Fenestration Hallucination: Invest in Your Sales Team. Build for the Future.

“Finding the really outstanding companies and staying with them through all the fluctuations of a gyrating market proved far more profitable to far more people than did the more colorful practice of trying to buy them cheap and sell them dear.” – Philip A. Fisher

It’s come to my attention that at least three commercial window manufacturers in my region are selling windows direct to general contractors and building owners. This is nothing new.

Many commercial window manufacturers are still recovering and are desperate to build back the volume they had pre-recession. Some commercial window manufacturers never did develop good sales teams and don’t understand the value of an effective window dealer network or how to build it. In each case the desperate manufacturers and their regional representatives try a time-worn quick fix—they sell direct to general contractors and building owners.

Here’s the typical pattern: Executives are hired by desperate manufacturers to help turn around a slow sales pattern. These inexperienced and hungry manufacturer’s executives know they need sales quickly. They and their reps get the brilliant idea to sell product direct to general contractors and building owners and the manufacturer lands some big jobs quick.

The manufacturers are delighted at first to get some jobs…they then see their sales plummet. The manufacturer’s national window dealers eventually find out about the manufacturer’s direct sale practices, so the dealers stop representing those manufacturers. The manufacturers then realize they do need the dealers to consistently generate sales, handle sales effectively within their regions, and guide the sale, purchase and installation process to completion. The manufacturer then stops selling direct and comes back to the dealers asking forgiveness. But it may be years before the manufacturer regains a presence in that marketplace. Which brings me to a business fable…

Once upon a time, long ago, in a prosperous United States, there were strong and respected fenestration manufacturers. Many of them were old, great companies, who developed great products that became widely used throughout the land. New manufacturers came along, and they copied the products of the old, great companies. But there was enough business for everyone, so the people built nice buildings and all were happy.

One thing these manufacturers had in common is they had great sales teams. These executives knew their products, understood sales cycles, fixed problems, and above all, they built dealer networks and worked closely with their dealers.

Yes, I know it sounds impossible, but the manufacturers of old took their dealers by the hand and trained them in the business. The dealers learned about the manufacturers’ products and services, and in turn the dealers sold and serviced the manufacturers’ products. In many cases, the manufacturers had high standards for who could become their dealers. Not just anyone could be a manufacturer’s dealer, and manufacturers awarded loyal dealers geographic territories to roam around in and sell. And all was good.

And then dark clouds covered the land. The old, great manufacturers changed. The newer manufacturers changed. Greed, inexperience, and fear blinded all the manufacturers. In their zeal to cut costs and look only at the short term profits, the manufacturers forgot how their sales teams controlled the industry and had built great dealer networks who brought them wonderful, consistent business. So it was then that the manufacturers cut their sales teams back, forgot how to build their business for the future, and cast their dealers adrift. And the manufacturers shrank, and became victims to the changing economy.

After many years, one of the manufacturers became tired of being small, having an erratic sales pattern, and unreliable dealers. This manufacturer learned of the past, prosperous years with consistent sales volume. And so the manufacturer decided to build back a strong sales team. They took the time to learn about dealers and build a loyal dealer network. Their dealers were each given a specific geography to cover. Those dealers were trained, and the manufacturer’s sales team worked hard to please the dealers. And the manufacturer became great again. Their dealer network shined and built the business for the future. The other manufacturers saw this, and began to follow the example. And so everyone became prosperous again, and joy reigned throughout the land. And they all lived happily ever after!

The Moral of the Story: Invest in your sales team. Carefully select strong dealers for your network. Train your dealers. Give your dealers geographic exclusivity. Build for the future. And live happily ever after.

“If you don't have my back when I'm struggling for success, you can’t be by my side when I eventually succeed.”– Rashida Rowe

Rod Van Buskirk is the 3rd generation owner of Bacon & Van Buskirk Glass Co. in Champaign & Springfield, Illinois. A past NGA Chairman, Rod looks at the industry from the middle of nowhere, steals ideas from anyone he can, and pretends to know what he’s talking about. Rod invites your comments as you are certainly smarter than he is.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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