Having worked for a National merchant for the past 18 years I decided it was time for a change. I joined PVC in April 2018 and within the first month, I noticed the difference, the products and technologies are the same, but their primary focus was the customer. Within PVC the customer experience is pivotal.
In my view customer service is absolute key in whatever sector, be it National or Independent. A National merchant can provide a good service, however it is dependent on the people within the branch that supply the materials. I believe Independents, in particular PVC, pride themselves in providing exactly what the customer wants, ensuring if there are issues or shortages they tell the customer. They genuinely care and want to give the best possible service, ensuring repeat purchases and building successful relationships. Being an Independent with a large delivery area means that we are able to offer a service that is seamless irrelevant of location. I have seen situations where, when dealing with a National merchant, a customer tries to trade outside of their normal area of operation and because they are not a “known” customer, the service level can be very poor.
One cannot dispute that Nationals have an excellent range and availability of the popular and branded items. Independents do have certain popular brands, if the Independent is able to stock a variety of brands; they will have an equally good alternative that could save you money, very important in today’s competitive market.
The success of a merchant is dependent on their ability to hold the correct ranges and stock levels. If these are managed correctly, a merchant is able to provide a fantastic service, with minimal back orders. Having worked for a National for 18 years, I know that a lot of time and focus is spent on achieving a maximum holding figure. Head office will continually drive their branches to reduce their stock to be more efficient. Unfortunately, the other side of this is that the service customers receive is reduced. There were daily occurrences of orders not being fulfilled due to stock shortages, leaving plumber’s onsite unable to carry out the job they are there to do. PVC have shown me that Independents try to buck the trend; they do stock in volume and carry multiple ranges to ensure alternatives can be offered. This minimises the back orders, it makes managing my accounts easier. I can sell our service with pride.
Flexibility is key to PVC’s ability to provide a good service, adapting a route to account for a customer delivery requirement, considering future jobs and therefore customer stocking requirements. I am quickly learning that Independents are able to react faster, make decisions quicker ensuring that customer satisfaction is high and relationships are strong. My previous 18 years have shown me that Nationals are a rigid structure, resistant to change; making even simple things like, reacting to a sales spike difficult.
Without generalising too much, I believe that Independents are much friendlier than a National is. There are brilliant National branches but unfortunately, there are those that underachieve and give those that are excellent a bad reputation. So far, I have not come across a flat or difficult Independent merchant.
If you want an easier and more pleasant working day, my conclusion is focus on using an Independent, go for service. Here at PVC we will certainly make it a pleasant experience.