ve created a discussion on LinkedIn to personally thank GAWDA’s service men and women, so if you have served or know someone who has, please leave a comment in the group.

Finally, with the long Memorial Day weekend and what many consider to be the start of summer, there will no doubt be a lot of grilling done this weekend. I’ve shared this before, but it’s a great video from GAWDA member nexAir, and it’s always worth a look. In this video, nexAir’s Patrick Galphin talks about propane safety.

While LP gas perhaps isn’t a core product of the average gases and welding equipment distributor, there are quite a few GAWDA members who do specialize in propane. Whether it’s home heating or home grilling, safety is always important. What better way to spread this message than through a video.

Have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.

The Price Drop Dilemma

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

As I was reading an article in Inc. Magazine called, “Go Ahead, Raise Your Business’s Prices,” it brought to mind a dilemma that many GAWDA members have been talking about: customers only want the lowest price.

In the magazine article, author Jason Fried, co-founder of software firm 37signals, talks about the backlash of angry customers when his company decided to charge $9.99 for an iPad application. Nowadays, customers expect apps to be free or a nominal fee of $.99, but never more than, say, $1.99. Fried says, “We think free is a business cancer.”

So instead, Fried made the decision to charge ten times its competitors, and his justification makes perfect sense. “We wanted fewer customers to buy [our software].” At a lower cost, he says, his company of 20 employees could never provide good service and support to the masses. Instead of making $20,000 from 20,000 customers and provide poor service, he says it’s preferable to make $20,000 from 2,000 customers and provide good service.

The important thing is that Fried had the guts to stand by his price. Some customers will walk away. Many customers will complain. But, as Fried shows, the “right” kinds of customers will stay, because they recognize the value of the service. While software is a whole different game from gases and welding, the issue of price is a common concern.

What does your company do to combat customers who demand low prices? Would you do what Fried did? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Also, take a look back at our “Family Business Challenge” where we asked 10 GAWDA members what they would do if a customer asks them for a discount.