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Buy wisely: The importance of vendor relationships

December 5, 2016 -  By

Photos: © it comes to sourcing irrigation and lighting products, contractors say it’s all about the vendor relationships.

Like so many other things in life, smart lighting and irrigation product purchases all come back to who you know. Or, more specifically, which local distributors and vendors you’ve built relationships with. We spoke to three different businesses that all echoed similar sentiments—it’s all about a working relationship. We also asked them to share some other advice when it comes to product selections and working with suppliers.

Loyalty + frugality = savings and service

Pinnacle Irrigation & Nightlighting
Haddonfield, N.J.

A sale on products can go a long way toward saving your company money, says Marty DeNinno, owner of Pinnacle Irrigation & Nightlighting in Haddonfield, N.J. While DeNinno is loyal to his local supplier, Barton Supply, in Cherry Hill, N.J., he says waiting for a special sale or promotion helps his company spend wisely.

Prior to launching Pinnacle with his wife, Liz, DeNinno had worked for his father’s family-owned landscape business. DeNinno says his father had a very different philosophy on buying product. His theory was “buy only what you need.” But DeNinno says he takes a different approach in running Pinnacle, which brings in $850,000 in annual revenue. He will buy in bulk to receive a discount that helps put more dollars in his pocket in the long run. For example, at press time, DeNinno had just found out about a fall savings promotion where those who spend $2,000 on lighting products would receive a $100 prepaid gift card. DeNinno says incentives like that—as well as a “15 percent of all products” sale that’s usually offered toward the end of the season—are valuable to him.

“I think some people overlook promos, but we’re always on the lookout for them,” DeNinno says. “Saving a dollar a sprinkler head doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re buying thousands, that adds up to big savings.”

DeNinno says his distributor also allows him to store product that he can’t fit in his shop at its warehouse. This perk allows him to purchase in larger quantities even though he doesn’t have room for it all at once.

“Some businesses may shy away from buying in bulk because they don’t have room to store it, but it’s worth asking if you can purchase it and have them store it until you need it,” DeNinno says. “That arrangement works very well for us.”

Pinnacle Irrigation & Nightlighting

Although deals are important to Marty DeNinno when buying
irrigation and lighting products, he says brand preference is No. 1.

While savings are important to DeNinno in running a profitable business, he says he would never sacrifice quality for frugality. He adds he is loyal when it comes to the brands he prefers in both the irrigation (which makes up about 60 percent of his business) and landscape lighting (40 percent) areas of his business.

“I would never jump on a sale for a product I don’t trust,” DeNinno says. “Product reliability is incredibly important to us since it contributes to our reputation.”

DeNinno is also loyal to his distributor and says the company knows he “won’t jump ship just for a cost savings.”

“Nowadays, the internet opens up a whole new world for shopping but my supplier knows I’m loyal,” he says. “And that pays off for me, too. If a company tells me they can beat the prices I’m getting, I have a strong enough relationship that I can take that information to my supplier and ask for a price break. I’d rather keep that relationship than try to shop around.”

Building strong relationships

Landscape Lighting & Design
Fort Worth, Texas

Tim Doogs, owner of Landscape Lighting & Design, a lighting-focused business in Fort Worth, Texas, says loyalty is everything when it comes to getting good pricing and—more importantly— getting good customer service. In fact, he’s willing to spend a little more money to get that top-notch service that, in turn, lets him offer his clients good service.

In a day and age where businesses will shop around to save a dollar, Doogs says he believes long-held business relationships are more important. While there have been times he could save money buying a product direct rather than through distribution, there is value in upholding a relationship with a local vendor, he says. He’s equally loyal to the three main lighting brands he uses. Doogs says that each company has products that are a little bit different and utilizing all three allows him to meet the needs of all of his clients with the perfect product for the job.

“We think it’s important to be loyal—but also to have choices,” says Doogs, whose company is getting close to its $1 million annual revenue goal.
While he prefers to buy through his local vendor, Doogs says he will occasionally make purchases directly from a manufacturer.

“We want a distributor who really steps up to the plate,” he says. “They have to offer good service, knowledge and assistance when we have a problem. We want a distributor who will come out to the job site if we really need them for something unusual.”

Because he believes relationship building is so important, Doogs says his best advice to other landscape contractors would be to get to all the seminars you can. He says it’s a great opportunity when manufacturers and distributors offer training.

“Even if you think you’ve got a great handle on landscape lighting, you will be surprised by something new that you learn,” Doogs says. “I still go to them and make new contacts and learn new information. You will always find someone who is doing things differently than you, and you will learn from it.”

A two-way street

Heads Up Landscape Contractors
Albuquerque, N.M.

Heads Up Landscape Contractors

Landscape pros like Andrew Key seek irrigation and lighting suppliers who can advise them on the latest technology.

Being somewhat isolated in Albuquerque, N.M., Andrew Key, president of Heads Up Landscape Contractors, says maintaining strong relationships with the few suppliers he works with for both irrigation and lighting products is critical. It’s a two-way street—he treats his vendors well and in return, he says he gets good service and support.

“In the market we’re in, it’s not like we can just go to a different supplier down the street if we get tired of the one we’re working with,” Key says. “There are a limited number of suppliers, so it’s really important that we build and maintain strong working relationships with the ones we have. We treat them well and try to give them all the foreknowledge we have, so in return they can help us succeed.”

In terms of choosing products, Key says he puts a lot of emphasis on reliability and support. Heads Up, which has annual revenue of $20,500,000, has been in business for 43 years and therefore has a good understanding of which companies provide the support the company desires.

“In irrigation, especially, there is a strong technology component, and we want a manufacturer that can provide training on the product and long-term support so we know we’re covered if we run into an issue,” Key says.

The right timing is also important when it comes to purchasing products. By working closely with his vendors, and “involving them in the early planning stages of projects,” Key says he can ensure products are ready to go when the job begins.

Heads Up Landscape Contractors“We also rely on both the vendors and the manufacturers to keep us in the know about new products, so we’re specifying and using the newest products on the market in our projects,” Key says. “There have been a lot of advances in irrigation technology that make everyone’s lives easier, such as remote access irrigation control and other smart technology. We want to keep up with what’s new.”

He’s also seen a sudden surge in landscape lighting projects. While they were once considered an add-on, Key says landscape lighting is now being included in the principal design more often.

“We see a great market opportunity in lighting and want to continue to advance our knowledge just like we’ve done with irrigation,” says Key, who adds that lighting is currently a small portion of the design/build work the company does, but he sees it growing dramatically in the future. “We think we can accelerate the lighting opportunities by using the same principles we have with our irrigation business—working closely with vendors and building relationships.”

Photos: ©; Heads Up Landscape Contractors; Pinnacle Irrigation & Nightlighting

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