It was just under two decades ago when the Internet made its appearance on the public scene. In the big picture, the actual time that has passed since then has been short, but the changes have been monumental. Just a few years ago, a laptop was an amazing tool and Internet was available by dial-up capability only. Now, wireless is the standard and any type of inconvenience or lack of immediate information becomes frustrating. Business is changing.

The jan/san industry is riding this wave of efficient and fast-paced technology along with so many others. Tablet devices such as iPads have become the next big thing and are establishing new rules for sales calls, product demonstrations and instant transactions.


Some jan/san distributors have begun implementing tablet devices in their operations and are reaping the rewards. Most find these tablets offer salespeople a great benefit when trying to close a deal with a potential client.

“Customers want information now and the faster we can give customers information while out in the field, the better advantage we have,” says Chris Martini, director of marketing and special products at Central Sanitary Supply in Modesto, Calif.

Distributors say tablets are giving sales reps a new tool in their arsenal that is revolutionizing the industry’s traditional product demonstration.

“Probably the most valuable thing we found is that you can establish credibility much faster with an iPad then you can by just going in, showing literature and talking,” says Dutch Owens, president of Gem Supply in Orlando, Fla., whose sales staff is using these devices in daily operations. “The sales reps are just loving it.”

Today’s tablet devices with Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G wireless Internet accessibility allow distributors to disregard paper brochures and lengthy PowerPoint presentations about a product’s capabilities during sales presentations. Instead, the tablet allows salespeople to sell products visually, but without the actual product being there.

“With a sales force of 65, we see the tablet devices allowing sales reps to show end users product videos and spec sheets on a device with a longer battery life than current laptops and which is easier to carry around,” says Glenn Harbison, marketing director at Penn Jersey Paper in Philadelphia.

For example, it’s challenging for salespeople to haul large cleaning machines around with them on sales calls. As a result, sales reps are left to explain the machine’s benefits through words. With tablets, however, distributors say the old adage, “seeing is believing” still rings true today. Even though the actual machine isn’t in the room, distributors can give the customer the feeling that it is by playing a video of the machine in action on the tablet device.

In fact, Martini says manufacturers have begun uploading product demonstration videos to YouTube. This in turn can be easily accessed by distributors and played for customers on their tablet devices.

“Customers instantly are able to get a good handle on the product,” says Martini.

Distributors say once customers are willing to commit to a purchase, sales reps can check their available inventory, enter the order and e-mail the customer the purchase order right on the spot.

This saves time and the need to come back to the home office or find a coffee shop with Wi-Fi to enter orders, check on inventory, etc. Updating customer information is also a breeze and is less likely to be forgotten when done right in front of them. It keeps business efficient and professional.

“It is huge and in today’s world, your customer doesn’t want to fool around,” says Owens. “The iPad really affords that ability.”

Distributors can also make accepting payments easy and efficient by processing credit card transactions on their tablet devices. So, gone are the days of carbon copies. There are free applications currently available for distributors to download.

Paperless Office

Green is the buzzword around corporate America today. Paperless offices are becoming more and more prevalent and the jan/san industry is no exception.

Tablet devices are offering ways to save paper, time and room for error in many facets of a distributor’s business. One way is with invoicing.

“We’ve got the ability, from the iPad, to e-mail a signed copy of an invoice, instantly,” explains Martini. “This is a little differentiator that maybe our competitors aren’t using.”

Central Sanitary Supply’s drivers use tablets to electronically capture signatures, streamlining operations from a paperwork and filing standpoint. Implemented three years ago, Martini says the company’s delivery drivers also have the ability to take customers’ invoices, preloaded onto their tablets, on the road with them.

“It just makes everything that much more efficient,” says Martini.

Owens sees his company adopting tablet use with its delivery drivers within the next year.

“It drives cost out of your operations when your customer is e-mailed the invoice,” he says.

Steve Epner, founder and president of St. Louis-based Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group agrees.

“The paper signature is old,” he says. “The reason Fed Ex and UPS do electronic signatures is because it works.”

Although there are some distributors using tablets in their daily operations, there are still many who have balked at buying in to these devices. Distributors and experts, however, foresee these devices playing a major role in how business is run in the future.

Jennifer Bradley is a freelance writer based in East Troy, Wis.

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