Irrigation distributor partnership tips

April 22, 2019 -  By
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Photo: iStock.com/Pinkypills

Photo: iStock.com/Pinkypills

Working with an irrigation distributor should be a partnership, according to Russ Jundt, founder and vice president of Conserva Irrigation, an irrigation firm that began franchising in 2016.

“Many times, contractors pit distributors against each other, but if they truly value partnership, both the contractor and the distributor should mutually benefit,” Jundt explains.

To ensure an exclusive partnership pays off for both parties and to determine what contractors should consider before partnering with a distributor, LM spoke with several experts — Jundt; Steve Counter, vice president of category management at SiteOne Landscape Supply; Ed Montalvo, general manager at Sprinkalawn Atlanta; and Lee Scheer, senior account manager at Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply.

Perhaps the most important items a contractor should keep in mind boil down to three Ps: products, people and proximity.

For instance, irrigation pros should consider whether a distributor carries the products they prefer and whether the distributor offers up-to-date and innovative solutions.

The contractor should also look into how knowledgeable the distributor’s employees are. The distributor’s employee may even be an ex-irrigation contractor or ex-irrigation installer, as was the case with Montalvo’s distributor, whose employee he had trained on installs years prior.

“Challenges come when (contractors) walk into a distributor, and they don’t get the knowledge of an associate behind the counter who understands the challenges they face,” Counter says.

In addition to keeping their own employees well-informed, many distributors also will offer training for the contractor’s employees.

“From an educational standpoint, distributors will provide resources and training to help contractors’ employees, which is something that usually comes last on a small business owner’s list of things to do,” says Scheer, who received his start as a landscape contractor. “Now that I’m in distribution, I kick myself for not using the resources of a distributor more to my advantage.”

An irrigation professional also should determine if a distributor has several locations within a reasonable distance to his shop and job sites. Jundt also suggests looking into consignment options, where a distributor’s goods can be securely kept at a contractor’s home base. Other elements to consider include delivery options, reward programs, rebates and e-commerce options.

In some cases, distributors also may introduce new revenue avenues to contractors, such as lighting opportunities, and offer project services, helping contractors bid and quote large commercial job opportunities, according to Counter.

Scheer adds that partnering exclusively with one distributor helps cut down on the number of payables, as a contractor typically only has to write one check every pay period, instead of several.

Once a contractor has done the legwork and settled on a distributor, the two parties must agree upon a set of terms, spelling out items such as pricing, preferred product mix and delivery schedules. Challenges may crop up if a distributor doesn’t offer a specific product needed by the contractor, if a contractor visits a different branch of his distributor that’s unfamiliar with his company’s needs or if an initial agreement is unclear.

“I would make a written agreement outside of a handshake,” Jundt says. “The more clarification you have, the fewer instances where feelings or pocketbooks get hurt in either direction.”

In addition to drawing up a clear arrangement, Scheer suggests contractors present the distributor with a clear picture of their company and its goals.

“The more a contractor is able to open up and the more information a distributor has about a company, the more the distributor is going to be able to help him,” Scheer says.

Finally, the experts agree that ongoing communication between both organizations is a must.

“It (requires) constant communication, making sure the needs of each partner are constantly being met,” Scheer says.

Montalvo adds, “As long as you communicate, (the distributor) is more willing to work with you.”

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