Most of the conversations I have with our distributors this time of year always seem to start with the same question: "How did the year work out for you?" These past two years have yielded different answers than in the years previous. For a long time, most distributors would talk about growth that was consistent with their competitors.
More recently, I'm seeing that change. We have several distributors who are growing by double digit percentages and we have several that experienced the same downswing. Certainly, the distributors who had down years had other factors to deal with this year. Many local or regional dealers were hit hard by local economies and school budgets in turmoil. Consequently, dealers in "booming areas" (the few we have left at this point!) showed the natural and expected growth.
I'm hearing our distributors more now than ever stressing customer service and quick delivery as areas of focus. Separating themselves from the competition is key with less money out there to go around. Many distributors have been nice enough to send us projections so that we can work hand in hand with them to maintain proper inventory levels.
Over the past several years, we've seen an influx of "web only" dealers show up. Initially, many of these were what I call "Bedroom Lab Supply Companies". Typically, these were individuals starting a business to run in their spare time using their contacts in the industry. Things have certainly changed over the past two years. There are now several very large distributors in both the science education market and industrial/research market who have built very profitable and fast growing businesses. Instead of simply filling spare time, these companies are thriving and creating jobs at the same time. Almost all of our "non catalog" dealers have grown significantly this year and I don't see that trend changing.
My advice would be for lab supply dealers to speed up the turnaround time for loading new products on their websites. For every day that is lost, others are adding new products and attracting new customers. Be sure to include any literature/videos/images/etc you can. Ask your suppliers to provide this information as good manufacturer's/importers (such as the companies Fischer Technical Company represents) will have these available to you.
It's also key to list all accessories and complimentary products on your web listing. It always befuddles me when I see a dealer offering a product such as a pipettor, but makes no mention of the tips, storage racks, etc that should be added on to the sale.
We are expecting 2012 to continue these trends and look forward to serving the science education and research market.
Have a safe and happy holiday season!
Fischer Technical Company