How Distributor Maintenance Programs Boost Customer Relationships
- Training Routines Paramount to Maintenance Program Success
Buying a new piece of equipment is exciting. Using a new piece of equipment is a thrill. Maintaining a new piece of equipment, however? Ho Hum! For proof, just check out Wikipedia. The site lists 128 individual entries for songs about cars and exactly zero about changing the oil.
Unglamourous as it is, equipment maintenance is vital. Keeping machines in good working order saves end users time, money and hassles over the long haul. Regular maintenance extends equipment life, lowers overall cumulative repair costs and increases worker productivity — as long as end users have the knowledge and parts to get the job done.
This is where jan/san distributors shine. As valuable partners for equipment maintenance, distributors often support their customers after a sale with training and parts. But knowing what parts and how many to keep on-hand is both a science and an art. Understocking might alienate customers who “need it now.” Overstocking, on the other hand, exposes the distributor to risk.
Here are some strategies to help distributors find Zen with the art of equipment maintenance.
What is Being Maintained?
The catalog of most commonly replaced parts is well known. “Batteries, switches, solenoids, motor parts, and cords,” rattles off Marlene Wells, vice president of Bloomington, Illinois-based Central Supply Co. She also says squeegee blades, hoses, filters, and gaskets can be added to the list.
“These would be what are commonly referred to as wearable items,” explains Larry Banks, president, Banks Industries Inc., Huntsville, Alabama “These items wear down with time, usage, and environment, so there is no set timeframe on when they will need to be replaced.”
There are general guidelines that can help predict a schedule, though. For instance, Imperial Dade recommends that an autoscrubber should be serviced after 200 hours of use, while vacuums need service at least twice a year. Still, as loose as they are, even these guidelines should be taken with a grain of salt.
Distributors should recommend end users supplement their maintenance schedule with daily visual inspections to catch small issues before they grow into bigger problems. Also stress that maintenance practices should be the same for both new and reconditioned equipment.
“There have been more requests for used or reconditioned equipment,” recalls Bill Allen, territory manager, Fagan Sanitary Supply, West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. “People are trying to stretch as much life out of their investment as possible.”
Consistent maintenance will help with that goal.
Unkinking the Supply Chain
Even the best intentions concerning equipment maintenance were challenged by pandemic-era supply chain woes. Now, in 2023, it seems that some of those kinks have smoothed out a bit while other challenges have emerged.
“Batteries are not as big of an issue anymore,” reports Allen. “But it’s been surprisingly difficult to get squeegees.”
Although Allen comments batteries are more attainable now, he seems to be in the minority. Both Wells and Banks disagree about their availability.
“Batteries and anything with a circuit board or computer chip still have delays,” says Banks.
With the demand for equipment maintenance from end user customers and supply chains still wreaking havoc on supplies, how do distributors move forward?
“I’m not sure,” admits Wells with a laugh. She points to overstock supplies such as batteries, but warns that the strategy carries risk. Sophisticated parts come with a higher price tag that makes stockpiling unappealing to most distributors.
“We try to carry a little more ‘safety stock’ but we are still limited by space and holding costs, as all companies are,” says Banks. “The challenge with stocking levels is the risk of obsolete inventory as machines are discontinued and new platforms are introduced. Our parts manager has to keep their pulse on what is being repaired and what units we are servicing less frequently.”
For many distributors, this is a marked shift from the old way of doing business. Allen recalls that not so long ago, Fagan Sanitary Supply would stock as needed and overbuy now and again so as to guarantee product availability to customers in need.
“Now we are being proactive about understanding purchasing patterns,” he says. “We did a deep assessment of all the equipment sold in the last two and a half years and stock accordingly.”
This strategy has paid off so far, but it requires good communication between sales staff in order to work effectively. Meanwhile, old habits die hard — Allen admits to still overbuying parts that continue to be difficult to source.
“For a motor or solenoid, I might buy 10 instead of three,” he says. The goal is to try to accommodate the ‘I need it now’ customers as best he can by guaranteeing necessary inventory.
It’s a fine line and often comes down to personal preference regarding how much inventory to carry. The pandemic, and particularly the supply chain hurdles it revealed, continues to have distributors guessing on the best course. Many are taking a hard look at their suppliers.
For example, Banks is working with suppliers who have improved their lead times, so he’s been able to slowly transition back to pre-pandemic stocking levels for equipment parts and accessories.
“We partner with suppliers who keep an ample supply of replacement parts in stock and can ship quickly, thereby keeping our customer’s downtime to a minimum and exposing us to less risk of obsolete or slow turning parts,” says Banks.
Convincing the end user to buy and hold some of their stock is also a good tactic. To encourage this, Allen suggests purchasing a start-up package of commonly replaced wear items when selling new or refurbished equipment. This way the much-needed vacuum bags, squeegees, or filters will be ready and waiting when end users need them. Think of it as a kind of best-practices training.
“They have backups on their wear item so it can be replaced right away with zero downtime,” Allen says.
Training Routines Paramount to Maintenance Program Success