One of the most frustrating things for any cabinetmaker is hearing about a great new product, buying it and then having no clue how to use it correctly. Equally annoying is trying to find exactly the right product but not knowing exactly where to find it. The information is out there and your best source of getting it is to go to your distributor.
Wurth Wood Group has been conducting seminars at customer locations for several years. “We have teamed with CabinetMaker magazine to begin seminars that are designed to educate our customers on all aspects of their business,” says Roger Debnam, Wurth’s president. “The seminars are designed to analyze everything from shop layout to work flow to job pricing, job costing and cash flow management.”
A tried and true way to get information to the small cabinet shop is with the open house. Although many suppliers rely on a number of efforts such as e-mail blasts, magazine advertisements and mailings in support of their distributors’ efforts to sell their products, these same suppliers, like Wood Technology, will also participate in distributors’ open houses and inside trade shows.
Another option is a company such as Plywood Company of Fort Worth Inc. that has suppliers come to the warehouse to educate its sales force on a regular basis. “We feel that by educating our sales force and other employees we can help our customers get the correct product they need for each job,” says company spokesperson Joyce Davenport. “When we held an open house last October, our suppliers came in and set up booths with all their products. We invited our customers in for lunch and let them visit with all the suppliers.”
The open house is still a big component of the Wurth Wood Group. “We have had a practice of open houses to educate customers on all issues in our industry,” says Roger Debnam, Wurth’s president. “We are supported with outstanding vendors that will present new and innovative ideas, products and services. We are also beginning this year to conduct open houses at our customer locations and bring the benefits of our quality suppliers to the fabricators’ location.”
Wurth is also increasing its Web activities and presence to provide easy access to a comprehensive product selection.
Distribution Service Inc. sets up training seminars in cabinet finishing, fabrication and abrasives with its vendors. “The more we teach our customers how good these products are, the easier it is to sell it to them,” says Cory Bonnet, the company’s director of marketing and advertising.
Colorspec Coatings International Inc. has worked with several vendors to hold hands-on finishing workshops and touch-up repair seminars in its showroom? warehouse. “Coatings is not straightforward and requires techniques and skill to apply properly,” says Lisa Bancalari, Colorspec’s director of operations.
With OHARCO Inc. has open houses and seminars. OHARCO also provides Continuing Education Units training and supplies product for commercial end-users to test in their facilities.
Lumbermen’s Inc. holds open houses that offer CEU credits and gives presentations at design and furniture manufacturing firms, says John T. David.
Finally, Blum Inc. has an entire facility called the Blum School that is open to anyone using its products. Dennis Poteat, marketing communication at Blum, says, “Blum offers training in all our products for all of our customers.”
Distributors and suppliers alike use the Internet and their Web sites to post information and free articles that can educate customers. Louis and Company, for example, offers a trendsetter section that offers information on new products available.
Information is available from a variety of CIDA members in the form of open houses, seminars, workshops, newsletters and showrooms.
Every company uses its Internet resources differently. One company that relies heavily on the Internet is cabinetparts.com. When it started in the 1990s, it emphasized putting technical information on its Web site, most of it coming from manufacturers’ technical pages.
“Today, every new product is launched with full technical information support including high resolution photography, enhanced images, all available technical data, assembly instructions when available, effective search filtering, cross references to complementary product and an ever increasing use of informational video streams,” says president and founder Pat Abbe.
The company also committed to provide trained specialists with a technical team that receives regular formal training. “Every product page on our Web site has a product knowledge’ e-mail link connecting them to a technical product specialist. It’s the equivalent of having a service desk in everyone’s home or shop.”
Many companies use Web site updates and newsletters, such as Kerfkore. “The Internet has been a great method to show our customers the products and in our case, more importantly, how they are used correctly,” says Tom Phillips, president and COO of Kerfkore.
Some companies focus on their staff. Westech Aerosol, for example, has several staff members dedicated to providing training to both distributor sales staff and the end-user. “Our sales people are constantly working with our distributors to educate customers,” says Jenn Downes, Westech’s director of marketing and sales. “We also attend open houses, provide needed documentation and how-to materials, and hold frequent training sessions.”
BHK of America takes a similar approach and works with its distributors to educate its sales staff and has people ride with distributor sales people to make calls on all size shops to train them on the company’s product line and what’s new in the industry.
Industrial Plywood Inc., on the other hand, uses mailing and its salespeople. “Our most efficient method is via our salespeople,” says Andrew Wernick, company president. “We also are informing and educating our own employees of the changes that are coming to our industry and how this will affect the product that we are purchasing.”
Other companies such as Hera Lighting, QuickScrews International and Franklin International use a combination of training their distributors as well as joint field appointments. Franklin also uses newsletters, Web site updates, training sessions and green woodworking webinars. Similarly, Kerfkore sends out a company newsletter to its distributors and their sales teams. QuickScrews provides a poster to all its distribution partners that shows all the screws it carries.
Greg Rewer, vice president of marketing for Louis and Company, says that in an industry of people who truly learn through all their senses, having a showroom is just good business. For woodworkers, it’s ideal, he says. Cabinetmakers can touch and experiment with great new products from companies like Blum and Rev-a-Shelf, says Rewer.
Just recently the company opened the Studio, a showcase for innovative products available to homeowners through their professional cabinetmakers. It features the latest in decorative, convenience and functional hardware presented in multiple vignettes. “The Studio is more than a design center. It’s an idea center,” says Rewer. “Shops shouldn’t be just about building boxes. By increasing the value instead of the work, they end up with happier customers.”
Louis and Company is also opening another showroom in Phoenix, Ariz., featuring SCM machines and computer software. All the machinery will be operational and will give cabinetmakers on the West Coast an opportunity to gain confidence in the operation of the equipment. Cabinetmakers can also test the software to determine if it will be compatible with what they already do and will work on their equipment.
In a similar vein, Distribution Service Inc. recently renovated its showroom to make it more beneficial and helpful for its customers.