Getting More from Your Distributor

Oct. 27, 2008
With hands-on product demos and the latest training, distributors offer more than merchandise

Even though security dealers and integrators recognize the value in staying up-to-date with the latest products, taking time out of a busy work schedule isn't easy. It can be tough enough just keeping up with the demands of business, so the idea of taking technicians out of the field and putting them in the classroom might not sound appealing. However, many distributors   now offer training and product demonstrations to fit their customers' demanding schedules and competitive businesses.

Adding value

Distributors have a vested interest in dealers knowing how to properly install and maintain their products. After all, if a dealer doesn't fully understand how a product works or when it's applicable, then that could also hurt a distributor's business.

“ADI recognizes the needs of our dealers and the latest trends in the market and we work to create training opportunities to enable dealers to be more competitive,” said Michael Masten , training manager, ADI, Melville , N.Y. He added that ADI's training courses are brand neutral.

Tim Rogers, Datacom Division manager, Target Distributing, Germantown , Md. , likens his company to a “convergence headquarters” for the role it can play in helping dealers sort out the new technologies popping up today. “Target Distributing has the reputation as enablers in our industry,” said Rogers . “Not only do we offer training to our dealers in their core competencies but we help expand their value to the end user by introducing them to new and exciting technologies like VoIP.”

“One of the distinct advantages distributors offer to dealers is their ability to provide a complete solution,” explained Brian James, vice president, Northern Video Systems, Rocklin , Calif. “This is true when it comes to training and product demos. We can provide the information through training plus the demos on multiple brands and product types.”

Distributors also can enable dealers to expand their business beyond security. “Many security dealers have an opportunity to enter the installed entertainment side of the business,” noted Bob Gartland , president, AVAD, Van Nuys , Calif. “They have the client relationships and AVAD can teach them how to be in the business.”

  Training methods

The different types of training offered by distributors vary. As such, dealers and integrators should be sure to look around and compare the offerings to their own needs if that's an option in their location.

“SGI hosts several training courses and product demos throughout the year concerning different product categories including home automation, intrusion, fire and access control,” explained Kristen Houseton, marketing manager, SGI, San Antonio , Texas . “We hold training and counter days during business hours at our branches as well as evening events which entail manufacturer's displays, dinner, drinks, music and a raffle. We also hold our version of a tradeshow called the SGI Showcase three to four times a year with training classes throughout the day and exhibits in the evening. These typically take place at a hotel in one of our markets.”

Adam Foley, vice president, Digital Watchguard (DWG), Merrick , N.Y. , said his company offers product trainings and demonstrations ranging from general overviews of a particular manufacturer's offerings to in-depth technical training on a specific product. “[DWG's training] locations vary depending on the manufacturer and expected crowd,” continued Foley. “Some are done in-house at our headquarters, some at a manufacturer's location and others at hotel conference centers.”

“Graybar provides a variety of training courses at various branches throughout the country,” said Paul H. Koebbe , national market manager, Security, Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis . “We offer courses such as Fundamentals of CCTV, Fundamentals of Access Control, Enable the Cable, Data Center Redesign and Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) exam preparation. In 2008, Graybar plans to offer additional courses to address industry concerns such as IP systems and basic networking concepts.”

Like Graybar, many distributors are planning to expand their training offerings in 2008. For instance, Northern Video Systems has a national IP Roadshow running throughout this year to different cities and ADI branches are incorporating A/V Branch Demo Rooms with solutions including home theater, whole house audio and control and automation products. “With these Demo Rooms,” said ADI's Masten , “dealers have a first-hand opportunity to see, touch and use products before presenting them to customers.”

Are dealers taking advantage?

Just because quality training is being offered by a distributor doesn't mean dealers or integrators will participate. Many other factors are involved, such as whether enough people even know about the training, if it fits into their schedule and if they can claim official credits through continuing education units ( CEUs ) or otherwise.

“Although some dealers take advantage of training, not all do,” said Stephanie Richter, marketing director, Windy City Wire, Bolingbrook , Ill. “Lack of awareness or time could be the reason. This is why it is important to get the word out as well as schedule a training period with plenty of time to plan.”

“In the rapid pace of the security industry most dealers/integrators find it very hard to schedule a couple of hours to have technicians out of the field,” said John Hyatt, systems manager, Tri-Ed Distribution. “In certain states where CEUs are required, training is mandatory. Consequently, most training is done at the job site or through a brief product overview at a Tri-Ed branch or a dealer's office.” 

Graybar's Koebbe concurred that security dealers are so busy that it's easy for them to miss training opportunities. He also noted that there could be some healthy skepticism that the “training” would actually turn into more of a sales pitch than actual training. He thus offered the following advice, “In general, when a seminar qualifies for continuing education credits, it has been reviewed and certified as a true training opportunity.” 

Another reason that dealers don't take advantage of distributor training as often as they could is because many of them rely on manufacturers to provide their training, said Northern Video Systems' James. “And although [manufacturers] are a good source for training and demos, they are by no means the only source.”