There is an imminent threat to building materials companies which involves people – the people who are your employees as well as your customers. As more of your employees with the most experience, knowledge, and customer relationships are retiring, how will you replace their experience, knowledge, and customer relationships?
Many of your best customers are also hanging up their hats and simply closing their businesses. This will not be a problem with big boxes, bigger builders, architects or most distributors or lumber dealers. It will be also only pose a minor problem with contractors as there is always a talented young person ready to start out on their own.
If You Leave Me Now
However, the problem for contractors will continue to be a shortage of labor as we now expect everyone to go to college and have a white collar job. We look down our noses at people who get their hands dirty for a living. This shortage will hold back building materials sales, no matter how good the economy is.
In addition to the retiring employees, building materials companies will begin to face more challenges with retiring independent reps, independent distributors, and dealers. Many of them have been very successful selling your products and now they are ready to stop working so hard and enjoy life.
Selling through independent reps has been a challenge for many building materials companies. There are many good independent reps, but it is hard to put together a group of them who can cover the entire U.S. There are a number of larger rep firms who cover multiple states who probably have a succession plan and will stay in the business. The majority of rep firms, however, are very small, many of them with only one person.
It is possible this type of small firm could just close up shop at some point and leave you with no sales coverage in that region. If you depend on independent reps, you should know their plans for the future so you aren’t surprised when you get an email or call, telling you adios.
If you sell your products through independent, one-location distributors or lumber dealers, there is less risk here as they probably have several offers to sell. Still, I would want to know what the owner’s plans are. If a distributor carries your line and is acquired by a distributor who does not carry you, how will you replace them?
Specialty Dealers Are a Bigger Risk
If you sell home improvement products like fireplaces and kitchens and other products through showroom dealers, this will also be a risk as they chose to retire and just close down their businesses. Yes, this vacuum will be filled by someone, but they may prefer to sell your competitor.
This also affects commercial building products in areas such as commercial doors, flooring, and more. Once again, they may either close or be acquired by someone who sells your competitor.
If you use independent reps or sell through any of the above customers, you should have the knowledge of their status and a plan that is ready to implement when necessary. Do you know who you would want as a rep or customer in each market if you’re current resource was no longer available?
Another issue with many aging customers is that they don’t retire or close like an on/off switch. They have usually started to wind down several years before they actually retire or close. They make fewer sales calls, travel and advertise less. They don’t replace people who leave. This is hard to notice because it happens slowly and they have probably been such a good customer for so long.
What’s The Plan?
If you know how close the people you work with are to retiring, you can watch for this slow down and look for a new rep, distributor or dealer sooner.
Remember, these individuals are experts who have been representing and selling your products for years. They have been on the frontline and are great sources of information from the experience, industry knowledge and customer relationships that you just can’t buy off the shelf. Working with them to learn their plans for retirement and ideas to carry your products on into the future, can help you build a more solid foundation for your product sales in the years ahead.
I will be writing about the challenge of replacing your most experienced people by attracting and retaining top-level young people soon. And I’ll show you how to attract and retain top-level talent in a way that doesn’t blow your budget.
Until then, thanks for reading and if you have questions or other building material sales and marketing subjects you’d like to learn more about, just drop me a line at: mark @ seethewhizard.com
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