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Mutually beneficial training

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It's always difficult when a manufacturer has to hand over their product to a distributor as they are essentially placing their reputation in the hands of an external company.


For a distributor the prospect of a new product can be exciting but sometimes daunting. What if an end customer asks a question they don't know the answer to? What if, when they arrive to survey, they encounter a problem they don't know how to solve? To make this exchange run as smoothly as possible, the manufacturer should develop a working relationship with the distributor early on to provide as much information as they can and head off potential problems before they arise through comprehensive training.

Retractable screen manufacturer, Phantom Screens, are a good example of a supplier who has realised the importance of distributor training. The company manufactures high-end, retractable screens for insect protection, solar shading, privacy screening and blackout blinds and they pride themselves on the quality of their products. However, these niche products are still fairly new to the UK market and distributors may not have fitted a cassette product like this before. This means that Phantom's training sessions need to be more than just a basic how to fit. They need to give the distributor the confidence to survey and install and motivate them to promote the products.

Originally, Phantom offered only basic training which gave their distributors an idea of how to fit the products but didn't explain how to survey what to look out for and how to solve problems arising. This tactic ultimately proved fruitless because distributors would come across tricky installations which they were unsure how to deal with. They would then lose confidence and stop actively promoting the screens to customers. To rectify this, Phantom Screens made surveying, trouble shooting and fitting the main focuses of their training. The training sessions are now run by expert Phantom fitters who have first-hand experience of surveying and fitting the products. This allows for a mutually beneficial relationship where they can share their knowledge with trainees and in turn can learn from other distributors experiences. As an extra bonus, once they complete training, distributors are able to sell Phantom products with a lifetime mechanical warranty which inspires consumer confidence in the products.

Of course, no training is fool proof and problems may still arise at a later date, but by investing time and resources in support programmes, manufacturers can encourage distributors to work through the problems. Phantom Screens have developed their support programme through several different routes in a bid to create stronger relationships with their distributors. Firstly, after training they give distributors access to their online Trade Zone which has all the supporting materials they might need including product manuals, brochures, order forms, FAQs, top tips, marketing guides and more. Distributors are also added to the Phantom Screens mailing list from which they receive regular updates about Phantom products and advice on surveying, fitting and marketing. The company also actively encourage distributors to get in contact with them if they need advice and hold free of charge training sessions throughout the year which are open to both old and new distributors.

Providing training and support at this level may seem like an awful lot of effort to go to but ultimately creates a better outcome for everybody. The end user is more confident because their screens are being fitted by a factory trained professional and the distributor is armed with the knowledge they need to survey and are confident that if they come across something they are unsure of, the manufacturer will be there to help them. By cultivating these mutually beneficial relationships through training and support, the manufacturer ultimately safeguards their reputation and builds valuable, lasting partnerships with distributors which will ultimately be more rewarding and profitable for them both.