Distribution Matters to End Users
Amy Carman, principal of Amy Carman Design of Milwaukee, is the interior designer for the highly anticipated mHouse project. The mHouse (materialicious house) will be a living research lab that showcases the most cutting edge engineered materials in innovative ways. Carman was chosen because her work embodies the idea of the mHouse – a state-of-the-art project with modern style. Her designs are classy, unpretentious and timeless. Carman even represents the demographic most manufacturers of engineered materials want to reach: young, educated, influential, design-savvy professionals who work on innovative projects.
Prior to starting work on the mHouse project, Carman didn’t use any engineered materials. “Up until recently, I did not use engineered materials,” says Carman. “I did not have an awareness.” The turning point for Carman came when she attended the 2013 Decorative Surfaces Conference (DSC). “Going to the DSC and meeting everybody really made me aware of great products that are out there. You just tend to write off an entire segment of ‘oh, that’s laminate, I’m not interested in that,’ until you know the differences,” says Carman. “As designers, we make those decisions in kind of a vacuum. It is not like a rep came and educated us on the products. They typically visit the cabinet shops.” Carman is now aware of the many options available to her in engineered materials and often specifies textured TFL for its excellent aesthetic value and great performance.
Carman is also a licensed General Contractor. When she is running a project, her preferred cabinetmaker is Louis Anthony Custom Cabinetry, also out of Milwaukee. Louis Anthony fabricates high-end custom cabinetry for a select group of builders and designers in the region. In addition to fabrication, they do all the shop drawings and installations for clientele. Presenting these concepts and sample products in their showroom is the task of Matt Wasserman, General Manager of Louis Anthony. When it comes to showing his clients’
engineered materials Wasserman says, “I don’t push some of the newer stuff out there. I know some of our clients like things like textured TFL, but it can be a real struggle finding the entire program of components, edgebanding, matching HPL, etc. I pull my hair out trying to piece it together. I go with products that I know I can get reliably through distribution, so I am not at anyone’s mercy. I try to steer our clients toward what I know will be easy for us to achieve great results with.”
This situation is not unique. It is indicative of the modern landscape that distributors must adapt to if they wish to remain relevant in a dynamic marketplace. While there are many factors driving change in the distribution model, there is also a tremendous amount of opportunity. The differences in the approach to modern distribution are subtle, but profound. By leveraging existing infrastructure, technology and people power, forward-thinking manufacturer/distribution partnerships are already working to bring new products to the people who use them when they are needed.
Qualities of Good Distributors
Matt Wasserman, manager of Louis Anthony Custom Cabinetry in Milwaukee, has worked in cabinetry and remodeling, in different geographic regions, his entire life. To him, gooddistributors share certain characteristics. “A good vendor is going to keep things in stock. Bad ones put things on backorder after you order them. Then you have to babysit them and follow up,” says Wasserman. “A good distributor makes sure things arrive when they are supposed to so that we keep our schedule. We use Metro Hardwoods because they believe in inventory. If something is not available, or I have to buy a railcar full of it, I am not going to show it to my clients.” This point is so important that even though Wasserman buys locally whenever possible, he also relies on distributors such as Aetna Plywood and Sierra Forest Products, both out of Chicago, because they stock a full program (panels, edgebanding, core materials, veneer-ply) of the materials that are staples of Louis Anthony’s production.
Wasserman also appreciates vendors that understand his operation. “We do all our own finishing and use M.L. Campbell’s product line. LDS&S Specialty Wholesalers is a good supplier to us for our materials. My person there is excellent at doing stain matches and that is peace of mind,” says Wasserman.
In terms of an overall shift toward an annuity-based model of distributor/manufacturer partnerships, Wasserman is emphatically in favor. “I would love to see more of that in the channel,” he says. “One company that is really great that way is Blum. They are amazing. They come out with specialty products like corner hinges and locking devices. But first they test them forever to make sure there are no problems,” says Wasserman. “We tried a less-expensive alternative at one point, and it was a lesson learned. I am a Blum guy through and through. Plus, they have a great relationship with HDL in Minnesota, who is very good at stocking almost the entire line. We do mostly custom work, so that is really important.”