They may stand thousands of miles apart, but when asked to sing out on what they expect from suppliers, buyers at America's building supply companies respond in remarkable harmony.

"Getting the job as soon as possible, the right product and in good condition, has become even more important," says Ginny Shultz, purchasing manager at Kohl Building Products, Reading, Pa.

"If a supplier has a good product and the price is good, but you can't get it because of their production schedule, it's not going to do you any good," says Ken Hernbloom, buyer for Barnett Phillips Lumber, Canton, Miss.

"We want to see a quality product, good support from the vendor, good customer service, and we need competitive pricing–not the lowest pricing, but competitive pricing," adds Rob Peters, a buyer for the past 10 years at Home Lumber of New Haven, Ind.

That consistency of message also rang through in a ProSales survey of dealers conducted in January. When asked to give scores from one to 10 on different areas of supplier/distributor performance, three categories topped the list with scores of 9.12 to 9.16 points: Timeliness of deliveries, product quality, and accuracy of deliveries. Product availability and honesty regarding when shipments will arrive ranked close behind at 8.99 and 8.92, respectively (see enclosed table). The online survey drew 115 responses from officials at building supply companies from all across the country and representing all sizes of operations.

"Frequency of rep visits" finished last at 5.96, but written comments in the survey buttressed what ProSales found when it interviewed 15 other buyers nationwide regarding what they wanted from suppliers. (Three are cited here, and 10 more are featured in "Buyer's Choice) Those comments suggested that while frequency of personal visits might not matter much, dealers care about reps being accessible when needed. "Get a smart phone and use e-mail with regularity," one survey respondent suggested. "And when you have a smart phone, acknowledge that I sent you an e-mail. Don't wait two days and then get back to me."

The relatively lower scores regarding sales rep qualities also may support the notion that a good home office can make up for a weak field representative, but a sterling sales rep can't overcome the ill feelings created when the central office and its distribution arm don't meet their commitments. Said one dealer: "A great supplier with poor paperwork skills doesn't do much when you have to constantly fix the prices."

Even more important, buyers suggest, is being a fair negotiator and honest business partner. "We don't beat them down to get the best rock-bottom price," Peters says. "If one company is making the lion's share of the profits, the relationship probably won't last that long. Somebody's going to get tired of not making money."

That's one side of the coin. But some dealers suggest they're still seeing the flip side more often than one would think in this economy. "With the change in business with the housing downturn, the manufacturers still want to do business the way that they always have," one dealer wrote. "It's different now. They need to adjust their programs to help the dealers and themselves."