Read excerpts of an article that highlights how important it is for distributors to be able to implement price increases given a backdrop of continually rising input costs and a strong economy with some forecasting 3.7 percent growth. Now is the time for distributors to raise their prices.
“Why we’ve got low margins today…”
Downward pressure on margins is the universal distributor complaint. New competitors, supplier sales teams setting prices at unsustainable levels, the internet and customer pushback are all finding their way into the discussion. Further, in spite of some major productivity advancements, operating costs continue to rise. One distributor, who closely monitors operational costs, commented costs have risen nearly 25 percent faster than offsetting gross margin gains over the post-recession era. Clearly, we need to do something.
When times are tough, margins get another squeeze. During “The Recession,” many suppliers instructed their field teams and distributors “not to let price be an issue” while grabbing what little business was available. We responded. Pricing levels extended on projects and ongoing flow business took a gross margin nose dive for manufacturers and distributors alike. The problem lies in the fundamental difference in the distributor and manufacturer business model. The distributor slice of the total “supply chain” gross margin is much smaller than that of their supply partners. For example, Manufacturers make 45-60 percent gross margin and the Distributors receive 20-30 percent. Simply put, we distributors have less wiggle room.
Once The Recession ended, we found ourselves stuck with the lower prices and lower margins. On the customer side, customers discovered new base-line low prices and latched onto the savings. With this fact freshly planted in their minds, many pushed/negotiated to extend the lower level.
“Good times are the right time to ask for a little more.”
Fortunately, most of our customers are out of their own financial crisis. They no longer need to squeeze their suppliers just to survive. The new sellers pumped into our territory are mostly settled into position. They have discovered enough accounts to justify the meager commissions needed to survive. More importantly, customers are busy. They, along with their purchasing/procurement departments, are relying on you for expanded services and dependable deliveries, not record setting prices.
If ever a time existed to push margin to a new level it is now. The window, however, is narrow. Business cycles, by their very nature, move from great to poor. According to economists, this growth spurt will extend into mid-2018. Time is short. We cannot and should not procrastinate our plan.
“Strangely, many distributors have long term pricing agreements without expiration dates.”
The customer asked for longer range pricing stability and the distributor pushed competitors out of the way with a pricing agreement. Some of these are well crafted, while others ask the question: Exactly when will the distributor ever be able to execute a price increase?
Any agreement over one year old is ripe for a price increase, regardless of your current margin. With exception given to a limited number of commodities, it’s just not reasonable to assume the cost of anything has remained the same for over a year. I recommend a proposed price increase of 2-3 points here.
When establishing new agreements, put in openings for new price increases in the future. Ideally, these would be tied to a six or twelve month cycle.
“Review all Manufacturer extended Special Pricing Agreements”
These pricing agreements negotiated trilaterally with the manufacturer, distributor and customer. Typically, distributors raise the price only when the manufacturer raises the price. Sometimes, the manufacturer price increases are not passed along to the customer. This needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Whatever the manufacturer’s increase, move the gross margin up at least full point. To illustrate, the manufacturer increases the distributor price by 2.75 percent, the distributor increases the customer price by 3.75 percent.
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