The industrial distribution landscape has changed tremendously over the last several decades. Historically, product manufacturing companies were in the business of ‘making’ their wares, outsourcing a large proportion of the business of ‘selling’ their wares to third-party companies known as distributors. Distributors are independent companies that seek out, nurture, and transact with customers directly within their local regions or target markets. Manufacturers typically did not have the staff or the interest to canvas far-off geographic regions themselves, and needed distributors to serve as their outside sales and inventory-routing arms. With the advent of the internet and subsequent ability for manufacturers to now reach end users directly, the role of distributors has certainly changed, but has by no means been reduced or eliminated.
While many manufacturers now offer direct sales channels to reach their buyers (such as via an online e-commerce store), most do not have the support staff, local inventory, or local environment experience that buyers still demand. Distributors are the key intermediary, providing personalized support to buyers while also having a direct channel to the manufacturer, typically to a dedicated resource able to provide much faster and more thorough information than a public-facing service representative.
In Industrial Construction, Maintenance, Repair, and Fabrication markets, buyers turn to Industrial Distributors that are specifically positioned to serve their unique demands. Industrial Distributors offer larger stock volumes, strategic pricing models, extensively trained technical staff, and project or application-specific experience, all catering to their target market.
From a buyer’s perspective, these services can be invaluable, acting in many ways as an extension of one’s own staff and knowledgebase, filling in blanks and providing useful insight stemming from years operating in the same type of work. Industrial Buyers should take every opportunity to partner with their local Industrial Distributors, building a healthy relationship of trust, mutual support, and shared success.
What should buyers look at when comparing and selecting industrial distributors for their projects? Let’s dive into that below.
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Unique Considerations in Choosing an Industrial Fastener Distributor
Selecting a general distributor to purchase materials from is a fairly intuitive process. Just as with most other bulk purchasing decisions, buyers will focus on price, stock volumes, return policy, and payment terms & conditions. In industrial distribution however – and especially for technical hardware and fasteners – there are additional details to consider that are not so obvious.
Check to see which product lines your distributor directly procures from the original manufacturer. Direct OEM distributors often receive substantial factory training, have access to current and detailed documentation, and can more promptly access factory technical and customer support.
An ideal distributor should work within order volumes that best suit your needs. If you often order small volumes of multiple products, select a distributor that supports bulk package breaking and individual unit sales. If you instead mostly order in large quantities, select a distributor aligned with high volumes (and potentially volume order discounts).
Technical Application Support
In everyday practice, specifying fasteners for a project either occurs by following a technical specification written by an engineering source, or by simply following common industry standards. For most projects, detailed written specifications are not available, so buyers tend to ask their distributors for assistance making a part selection. Buyers should evaluate distributors on what trained, qualified, experienced technical staff they have, and what support services these folks can provide (such as application review, material take-offs, spec cross-referencing, and experience-based tips and tricks).
Some manufacturers will use exclusive distribution agreements for certain products or within certain regions, where that distributor will be the sole source to purchase from. The distributor will gain some benefit from the manufacturer by entering into an exclusive agreement, such as limited competition, aggressive pricing, or co-marketing value. Buyers looking for a specific manufacturer’s product line and where ongoing support is desired would benefit from buying from an exclusive distributor.
Open Distribution Agreements
Opposite to the above Exclusive Distributors, an Open-Catalog Distributor is free to offer any products and services that they so choose, without any formal agreement in place to push or limit their offerings to a given manufacturer or product line. The benefit of an open shop is typically a wider range of products coupled with impartial support, at the potential expense of not carrying premium brands or offering direct factory support.
Project vs MRO Support
Fasteners are typically routed into one of two primary use-cases: maintenance, repair, and operation uses (MRO), or project-specific uses. MRO buying occurs in factories, repair shops, and large businesses where fasteners are consumed consistently, and are therefore replaced in a largely predictable, cyclic fashion. Project buying is quite different, where fasteners are ordered in ‘surges’ consisting of large volumes on an irregular cadence as each project comes up. MRO-oriented distributors may offer lower stock volumes and personalized local deliveries, whereas project-oriented distributors may offer high stock volumes and volume-based pricing. Buyers should evaluate a distributor’s offerings targeted for their specific buying cycle.
E&T Fasteners is here to help you navigate fastener and accessory options. Price quotes, availability, lead times, delivery confirmations, unique application suggestions – whatever your need, we’re here to take your call or email. For support and advice from our fully trained staff, speak with an E&T sales representative today.
With sales and support teams spanning the Continental US, E&T Fasteners is here to serve your hardware, fastening, and component needs both domestically and internationally. We are a stocking distributor of metallic, plastic, and exotic alloy fasteners, backed by our technical staff directly experienced in your unique applications. We can assist your specifying and selection efforts, providing engineered solutions, record-fast lead times, and stellar customer service from quote through delivery. Please let us know how we can help!