Being a Wary Customer
By Larry Ciptak
Before you buy lockers (or shelving) from anybody, there are a few things you should first know about this industry:
- Not everyone in this industry is honest, and some will make false promises (like an unreasonably short ship date) to get your order;
- The industry is set up to make the distributors look like schmucks when something goes wrong;
- There are many variables outside of our (distributors) control that sometimes makes it difficult for us to provide you with precise information, especially concerning lead times and shipping;
- And sometimes we’re given wrong information from a manufacturer or freight handler that is then passed on to you, making us all look like idiots.
If this sounds a little rough, it’s because it is. Time and time again we find ourselves apologizing for mistakes that are not ours.
Not to say we don’t make mistakes—we do. However, mistakes can be very costly in this industry. We strive to make as few as possible, which is why we’ve invested so heavily in our computer infrastructure and sales staff training. But like any system, ours is only as good as the information put into it. And sometimes we’re given information that just isn’t very good or is downright inaccurate.
If you’re a seasoned locker or shelving buyer, we’re not going to tell you anything you haven’t already found out the hard way. But if you’re not, we’d like to offer some suggestions to minimize the risk of your getting snookered.
Get it in writing.
If a distributor promises you lockers by a certain date, get it in writing and dated. If they’re unwilling to nail down a date for you, it’s for one of two reasons: a.) the manufacturer is hemming and hawing at providing a date (which does happen), or b.) they’re only telling you what you want to hear to get your order. Sometimes the best we can do is say “three- to five-weeks” if that is the most the manufacturer is willing to commit to.
When you buy and what you buy determines how quickly you receive products.
Most manufacturers have “quick ship” lockers and shelving, common-sized items in limited colors deemed to be the best movers and thus worth pre-producing and keeping in stock to ship quickly. Everything else is considered “production” items, made to specification once the order is received. If you’re looking for custom/production lockers during locker season (May-August) and wait until July to order, you’re not going to get your lockers in time for the opening of school. Always ask your representative for the current lead time on your specific product, and again, get it in writing.
But in fairness to all distributors, because the manufacturers give themselves leeway in estimated ship dates, sometimes we cannot give you an exact ship date when you place the order. There is the estimated ship date provided upon receiving the order, followed in a week or so by the actual ship date that the manufacturer provides us once the order is placed in their system and scheduled for production.
Know how your product is going to be received.
Do you have a loading dock? How wide are your doors? How is the product going to arrive—on pallets or on skids? How much will it weigh? Do you have the necessary equipment (forklift, pallet jack) to move the items to their final location? Does the shipping cost include liftgate service, if needed? Do you need inside delivery? Call notification? If a distributor rep doesn’t ask you these questions prior to you placing an order, then they are just trying to move product, not provide a solution that addresses and best meets your needs.
What happens if your order is damaged or incomplete?
This needs to be addressed before you order. Know what you’re getting into. At Big Dog, we provide prospects with complete freight receiving instructions that includes who is responsible and for what. And if there is damage or something wrong, never let a shipper leave without having them notate it on the paperwork they provide you. You may need this to file a claim, if it’s your responsibility to do so.
Is on-site installation being offered as an option?
Some firms want to make sales without taking the time to provide adequate service. We work with installers all over the country to best meet our customers’ needs. Companies who don’t offer this service are simply moving product without regard to your specific budgetary or logistical needs. Selling lockers pre-assembled is fine (we do it all the time), but only when it costs less than shipping them unassembled and arranging professional on-site assembly. Unassembled lockers ship class 70, assembled ship class 125. There’s a big difference in freight rates between the two. We search for the most cost-effective solution and present you with both options so you can decide what best suits your organization’s needs. Those companies who don’t present assembly options are assuming they understand your needs or else don’t know any better.
This industry is rapidly changing. Stocking distributors are disappearing and web-based companies (like ours) are growing in number and popularity. However, this does not mean we’re all created equal. Do your homework, shop around and be an educated consumer.
Do what we do—document everything. If you have any questions, get your answers in writing. Make sure you fully understand the product you’re receiving, the delivery process and what you should do if anything goes awry. Be aware of all your options, especially with factory-assembly or on-site assembly and installation. Look for specifics and avoid vague terminology. In short, cover your butt because the company you’re dealing with may not be doing it for you.
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