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Your Pet Peeves


I asked this question on The Wall at “Just curious. What gets under your skin these days when it comes to your local wholesalers?”

Then I sat back and waited about five minutes for the contractors to answer. Here is the gist of what exploded out of them. There’s opportunity here if you’re paying attention, so please take a deep breath and just listen to what they have to say:

  • Counter people do not know their products. Employees do not know how to offer recommendations. Paying online on some sites can be troublesome, and billing online can be a hassle, too. When calling on the phone, you get an answering machine rather than a living person. You leave a message and they don’t return your call.
  • Orders written and pulled wrong by people who don’t care. It has gotten to the point that you have to pull the order apart and check it carefully before you load up. Either the order-taker writes it wrong or the guy pulling it gets the wrong stuff. I just spent a half-hour at the counter today getting an order fixed. This behavior costs the contractor and the wholesaler big bucks.
  • The problem that seems to be getting worse is the very lean inventory at their locations I visit. They say they have more inventory at the warehouse and they can have it for me tomorrow. That was the main reason I don’t even bother going to Grainger anymore. Fortunately, in my location there are three industrial parks within 15 miles that have pretty much all the manufacturers and major supply houses. So a few calls before I go usually works. The one thing I would love to see, and surprised no one has done it yet, would be something like “Uber Parts” that would be similar to Uber Eats. If you needed small parts, you could order them to be picked up at the supply house and delivered to your job by a third-party. It would be a huge timesaver not to have to pack up and burn an hour back and forth for an emergency. Supply houses will deliver big orders, but they seem to have no interest delivering small parts. A second option would be something like car mechanics have for auto-parts delivery. If only a wholesaler had the will to do this, I think it would be a big hit.
  • No knowledge of the parts they sell. Half the time, they forget the order. The other half of the time, they send the wrong parts. I’ve been having trouble with this a lot here in the Washington, D.C. area.
  • My biggest peeve is when, after I place my order on the phone and say, “Ok, thanks.” The supply house employee answers with, “No problem.” Who the heck said there was a problem? If two vendors have the same products at roughly the same price, I will always ignore the supply house that has employees who don’t know how to communicate properly. When I say, “Thanks,” please say, “You’re welcome.” There should be “no problem” with that. My second peeve is much smaller. When I ask you if you stock something, please don’t start typing on your computer. You should know what you stock.
  • The biggest plumbing-and-heating supplier in my area says it sells everything, but it won’t have the run-of-the-mill widget you need. That is always out of stock and it is so difficult getting to the guy who knows anything. Most of them are just order-takers. They may have supply houses everywhere, but they never seem to have those items when you need them. There are still a few of the old-time local suppliers that work hard for my business, and these are people I can establish a relationship with, but they are now being bought by the chains. My favorite supplier sells a huge amount of material on the largest construction jobs. They don’t do a ton of counter business, but if I go in there for a small order, or for just a few fittings, they’ll take care of that, and just as well as if it was a really big order.
  • I would like to see the wholesalers pay their employees a little better. That would attract people that are looking to build a career rather than just hold a job. I would also like to see them charge more for parts and equipment — enough to support a well-stocked inventory and enable them to provide better service to their customers. I could further add that contractors don’t choose to buy on the internet vs. buying from wholesalers because of price. They choose it because of better service, convenience and parts availability. Wholesalers could gain a lot of business back if they had almost anything in stock right now. That would be a huge advantage for them. “We can have it for you tomorrow,” are curse words to a contractor’s ears. And on that note, contractors could also do a much better job of getting their material orders for jobs together. And when you make a purchase, don’t bring items back through the wholesaler’s door unless those items were faulty or failed. If you ordered extra materials, save them and use them on a future job.
  • That’s good advice. Some contractors abuse the wholesalers. They don’t order material in a timely fashion and would rather beat on the wholesaler. They buy too much material and let it sit on the job so long that the material gets shop-worn. Then they want to return it. I try to keep my material list consistent and try not to over-order. If I do over-order, I try to return it as soon as I know I don’t need it, and always return it in good condition. It’s a two-way street.
  • We’re 10 deep at the counter and there’s only one person behind the counter. Their philosophy should be “Treat ‘em and street ‘em.”
  • Amen! A local wholesaler has its inside salespeople at desks behind the counter. Of course, they don’t wait on customers, so you have the pleasure of watching 10 people sit there chatting while you wait for what seems like forever for your stuff. They see nothing wrong with this. If you’re going to have employees who don’t serve customers, hide them from view! Better yet, have the customer be everyone’s job.
  • One of the good local suppliers has had its business hurt by the chains. Back in the day you would roll in there at 7:30 a.m., and there would be maybe a dozen contractors waiting at the counter. One of the counter guys would pick up the phone and intercom the office: “Need help at the counter.” The office would empty and about four of the salesmen would rush out to us. Within 15 minutes, everyone had their parts and was gone. Those were the good old days.
  • Calling on the phone and getting passed on to several recorded messages while waiting too long for a live contact. Then, showing up in person at the wholesaler, and while starting to place my order with a counter rep, that person takes a phone call. It makes me want to scream.
  • Same issues like the rest of the guys. Major supply house, but when you call, you will most likely get the message about “all of our associates are busy.” There is only one guy usually answering any calls! Hire more people, and if they don’t know what a san tee is, put them in training in the warehouse first. Or out delivering.
  • Out of three different suppliers, I have one real go-to guy who is great at his job. He used to be a plumber so he knows his stuff. And, if something is wrong with the order, he takes care of it. You guys on the East Coast have it much better than we do here in Alaska because you are more likely to be able to get parts faster. My closest suppliers are 90 miles away, but at least they deliver here twice a week. But, if they are out of something, like any new boiler part, then it is a factory order, and it can take up to two weeks to get here, unless I want to pay hot freight, which can be as much as $100 or more. When it is freezing, you do not want to hear there are no parts available in the entire state. I also wish our suppliers would let us know when anything new comes out so we could buy it. I usually find out about most things by word of mouth from someone who has already seen it.

That’s just a bit of it, but I’m out of space. You see opportunity here? I sure do.


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