I was surprised to hear a story the other day about a rep who faced a dilemma about whether to sell to an online entity with no brick-and-mortar presence. The non-stocking Web site could be a potentially lucrative and low-maintenance client, but would it be a betrayal to his stalwart showroom customers, whose inherent overhead and inventory makes it difficult to compete with Internet-only ventures?
This story recalled the early days of e-commerce, when vendors wrestled with the prospect of selling directly to consumers via virtual shopping cart. Wouldn’t that put them in direct competition with their own customers? And where do the reps fit into those transactions? Even before that issue arose, many companies had to figure out how to balance brands between the high-volume home center channel and independents. I remember discussions with manufacturing sources back in the day where I could almost see an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other while they weighed their options.
While my recent experience reminded me that these are still ongoing quandaries, it does appear that most manufacturers have come to thoughtful compromises: establishing minimum pricing guidelines, allowing rep commissions regardless of an order’s origin, even partnering with showrooms to be the actual distributor for an online sale. I tell you: There are industries that don’t think twice about the consequences to current customers if a more direct route to faster, easier money is discovered.
The rep in my story did end up selling to the Web site, and lost some retail customers as a result. Business-wise, though, he ultimately came out ahead.
Even in this economy, when tough choices confront us every day, the consideration given to suppliers, employees and customers speaks volumes about lighting’s loyalty. It is both the cause and result of relationships that span many years, often over generations. And no doubt, it costs more to care.
So dance with the one who brung ya, as long as you still have a ride home when the dance is over.
LAURA VAN ZEYL