I read Don Magruder’s perceptive column in the May issue with a smile on my face. It was entitled “Can Independent Building Supply Dealers Survive? Yes—Even thrive.” Magruder, himself a successful independent dealer, laid out significant advantages these dealers bring to their marketplace: smart people, a long-term vision, and a keen grasp of their local markets.

I agree with every assertion the article makes, but also thought it would be useful to provide a perspective from a manufacturer that decided five years ago to develop private-label products—and to sell them exclusively to independent dealers.

Our rationale for that decision reveals some additional advantages independent dealers bring to the marketplace:

Independents help create better products Many manufacturers are seeing the sales opportunity independent dealers present. Smart manufacturers also understand their value as a development resource. At WOLF, for example, we seek input from independent dealers on unfilled niches, colors, price points, and a variety of other factors. The result:  Dealers (and the markets they understand like nobody else) design the products we bring to market. It increases our chances for immediate success, and it provides dealers with products they can actually sell.  

Independents are better before and after the sale On balance, the independents simply have better material handling capabilities, better storage facilities and better managed inventories. They provide customers with more options and quicker delivery. And, if there’s a problem during or after construction, independents are much better equipped to solve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction.

Independents understand value There’s much more to value than price, and independent dealers recognize that. They realize contractors want to know about durability, ease of installation, warranties, customer service from the manufacturer, and other issues aside from cost. The upshot: Independents are better at selecting products — and providing trustworthy guidance.

Back in 2010, when WOLF decided to focus solely on independents, the recession still weighed heavily on our company, on manufacturers, and of course on dealers. While it felt bold and counterintuitive back then, our decision to forge an alliance with independent dealers now seems like the most logical course of action. The 4,000+ independent dealers we serve have been exceptional partners, working in concert with us to introduce several successful product lines.

Magruder’s column was refreshing and completely accurate—independent dealers are poised for success. I’d only add that forward-thinking manufacturers have positioned themselves to help dealers achieve that success.