Recently a discussion in a trade forum caught my attention. The talk focused on what small retailers can do to retain sales and minimize the losses we all face with the ever increasing popularity of internet shopping. This is a valid conversation that “brick and mortar” businesses have been having for some time, but this is a topic that the end user should really be having as well. Why should you give your business to smaller business rather than buy direct from the internet?
TMI sells some equipment that is available on the internet as well. In this day and age, most people do. If you’re anything like me, you probably consult the internet on a regular basis when you need to make a purchase, just to make sure you’re getting a good price. Budgets are tight all around right now, and money must be spent judiciously.
Many products are available on the internet for less than (small) companies sell them at. We see clients purchasing from the internet more and more often, either because they are simply protecting their budget, or sometimes because their organization demands it and leaves them no choice. If you can buy what you need cheaper via the internet, why shouldn’t you?
I can give you a number of reasons why you shouldn’t. There is far more (and often far less) to many internet retailers than initially meets the eye. Stop and ask yourself just why that item is so much less on the internet when compared to the quote that your favorite retailer has provided you. There are many reasons. One reason is that the internet retailer often buys in great quantity from the manufacturer, commanding a volume discount that most small retailers simply will never qualify for. Another reason is that many keep their overhead low by employing a minimum amount of staff, outsourcing or automating the ordering process, and maintaining stock at remote warehouses. They may never even see the product that they sell. Some even arrange unscrupulous deals to buy around distributors, undercutting all other honest retail organizations.
Many internet retailers buy what sells and they sell it cheap. What they typically don’t do is invest themselves into the product. They don’t learn about how their equipment functions. They don’t care much about where it goes or who buys it. They don’t know who their clients are, nor do they focus on getting return business.
So what will happen when your pool vacuum stops working or when you experience unexpected results after using pool chemicals? Will that internet retailer provide you with knowledgeable tech support who will help you troubleshoot the problem? Will they quickly help you obtained the necessary replacement parts? Will they handle the warranty, or will they refer you back to the manufacturer? In the case of the chemicals, will you be able to talk to someone who understands pool chemistry and can help identify the cause of your problem? Often times the answer is that they will not offer any tech support, will not quickly respond to your request for replacement parts, and will not handle the warranty claim for you. Sadly, once they sell you that product you are more than likely on your own.
Another factor to consider when purchasing from the internet is the number of vendors that you may be accumulating. Suppliers that sell salt systems may not supply vacuums. Chemical stores may not sell test kits. So when a particular piece of equipment breaks or is in need of replacement, will you know where you bought it and when? If a few years have passed, will that internet retailer still be in business? If the timing of a warranty is questioned or an original invoice required, will your internet retailer have any of that information, or will the burden of responsibility be in your lap?
Small businesses like TMI invest in quality employees for the sake of their clients. They employ people who know their products inside and out and who often understand what they sell better than even the manufacturer does. They support what they sell and have a vested interest in making sure that product continues to work year after year for their customers. They have a tight network of suppliers on hand in the event that you need spare parts. They understand your pool and are willing to take the time to work through your pool chemistry with you, in order to make sure your pool is functioning at its peak. They handle warranty claims on your behalf, so that all you have to do is make a call, supply the necessary information, and wait for your warranty parts to arrive at your door. They have your entire purchase history – including purchase dates, warranty terms, invoices, and purchase orders – at their fingertips.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, they know your name. I have personally met many of my clients. I often know when my clients are expecting new babies or grandbabies in the family. I routinely send out happy birthday wishes to my clients. I know who is a big sports fan, who spent their vacation at Disney World, and who likes to ski in their spare time. I know these things because I speak at length with my clients and have been doing so for many years.
Your time is valuable. Being able to contact just one vendor for much of your facility’s needs saves you time. Trusting that they will handle your warranty, order, or tech support request in an expeditious manner saves you time. Having the history of many of your purchases maintained in one location saves you time.
To me, these reasons are why you should think twice before buying from the lowest bidder on the internet. Give your business to the company that works hard to earn it and works just as hard to maintain it. Frankly, don’t you prefer doing business with someone who knows your name? I know I do.