As a contractor I remember leaving a jobsite hot and tired, after a very long day. We needed supplies to start a new job early the next morning. It took more than an hour driving across town during rush hour to reach my supplier before closing time, and I was a half hour late. Harry was just locking the gate at the end of his long day. But he cheerfully asked what I needed, opened up, and helped me load my truck. It reminded me again why I did business there—and why I liked Harry.
You might think that contractors shop wherever they can get the best prices, but few list price as most important when choosing a supplier. Construction supply businesses, big and small, achieve about 80 percent of their gross sale from repeat business by developing long-lasting relationships with their customers. They earn this relationship every day by delivering product when it's needed, providing technical help and information, fielding sales reps that know their customers' businesses and care about them, helping their customers secure work, and providing training “deminars.” And in an era that supports just-in-time material purchasing, they typically carry large inventories so that the product a customer needs is on hand.
Good suppliers nurture relationships that can span generations.
What contractors want
In the April issue of Concrete Construction, we invited readers to tell us about their favorite construction supply houses—why they were great and what they did special. Here's a sampling of what you told us:
“We like CCS Supply in Meridian, Idaho. They provide old fashioned service. They specialize in concrete, rent equipment, and sell tools. If we can't figure it out, we call them.”
—Michael Austin JB Construction, Boise, Idaho
“Cohills in Phoenix, is a mom-and-pop place. Until recently they didn't have computers at the order desk because the owner felt that ‘when you take computer orders, you are looking at the screen, not the customer.' They locate materials we need, and provide fast service. If I ask a question they can't answer, they find the answer and call me back. They do home shows, invite us to help them staff it, and turn the leads over to their customers.”
—Mark Haen, Adobe Coatings, Mesa, Ariz.
“We work to be organized and timely, but every now and then we need our suppliers to jump the hoops for us, as we have to do with our clients. We are faithful to our suppliers, and they occasionally help us with referrals that turn into jobs. Service is No.1; cost doesn't always come into play. Developing these relationships is very important.”
—Byron Klemaske, T.B. Penick & Sons, San Diego
“We appreciate the familiar face-to-face contact at our supply houses. When someone in the past has given you good advice, you feel you can trust that person in the future. When we need answers we go to them. We frequently ask our local suppliers for their thoughts on materials, equipment, procedures to get a particular job done, or whether a tool is worth repairing. I'm afraid some of this will be lost with “big box” stores. On the other hand, it's neat to browse the shelves of bigger stores and have instant availability.”
—Terry Lavy, Lavy Concrete Construction, Piqua, Ohio
“I get the supplies I need from the Rufus Walker Company. They go out of their way for me, even though I'm a small client. Once, I needed a surface retarder for an exposed aggregate project. They didn't have it, but picked it up in Houston with their truck so that we would have it on time. My wife and I were so impressed that we brought them a cheesecake to say thank you.”
—LeRoy Pawelek, Pawelek Construction, San Antonio