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Vendor Pays Hefty Price for Devaluing 'Human Element'

Eric Frederick |

Recently, one of my major vendors made a sudden and unexpected change in representation. I had received excellent service from the sales representative for this company for four years and found him to be a reliable source of information about his products and the local market. The company’s move to terminate the services of a long-time, effective employee only reinforced in my mind the lack of value so many people place in the “human element.”
There seems to be a growing trend in this industry and in the country as a whole to discount or devalue the worth of individual employees.
Too often, we look at staff as interchangeable parts that can be easily changed without a loss of productivity. In this case, the company mistook my growing levels of purchasing as loyalty to the company instead of a growing loyalty and respect for its local representative.
It has become obvious since this change was made four months ago that the service and follow-through that I had received from the former representative is simply not available anymore. The time the representative spent making sure my orders were filled on a timely basis and routing shipments from alternate locations to avoid product delays is simply not there anymore.
To show how little the company understands about the importance of the human element, its new representative has no laundry or linen industry experience and was turned loose in the territory with little or no training.
While this person is nice, their lack of understanding of the industry they serve causes them to make statements like, “I don’t understand why this industry makes the purchase of textiles more difficult than it needs to be. Why is it that everyone cannot agree on one size and type of flat sheet? Why must we stock so many different sizes and blends?”
I’ve been involved with the laundry industry for 35 years and this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve run into this type of situation, nor will it be the last. The lessons learned by these companies is almost always the same.
Customers don’t react kindly to this type of change and often move a major part of their business to another vendor. Some of this move is to voice frustrations at the company’s actions, some is because a better value had been available from a different vendor but not pursued, and some is to reward existing representatives for years of persistence in trying to get the business.
In my case, the loss of my sales representative resulted in a major shift of products from one vendor to another.
I’ve always said that I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams if each vendor would give me a dollar on their first sales call. Over 35 years, it’s amazing how many people you see only once. To find a sales representative who’ll stick with the business and actually work to get your business is difficult and makes you appreciate the good ones even more.
I’ve written much about sales representatives here but this also applies to route drivers, laundry workers, maintenance personnel and managers. I’ve seen organizations terminate a qualified, hard-working laundry manager because they felt they could get someone else who’s almost as good at a much lower price.
It is, after all, only the laundry business and everyone knows how to do laundry. We all do it. But this lack of respect for the industry and the human element always has a cost associated with it.
I’ve always found this to be a truism: Those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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