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Taking it Personally

When dealers and manufacturersWhen dealers and manufacturers combine efforts in cooking demonstrations, it builds good relationships and salespeople’s product knowledge about brands, such as RH Peterson’s Fire Magic line, shown here in use.
"All business is Personal," goes an old mantra.
     With the effects of the Great Recession driving grill shipments from 17.4 million units at its peak in 2007 to 14.4 million units in 2012, according to statistics from the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, many manufacturers and dealers were left scrambling to find ways to grow their businesses. They worked every angle to gain market intelligence, build competitive advantage or just run their businesses profitably.
     After the usual bag of tricks was emptied of sales incentives, terms and the like, the only thing left was the relationship the manufacturer had with the dealer and vice versa. For those who knew how to nurture and grow them, benefits have followed.

     "It's like a marriage," Scott Robinson, owner of Nordic Stove and Fireplace Center in Stamford, Conn., said when describing how dealers

Memphis Wood Fire grillsMemphis Wood Fire grills uses social media interaction to help create value for dealers selling products like its Elite Outdoor Kitchen Island
and manufacturers should be working together. He said the manufacturer and its representatives have to be upfront and truthful in all dealings, especially if there are product issues that need resolution.
     "If I've got a problem and I get the old ‘haven't heard that before,' that's no good," Robinson said. "If there's an issue with the product, let's come to a conclusion. The smoke screen I get with some guys is a real turn off ."
     Robinson also turns the spotlight on himself. "We're at the low end of the totem pole," he said. "We're promoting the product. If we work hard, we get more love from the manufacturer. If we don't work hard, we're not going to have that brand very long.
     "You don't want to jerk the manufacturer around. You want to pay on time. It's the right thing to do," Robinson said. "The better job you do, the more respectful they'll be when you say ‘let's talk terms.'"
     Bruce Bjorkman, director of sales and marketing for MAK Grills said of the relationships he has with his dealers, "We choose you as much as you choose us."
     Bjorkman said he wants all of his dealers to be successful. He advised o
Kalamazoo Outdoor GourmetKalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet encourages its dealers to leverage manufacturers’ knowledge of design, trends or cooking expertise to help deliver exceptional customer service and promote products, such as its built-in Nantucket Grill island. Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet
ther manufacturers to do their homework before approaching a potential retailer. "We look at Google, Yelp!, the Better Business Bureau to find out about you. We want the right fit." By doing this Bjorkman believes everyone has a stronger potential to be successful "all the way around."

     "In a business relationship, information flows both ways," said David Fairbanks, CEO of "It helps us build our brand and we can help build the dealer's brand."
     Most agree that open, honest communication has a strong upside, even when the conversations cover difficult topics.
     Jerry Scott , vice president of sales for RH Peterson, the maker of Fire Magic grills, said he invites his dealers to let him know what's on their minds because in "a true business partnership information flows back and forth" and that it is "key and vital to success."
     He said dealers "will come to you with ideas or issues, not to complain but to solve. We see lots of product improvements come from our customers." One improvement that came from a dealer is the window in their grills that let you see the food cooking.

Nordic Stove and FireplaceNordic Stove and Fireplace Center prominently displays its Big Green Egg cookers.

     "Our sales team is here to help our dealers throughout the entire sales process, and we encourage our dealers to leverage our expertise as early in that process as possible," said Don Sivesind, VP of sales for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.
     Robinson said no communications should be taken for granted. He wants manufacturers and their representatives to communicate even the smallest things because that helps him better serve his customers. "If they make a small adjustment or minor change, let us know, even if it is little stuff . We shouldn't have to find out by opening a box. When a customer calls and opens the box and asks us a question that we can't answer, it makes us look stupid."
     Create value for them, said Rick Price, national sales manager for Memphis Wood Fire Grills. This includes getting involved in a dealer's social media calendars. "Include us when you're doing Facebook notifications of events you're having. Sometimes we can swing by and help out."

     Bjorkman rates his top three tips as: don't ever lie to dealers; don't be afraid to talk about whatever issue; treat each dealer with the same amount of respect. "Integrity is a huge focus [for us]. Do the right thing, that's how we're judged. It comes back 10 times in loyalty," he said.

RH Peterson invitesRH Peterson invites its dealers to share their issues and ideas because such interaction can result in improvements to products, such as this Fire Magic built-in grill.

     "Be honest," said Scott of his top relationship tip. He also recommends listening more than talking and taking time to be with people. "Make time to sit and talk, have some coffee. There are a lot of product choices. Know dealers not as someone you do business with, but as a friend. Share parts of your personal life. It establishes loyalty and creates long-term relationships" Scott said.
     A top tip from Sivesind is cooking demonstrations. He said it deepens the relationship when the manufacturer and dealer get together to cook for potential customers. It accomplishes several goals including marketing the store and brand and it helps with product knowledge when salespeople can see the grills in action, he said.
     Honesty leads Robinson's list. He also wants manufacturers, especially their reps, to communicate. "Just let me know that you're thinking about me," he said. "Ask how we're doing with the snow or the hurricane. That's their job isn't it? To communicate." Robinson also asks for information from reps. "They see things and trends when they're out there [on the road]. They see, feel and hear things." He thinks sharing information can help build both businesses.
Memphis Pro grillMemphis Pro grill display includes signage to educate shoppers and prompt conversation.

     A big relationship negative for Robinson is the rep who never shows up at the store. He also cautions manufacturers to think twice before cheapening a product to save a few cents here and there. He said this happens a lot and executives need to keep this in mind and keep up the good quality. "That's how you got there in the first place," Robinson said.
     Avoiding problems is a pit no one wants to fall into, Price said. Everyone needs to "reach out on a regular basis to resolve service issues," he said.
     Don't give in to the dark side of the short-term buck. Short-term, dollar-based decisions and relationships have a near-term benefit, but are a disadvantage in the long run, Scott said. "We intend that this is going to be a long-term relationship," he said. "We want to grow, mature and develop together."

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