He Who Must Not Be Named

In the Harry Potter books, the villain is often referred to as “he who must not be named,” because even identifying him invokes unspeakable evil with a capital E. Lord Voldemort (oops, so much for not naming him) is a malevolent, pervasive force who gets his pasty-white fingers and his weird nose into everybody’s business.

The distribution industry has a similar boogeyman. Amaz.. (Stop! Don’t say it!) is a bigger threat to the status quo of American business than any wizard or dragon. The-company-that-must-not-be-named has slowly but surely become a major player in almost every industry on the planet, including distribution to electricians, plumbers and HVAC/R contractors.

Interestingly, the-massive-online-retailer-that-must-not-be-named has had an effect on the trade industries that is far more profound than acting as a mere competitor for some of Anchor’s best clients. No, Jeff-Bezos’-baby-who-shouldn’t-be-identified’s biggest accomplishment may very well be its subtle influence on every member of the purchasing public in this fine country.

After all, once you get the hang of ordering your books, your movies, your socks, your tools, your groceries – on your smartphone and having them delivered at light speed (in big cities it’s not uncommon for the-orangish-internet-site-that-cannot-be-recognized to deliver goods on Sundays), you sort of expect everything to work that way. And that includes ordering products at your job as an electrician, plumber or HVAC/R technician.

That’s the trouble with the-mega-retailer-who-can’t-be-singled-out: they’ve made it so easy to order anything (and I mean anything) online, that we expect similar service from everybody, whether they compete with the-web-giant-who-we-still-can’t-discuss or not. That puts a lot of pressure on small companies, big companies, everybody – including distributors. Even though an electrician is unlikely to order 250 wall receptacles through the-retailer-named-after-a-river-that-we-shan’t-mention, they expect that same kind of service when they order them from you.

That is not an easy task, but just like in the books and movies, this internet sorcerer is not immortal. Suppliers still have the advantage of having real-life contact with their customers. That still counts for a lot, and when you combine outstanding personal service with solid e-commerce functionality on your website, it can be just enough to keep you out ahead of you-know-who.

But outstanding service and a below average e-commerce solution will not be enough. Web users have no patience for frustration nowadays, and a sub-standard online experience can quickly erode any brand equity that your outstanding sales team is able to build. “If I can order a hot tub at 3AM on Saturday and have it in two days, why can’t I get pipe fittings the same way?” the 30-year-old plumber says to himself. And he’s got a point.

Ignoring Amazon will not make it go away.

Whew. That’s a relief. Now that that’s taken care of, it’s time to adopt a similar strategy for your business: recognize Amazon for what they are – an agent of change. Not an unstoppable force, just an agent of change. You are not immune to its influence just because you are a distributor, but you do have some advantages that mere retailers may not. You have long-term, ongoing, personal relationships with your customers – and when you add those to a user-friendly e-commerce website, the powerful magic that you create may very well be enough to hold that carrot-colored invader at bay. We know it can work because we’ve seen it work.

Just remember that relationships and service cannot do it by themselves anymore. They need a frustration-free web experience to support them, because that’s what Amazon has trained modern consumers to expect. Your site doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be reliable and easy to use. Get the basics right and go from there.

Are you ready to slay some giants? If you are, we’re ready to help. We’ve been helping electrical, plumbing and HVAC/R distributors to succeed for more than a decade, and I guarantee that we’ve got some great ideas for how you can make your own magic. Give us a call.