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Laundries and Distributors: Improving the Working Relationship

Three representatives answer questions about how operators and distributors can work better together

CHICAGO — A laundry can’t operate without the right equipment.

That’s why it’s key for operations to have solid relationships with distributors.

How do these relationships work today? How should they work? How can they be improved?

American Laundry News reached out and heard from three distributor representatives about these questions and more: Mike Fox, sales manager for Alliance Laundry Systems Distribution in Chicago; Jocelyn Maldonado, product marketing specialist for Laundry Solutions Company in Springfield, Missouri; and Tom Marks, president of Western State Design in Cerritos, California.

How does the laundry/distributor relationship usually work, in your experience?

FOX: Unfortunately, I think laundry managers often confuse dealers with distributors. As a result, they are a bit skeptical because they had a bad experience with a dealer who offers no service and support for the equipment they sell.

How it should work is a bond of trust between distributor and customer—having a trustworthy partner invested in their success, with the staff, expertise and services to deliver a next-level customer experience.

MALDONADO: At our company, our laundry/distributor relationship is mutually beneficial. Customers call us when they need certain parts shipped to them for their machines, or they let us know when they need a service request. We try to be as quick as we can when we send parts or create service requests since we understand these things happen unexpectedly.

MARKS: As with any relationship, each party should define expectations. To achieve the most favorable outcome, the distributor should “fill the gaps” between the experience and resources of the operator and the requirements of the task/project assigned.

The distribution relationship fails when there are unmet, unspoken or over-promised results. As with any relationship, personal character and effort are the primary factors toward success.

Since distributors offer various types of equipment from different manufacturers, how does a distributor work with manufacturers to order to offer the best for its laundry customers?

FOX: Truly high-quality distributors will align themselves with truly high-quality manufacturers. With a foundation of representing highly reliable and efficient equipment, distributors can then work closely with laundry managers to identify the best solution for their unique needs.

MALDONADO: Our salesmen have a one-on-one conversation with all of our customers to determine what type of brand they can suggest and the different models that brand offers. We tend to assign certain salesmen based on location so they can dedicate more local time going to locations and helping each customer when needed.

MARKS: The first step is to define the problem. Most solutions involve adding machinery to upgrade the laundry with capacity, technology or replace the obsolete. Frequently, however, the solution can be found outside the laundry room, such as linen storage or upgrades to the physical plant. 

Distribution works with manufacturing to provide the most cost-effective and elegant solution that integrates manufacturing, installation, the physical space and laundry operations. Distribution’s role is to coordinate these interests resulting in a successful project.

Is a distributor’s relationship with a laundry ongoing? How often do a laundry and a distributor work together? Why?

FOX: Again, this is where a distributor and a dealer are different. A dealer’s relationship pretty much ends at the sale. However, distributors should always have an ongoing relationship with a laundry.

From ongoing training and access to service and parts to being a partner in quality, the contact can be as regular as the laundry manager requires. At its highest level, the laundry-distributor relationship should be a long-term bond.

MALDONADO: Our distributor relationship with a majority of our laundry clients is ongoing. Customers call us when they have a machine down at their business, and they tend to want service as soon as possible so they can be up and running again.

As long as they are continuously running their business and using their machines on a regular basis, they call us for any of their laundry distributor needs.

MARKS: Trusted distribution can be a resource for space planning, budgets, maintenance, safety, repair, parts and health regulations in laundry processing such as recommendations from the CDC, OSHA and TJC. These tasks require a focused expert. A trusted relationship with a distributor will keep problems from becoming a distraction. 

Your distribution representative should be an ally in providing solutions or connecting the laundry with those who have the experience. Many representatives meet regularly with clients throughout the year to be proactive.

What are some things a laundry operator might not know that a distributor offers or can do for them to help with their operations?

FOX: Anything from a laundry operating cost analysis, where they review current utility, labor, and equipment costs to identify possible efficiencies, to equipment sizing and laundry room layout/design to streamline operations.

Distributors often offer service and maintenance training for laundry staff, so they can do minor projects without the need for a service call.

MALDONADO: We lease equipment! If you are interested in starting a laundry but cannot afford to buy new equipment right away, know that we offer leasing options for your business. Our leasing salesmen will go over a basic leasing contract with the terms and details.

MARKS: Some distributors offer the following:

  1. Preventative maintenance contracts.
  2. A list of spare parts to keep in inventory.
  3. CAD-assisted space planning and growth planning.
  4. Linen distribution assistance.
  5. Productivity software.
  6. Emergency backup resources.
  7. Labor productivity averages.
  8. Utility measuring devices.
  9. Ergonomic solutions.
  10. Rigging and installation.
  11. Training in operations.
  12. On-site maintenance training and service schools.

If a laundry is working with a distributor for the first time, what are some basic elements they can expect as they develop and grow a relationship?

FOX: I think it’s just about expecting more. If they are used to working with a dealer that sells them a machine and walks away, the distributor experience can be a bit surprising. They can expect to have someone who asks questions to better understand their unique needs rather than just presenting them with equipment solutions.

MALDONADO: We appreciate each and every one of our customers and we keep your account information confidential. We require an account to be created with us for our system and we can save your preferred payment method information for future invoices. We offer discounts if you pay for your parts order with a credit card.

MARKS: The laundry should seek to determine the scope of experience represented by the distributor. Not all distribution is equal in experience or breadth. The laundry operation should determine if their needs match the distributor’s experience. Interview distribution as you would a trusted advisor and make sure they are a culture fit.

What can a laundry manager do to improve his/her working relationship with a distributor?

FOX: It’s obviously about trust and sharing information. So, the better laundry managers are at providing insight into laundry needs and challenges, while also trusting that they have a partner dedicated to helping, versus pushing services and equipment, the better the relationship will be.

MALDONADO: A laundry manager can improve the relationship with their distributor by attending our annual trade show event where we showcase the newest technology we have to offer and the distributors we work with.

Customers get to meet us as a whole company and ask us questions during the event. The event tends to last a couple of days in a hotel, casino or convention center, each year is different.

MARKS: Clearly define the goals for the laundry and operations with the expectation that the distributor will communicate their experience and offer a plan to achieve your goals.

Laundries and Distributors: Improving the Working Relationship

(Image licensed by Ingram Image)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].