Editor Jim Olsztynski says contractors won't always tell you what bugs them but they'll just go elsewhere.
It is as reflexive for contractors to complain about distributors as it is for
baseball fans to boo the umpires. Sometimes, though, it’s good to listen to the
critics. Here are some of the most common contractor complaints, with varying
degrees of validity.
1. Wholetailers. Actually, the ancient ritual of beating up on
wholesalers that sell to the public has diminished over the years. That’s simply
because in most markets it’s hard to find any “pure” PHCP wholesalers. Most
contractors have become more or less resigned to this reality. What really bugs
them, though, is when their plumbers drum their fingers waiting for the
counterman to take care of Suzy Homemaker. Many distributors have tackled this
problem with separate stations for trade and retail customers. When a layout
allows it, putting them out of sight of each other is a good
2. Stock-outs. This has replaced wholetailing as the most prevalent
complaint. “Wholesalers just don’t stock the way they used to,” goes the
refrain. Distributors who are honest with themselves will admit as much. They’d
go broke trying to do so. The full-service supply house of yesteryear has evolved
into one that can supply most A and B items most of the time, and can obtain C
and D materials within a day or two.
That’s not good enough for a service plumber
who needs it right now. The best solution is to sell a substitute from your
shelves, which leads to the next complaint.
3. Inadequate product
knowledge. Counter personnel just don’t have the knowledge they need, say
contractors over and over. In private many distributors ’fess up to this
shortcoming as well. Counter jobs tend to lag in pay and prestige and thus
don’t attract the most knowledgeable people. Upgrading the job with sales
incentives can pay off via increased sales and profits from product upgrades,
add-ons and substitutions that keep plumbers from running to a competitor or
4. Lousy service. Most PHCP supply houses continue to operate during
traditional trade business hours, with doors closing in advance of dinnertime.
However, many progressive (or these days, desperate) service firms are now
making evening and Saturday calls. Some of them end up patronizing the big
boxes out of necessity. It may be time to reexamine hours of
Another service policy that sticks in the craw of contractors is when they get
hassled on returns. We live in a business world in which consumers are
bombarded with money-back guarantees. The big boxes generally accept returns
with no questions asked. Yet, many distributors get bogged down arguing whether
it was the product or installer at fault. Delays in issuing credits also irk
Manufacturers often are the real culprits to blame for tough return policies.
However, contractors expect that a distributor will go to bat for them
jawboning against restrictive return goods policies.
5. Too much charity. Distributors think they’re doing contractors a favor
by carrying them when they get in trouble. Most don’t realize that top-notch
contractors who pay their bills on time go ballistic over this practice. They
see it like keeping someone on a respirator after the brain ceases to
Our industry is overrun by plumbers who don’t have a clue about how to run a
business. Even in good times, the only marketing they know is to bid work at
impossibly low prices, and in bad times like these it’s hard to find a bottom.
The better contractors would be relieved to see these folks go belly up as soon
as possible. In most cases, the deadbeats also would be better served working
for someone else rather than trying to sustain an untenable business.
Distributors who give in to every hard luck story jeopardize themselves, of
course, but they also make life difficult for their best
6. Frivolous use of resources. Elite contractors also take a dim view of distributors
who pinch pennies on customer services, only to see thousands of dollars go
toward barbecue and beer bashes. It does little good to explain that vendors
are picking up most of the tab, because they’ll just turn around and tell you
to ask those vendors to invest that money in product and service enhancements
I was the founding editor of Plumbing & Mechanical (PM) magazine and have had a continuous
role there for 27 years. In that time I’ve gotten to know many contractors and
still hang around with them. These are the things they talk about.
In Closing - Six Ways To Annoy Contractors
May 2, 2011