It is essential for equipment suppliers to support and train their mobility retail partners if they want their products to sell strongly through the dealer channel. AMP asks what top manufacturers are doing to ensure dealers are fully trained and supported so businesses at both ends of the supply chain prosper.
On the panel
- Gino Farruggio, UK trade sales director, Stiltz Homelifts
- David Spillman, service manager, Pride Mobility
- Caroline Munday, dealer manager, Stannah Lifts
- Rob Redgewell, business development retail manager, Ottobock UK
- Paul Stockdill, national sales manager, Handicare
How important is the dealer channel and what is the value of investing time and resources in training and support?
David Spillman: The dealer channel is our route to the retail market and a focal point of our business model. We invest vast resources in accommodating our dealer network to allow a seamless transaction from product selection to product provision. Pride UK runs regular training courses on product awareness, product prescription setup and service training. This in turn helps the dealer network to expand their income stream by offering product assessment and aftersales service to the end user.
Gino Farruggio: We use a number of different channels to reach out to our customers. The dealer network is very important as there are always customers who prefer the personal touch of buying from a local company. This is why we are currently committed to building partnerships with trusted local retail partners. By working with local trade partners, we are raising awareness of our homelifts as well as calling on the dealers’ local expertise to help develop customer relationships in their own areas.
Rob Redgewell: It’s hugely important for our organisation to have a good relationship with dealers because, where we don’t sell directly to the public, they are the face of our business to customers. Investing time and resources into the staff at these dealers is pivotal to us as a manufacturer of complex mobility equipment. It’s important they understand the unique aspects of our products so they can pass this on to our customers and maximise their experience with the products.
Paul Stockdill: It goes without saying that the dealer channel has always been important to Handicare. Over the last couple of years we’ve really stepped up our training and support, and this has been recognised and rewarded by a growing network of dealers and mobility retailers in our Partner Programmes. We see all our Partners as very much part of Handicare’s OneFamily; their market knowledge and experience is invaluable and we’re keen to work more closely with them to make sure we’re all operating efficiently and effectively.
Caroline Munday: Having a dealer channel is incredibly important for Stannah; our dealers help us reach different segments of the market, giving us a local presence with a customer base we may not otherwise capture. We carefully select our dealers based on their professionalism and technical expertise.
It can be challenging for dealers to learn the vast array of product ranges on the market. What support tools or training schemes do you offer to make it easier?
Paul Stockdill: Our product training is rigorous and on-going, giving dealers practical and expert information about our stairlift models. Factory visits and in-depth installation training on each of the models is carried out at our training centre in Kingswinford, with full technical support provided via phone and regular visits by our team of senior engineers.
Rob Redgewell: We spend a lot of time visiting our dealers around the country to maintain a good working relationship with them and they know they can contact us at any time should they need additional training or support on top of the courses we provide, which include training on our products, servicing, and special controls, among others. The main thing is to ensure our dealers know our products inside out.
Caroline Munday: Our dealer training programme is comprehensive, covering all aspects of installation, servicing and fault diagnosis and supported with technical specification documents and survey manuals. Our dealers have online access to our technical library and we encourage all our dealers to complete the Stannah Certificate of Excellence.
David Spillman: Pride’s product support objective is to offer free industry leading pre/post-sales and technical support to aid building mutually beneficial business relations with our dealer network and maximise the dealers’ sales potentials. Pride will offer exceptionally competitive dealer pricing, free product training, free product support via telephone, email and website access and provide five departments dedicated to helping mobility dealers.
Gino Farruggio: We launched the Stiltz Homelift Training Academy in 2016. This is currently a free-of-charge dealer training programme designed to enable companies to work towards becoming Premier Partners and be able to install our lifts into customers’ homes using their own resources, instead of relying on Stiltz installation teams. We are regularly in contact with our dealer partners and keep them updated with supporting in-store marketing material.
What are the advantages for dealers who attend training schemes and pick suppliers who can offer good support?
Gino Farruggio: Training is important as it protects the dealer and it protects us. By providing the correct training, the dealer can confidently go out and sell our products – and even safely install them. We know if we equip our selected partners with all the tools they need, and work in partnership with them, then they will succeed. Due to the nature of our product, we also offer 24/7 technical support for all our dealers.
Caroline Munday: Working with a manufacturer that offers extensive training and support to their dealers can only be a positive. Dealers can be confident that their engineers have the knowledge and capacity to specify the correct product, that the ordering process will be smooth and transparent and that ultimately the dealer can offer full customer satisfaction by installing a quality product without any issues.
Rob Redgewell: Knowing everything about the products on the market is integral for any dealer, because showing good knowledge gives their customers ultimate confidence. Additionally, continuous training means dealers can keep up with a fast moving market and the constant arrivals of new technologies, and user need. We strive to ensure that our dealers are as up-to-date with our product range as possible, so when a customer makes an enquiry they will have all their questions answered.
David Spillman: Advantages include the ability to correctly diagnose the requirements of the end-user; understanding of the product range; ability to perform regular servicing of the product; and ability to offer safety instructions to the end-user. Pride UK must make sure the dealer has the capacity to correctly support the area and be able to have a presence and offer an exceptional after care service. In turn, the dealer will take exclusive Pride ownership of a given area.
Do you see the support that suppliers offer mobility dealers changing in the future? If so, how?
Rob Redgewell: I can definitely see changes coming in the future to fit in with the changing needs of our dealers, and reflecting the more ‘instant’ world we now live in. I anticipate more and more training being administered remotely via online video tutorials or webinars, service manuals being converted into video, and more content being accessible via mobile apps. All of these things fit into a dealer’s working timetable far easier. However I do feel there is still so much value in a face-to-face approach, which is something we’re really proud of.
Gino Farruggio: As time goes on and our products continue to develop, it is going to be important for us, as a manufacturer, to ensure we can offer dealers all the necessary technological assistance. While our homelifts are relatively simple to install, they are going to become more technologically advanced both in terms of operation as well as servicing. We have to be mindful that all of this knowledge is communicated to our partners in order to enable their installation and service teams to provide the necessary support to customers who have purchased homelifts from them. Our marketing department is currently finalising easy-to-follow, comprehensive, step-by-step building and installation guides for dealers. These will continue to be updated as technology progresses.
Caroline Munday: Dealer support will continue to be a vital part of the supplier/dealer relationship. While many more support elements may be provided via digital channels in the future, automating some functions, allowing self-management of others via portals etc, strong personal relationships will always be at the heart of any supplier/dealer relationship. This will allow dealers to build a level of trust that they can rely on the supplier to help them deliver their promise to the customer, time after time.
David Spillman: The internet’s value as a source of reference information has been around for some time, it is being fully adopted and marketed for the benefit of all our channels, Pride will continue to develop our website offerings and has now become a central point of information to our channels and end-users.
Paul Stockdill: The type of support we offer has changed to include commercial training for those dealers who want it. We’re listening to our partners and responding to their changing needs as opportunities in the marketplace evolve, and we’re resourcing our technical support differently to make it more proactive and accessible to our network. There’s no doubt that online learning is on the horizon, but this needs to be carefully managed to ensure quality and safety standards are maintained.