Posted by McElroy Metal ● Dec 21, 2021 8:00 AM
Post Frame Manufacturer Service and Support
Most buyers agree that service is important in their buying decisions when asked. However, service can mean a host of different things. It simply means the speed of delivery to some, but to others, it often means much more. This section will cover a few of the most common topics successful contractors include when evaluating service.
National manufacturers routinely offer delivery services to contractor locations and even direct to job sites, given their broad geographic coverage. Conversely, regional manufacturers often require contractors to pick up material. While there usually is a fee associated with delivery from a national manufacturer, picking up material from a regional manufacturer bears the cost. While those costs associated with picking up your material might fly under the radar, they are real, and they affect your profitability.
Consequently, they bear consideration. Fuel and vehicle expenses are obvious costs, but you also need to put labor into the equation. Labor should include both the time you paid an employee to pick up the material and the soft opportunity costs of what else they could have been doing during that time.
Bottom Line: Delivery isn't an option with many regional manufacturers. However, it's available with virtually all national manufacturers. Given the current tight labor market, many contractors prefer to keep their crews focused on installation while someone else handles getting material to the job site.
Suppose you're in this camp and deciding between regional and national manufacturers. In that case, you'll want to dig into this topic and ask some questions regarding delivery availability before determining which type of manufacturer is better suited to you.
Service and Support - Packaging
Anyone who has waited for material only to receive damaged products understands the importance of good packaging. Admittedly, robust packaging isn't cheap. Neither is pulling crews off of one job and sending them to another due to material damage. While no one is exempt from occasional damage, national manufacturers go to far greater lengths than their regional counterparts to protect products and minimize damage. Part of their packaging approach lies in self-preservation.
Because national manufacturers routinely deliver products several states away from their production facilities, their packaging is by design more substantial. It simply must be to ensure the product is received in excellent condition. In fact, at McElroy Metal, we've even designed custom trailers to help minimize the damage that drivers often cause while tarping flatbed trailers.
Another excellent example of the enhanced packaging used by national manufacturers is banding their panels onto wood blocking. This blocking stabilizes the panels from bending or flexing and provides a level of protection far greater than the block's cost. Yet, most regional manufacturers do not use the block and band packaging approach for their panels. Instead, their packaging tends to be bare bones.
Generally speaking, a regional manufacturer's goal is simply for their packaging to be substantial enough to successfully hand the product off to the customer. Conversely, the packaging offered by national manufacturers offers contractors benefits extending past the initial delivery. For contractors that have material delivered to their shop instead of directly to the job site, it's much easier for contractors to reload material onto their trailers when the packaging is more robust like that typically offered by national manufacturers.
Additionally, well-packaged materials are easier to move around on job sites. Many national manufacturers, including McElroy Metal, also offer project-specific packaging and tag their bundles with certain building areas. For example, one bundle might be labeled "west end" and another "east end."
As you can imagine, there is a much lower possibility for crew damage and much higher crew productivity with this sort of packaging. If you're intrigued with this type of packaging, it's always best to ask questions of any manufacturer that you're considering partnering with to determine the availability.
Bottom Line: National manufacturers realize that properly packaged products impact everything from crew production schedules to employees' paycheck and ultimately building owners' happiness, and design their standard packaging accordingly. Consequently, packaging costs are expensive and an area where most regional manufacturers cut their costs, often at contractors' expense.
Service and Support - Technology
Technology is another differentiator between national and regional manufacturers. As a rule of thumb, regional manufacturers don't have the expertise or staffing to capitalize on some newer technologies as national manufacturers do.
Let's look at e-commerce and material scanning during the loading process as examples. If you aren't familiar, e-commerce refers to buying items online. The chances are good that you do quite a bit of e-commerce in your personal life. While our industry has been slower to embrace digital ordering than other industries, the national manufacturers are catching up quickly.
Properly designed e-commerce systems allow contractors to prepare their quotes and orders when convenient to them. They also enable contractors to upload custom trims and a host of other benefits. No longer are contractors confined to a manufacturer's business hours. In our fast-paced, 24/7 world, busy contractors embrace this technology. Many demand it and consider it a critical feature when choosing their manufacturer. While many national manufacturers have developed advanced e-commerce systems, few regional manufacturers are active in this space.
Material scanning during loading and unloading is another newer technological advancement that we're proud to offer at McElroy Metal. Few, if any, other national or regional manufacturers provide this service. Material scanning helps resolve the age-old problem of material that was supposedly loaded onto a truck but never delivered. The process helps keep replacement costs in line for manufacturers and, consequently, costs down for contractors and building owners.
Bottom Line: There is, of course, a cost to purchase technology, and it is one that regional manufacturers typically aren't willing to invest in. Again, regional manufacturers usually have one goal in mind: low-cost products and quick lead times. Consequently, investing in new technologies is rarely a priority for them, but it is a continual priority for national manufacturers who prioritize service for their customers.
Service and Support - Website
Speaking of technology, we also need to address websites. While the smallest regional players may not host a website, most medium-sized regional players and virtually all national manufacturers offer a website for customers to view their product offerings. In this digital age, most customers consider websites a requirement.
However, you can expect to find significant differences in the types and quantity of content on national manufacturers' sites compared to the regional manufacturers. Typically, regional manufacturers' websites contain only basic information such as panel shapes and color availability. Conversely, national manufacturers' websites are much more robust and offer all sorts of free resources and downloads designed to support their contractors, building owners, and distributors.
While each manufacturer's website may vary, you can routinely expect to find the following types of documents: installation manuals, product-specific load tables, CAD/PDF files, testing information, product specification templates, case studies, design tips, warranties, and maintenance information.
It's also common to find building design tools like photo galleries and interactive visualizers on national manufacturer websites. Some more robust visualizers even allow users to upload photos of their projects and experiment with color. Tools of this nature aren't the norm with regional manufacturers' websites.
Bottom Line: National manufacturers are more willing to spend the money necessary to develop and maintain robust websites to support their customers. If powerful websites are important to you, this may be a critical factor in your decision-making. However, if you rarely visit websites and don't find them beneficial for your business, this may be a non-issue.
Service and Support - Educational Materials
Educational materials are another big difference between regional and national manufacturers. Because they operate with very low overhead, regional manufacturers rarely spend the time and money necessary to develop educational content. In contrast, national manufacturers freely share tips and best practices through extensive blogs, e-books like this one, and video tutorials hosted on their website.
Bottom Line: If you're an experienced contractor selling basic products and have customers that aren't interested in educating themselves, you may not care about educational materials. If you like to be on the cutting edge of new products and enjoy the reputation of being an expert in your field, then chances are you do! If that's the case, national manufacturers offer a distinct advantage in the arena of educational materials.
Service and Support - Industry Support
Another area of support that sometimes flies under the radar is the manufacturer's amount of involvement or support to the industry. Several industry organizations in the metal roofing and siding industry work tirelessly to advance the industry through market development, building code work, and even research and development efforts.
Many national manufacturers make significant financial commitments to these groups since they realize their efforts directly benefit everyone from contractors to building owners and manufacturers.
For example, at McElroy Metal, we take great pride in our active participation and leadership positions with the following trade organizations: National Frame Building Association (NFBA), Metal Roofing Construction Association (MRCA), Metal Roofing Alliance (MRA), and Metal Construction Association (MCA).
Conversely, many regional manufacturers benefit from these efforts but provide little (to no) financial support or active participation. As mentioned previously, due to their proximity and small-scale operations, regional manufacturers typically offer lead times that national manufacturers struggle to match. Generally speaking, it is their claim to fame.
However, some national manufacturers have become creative and begun offering a hybrid approach to close this gap. For example, at McElroy Metal, we introduced the concept of local service centers. These physical storefronts stock basic products, produce standard and custom trims (often with 1-day lead-time), and stock a full line of accessories. We presently have 26 of these facilities located around the country and are constantly adding more. In many cases, this model allows our contractors and owners the opportunity to experience the best of both national and regional manufacturers.
Bottom Line: If material availability is consistently your number one priority, a regional manufacturer is likely a solid choice regardless of product quality and service. Suppose you can organize your business to allow for a bit longer lead-time. In that case, the chances are good that both you and your building owners will experience a big bump in quality, depth of product options, and service from working with national manufacturers.
Service and Support - Support Staff
To date, most of the manufacturer support we've addressed involves behind-the-scenes activities. However, some manufacturers also employ teams of people to offer front-line support to both contractors and building owners. Local sales representatives are a great example of manufacturer-supplied support staff. Experienced reps routinely make themselves available for face-to-face meetings with contractors, installation crews, architects, and building owners. Topics for these meetings include everything from product education to product selection, product availability, and even installation training.
Estimating, engineering, and drafting services are great examples of common support staff supplied by many national manufacturers to assist their customers. Estimating services are typically provided free of charge, and (as the name implies) these folks prepare job-specific estimates for metal panels and related trims.
In today's competitive environment, we've seen many of our customers reduce the size of their internal estimating departments and instead utilize a manufacturer-provided in-house estimating team. While most manufacturers don't charge for estimating services, they usually charge nominal fees for engineering and drafting services.
As a rule of thumb, the fees charged are still less than what you pay for similar services locally, and you gain the benefit of working with someone who has a high focus and product knowledge on metal roofing and siding panels.
Bottom Line: If you like access to a team of experts to support both you and your customers, it's important to consider support staff when comparing national and regional manufacturers. As might be expected, regional manufacturers typically offer these support staff with less frequency given their low overhead and staffing levels.
Conversely, national manufacturers routinely provide these and many other types of support staff. With that said, there are variances to the norm on both sides, so it's always best to ask potential vendors to determine the available services.
Service and Support - National vs. Regional Manufacturers
When comparing service levels between regional and national manufacturers, it's usually best to consider their market approach. A wise man once said you couldn't have good, fast and cheap. Since regional manufacturers' value proposition is cheap and fast, it stands to reason that you'll likely give up good in either product quality or service.
Which one depends on the manufacturer. It doesn't mean that regional manufacturers can't be a good fit for you, but it's important to temper your expectations. On the other hand, national manufacturers consider their service one of the most important attributes to their business model and consequently offer service levels that outshine the regional manufacturers.
Summary: When considering service levels between national and regional manufacturers, the first question to answer should be defining what service means to you. Suppose the only factor you're looking for with regard to service is lead-time.
In that case, a regional manufacturer or a national manufacturer who also has regional storefronts (like McElroy Metal) may be your best partner. Suppose you include delivery services, robust packaging, technology, support staff, training, and educational materials when you define service. In that case, you're likely far better suited to work with a national manufacturer.
About McElroy Metal
Since 1963, McElroy Metal has served the construction industry with quality products and excellent customer service. The family-owned components manufacturer is headquartered in Bossier City, La., and has 13 manufacturing facilities across the United States. Quality, service and performance have been the cornerstone of McElroy Metal’s business philosophy and have contributed to the success of the company through the years. As a preferred service provider, these values will continue to be at the forefront of McElroy Metal’s model along with a strong focus on the customer.
Topics: Post Frame