Building material dealers rate a vendor or distributor's ability to deliver a product in a timely, accurate fashion as just as important as the qualities of the product being delivered, a ProSales survey released today suggests.

Those three areas got an average score of 9.12 to 9.16 when when dealers were asked to rank, on a 1- to 10-point scale, 19 different qualities that they consider most important when working with a vendor or distributor. Product availability and honesty regarding when shipments will arrive ranked close behind at 8.99 and 8.92, respectively. "Frequency of rep visits" finished last at 5.96, but a number of written comments suggested that dealers do care about reps giving prompt replies to their queries and being accessible when needed.

The online survey, conducted over the past two weeks, drew 115 responses from officials at building supply companies from all across the country and representing all sizes of operations.

"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 under the survey's promise that individually identifiable information would remain private. "It's different now they need to adjust their programs to help the dealers and themselves."

Taken together, the results suggest that a manufacturer needs to devote significant energy to servicing a dealer rather than counting solely on its product's features to force the dealer to stock the item. The relatively lower scores regarding sales rep qualities also may buttress 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."

Here are the scores that survey respondents gave to 19 vendor/distributor qualities. The exact question asked was: "On a 1- to 10-point scale, with 1 being Least Likely and 10 being Most Likely, which of these programs and personnel factors typically offered by vendors and distributors are most likely to influence your decision to buy or stock a particular product?" Polling experts say qualities that get a score of at least an 8 are the ones that matter enough to respondents to merit attention:

Quality Average Score
Timely product delivery 9.16
Product's qualities 9.13
Accurate deliveries 9.12
Product availability 8.99
Honest forecasts of when shipments will arrive 8.92
Product is readily available via a distributor I use 8.43
Rep's understanding of my needs 8.26
Rep's product knowledge 8.26
Knowledge of dealer needs and interests 8.19
No-hassle returns 8.06
Price 7.93
Availability of technical representatives 7.56
Guaranteed buyback of unsold inventory 7.15
Availability of product literature 7.00
Rep's friendliness 6.83
Rebates 6.66
Co-op advertising program 6.22
Market development funds 6.13
Frequency of rep visits 5.96