We all have relationships in our lives that really matter, and then there are other relationships that we treat as more transactional, such as those with our suppliers—be it distributors, manufacturers, or reps. I think, however, it’s important to make your supplier relationships as strong as your other professional relationships because this can help you solve problems when you’re out in the field.
We got a call from our NuVo rep recently because a customer had contacted their headquarters concerned with the poor performance of their media server and that the system was continually lagging. Unfortunately, their integrator had moved out of state so they had nowhere else to turn. I could tell right away that the problem sounded software-related and that server needed to be updated and subsequently hard-rebooted. It was not a huge job, but as I’ve said before, you never know what can happen with these small troubleshooting jobs. And I also wanted to support NuVo and help them retain a customer, because I value our business relationship.
I scheduled time to personally go to this customer’s home in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. It was a beautiful apartment, owned by an accomplished producer and talent manager in the entertainment business. The apartment was outfitted with a NuVo Grand Concerto 8 Zone system, multiple iPod docks, a projector in the living room, and an 80-inch TV in the bedroom. While fixing the NuVo system (the problem was exactly what I thought, and it now works great), I chatted with the property’s caretaker and now have the opportunity to maintain and upgrade the system as necessary, run new coax lines for their recently added DirectTV service, re-mount the bedroom TV on an articulating arm, and possibly upgrade the projector and screen. What started out as a quick service call as a favor to a great vendor partner turned into a client worth tens of thousands of dollars in future billings.
There are also times when business relationships don’t go well. One of my business partners in a group called Home Theater Advisors, recently went on a service call to install a new projector lamp for a new client with an existing installation (one HTA didn’t do). The client had provided the model number of the lamp required, and HTA’s owner Mark ordered it through distribution. When it arrived, he set out to install it; it was a pretty easy and not very profitable job, but worth it to build a new client relationship. Upon getting to the site he removed the old lamp, opened the new one and before trying to install it, realized it was the wrong lamp—the client had given him incorrect information.
Mark called his distributor but was informed in no uncertain terms that Mitsubishi would not accept any lamp returns once the box had been opened. There was no way around the policy, and Mitsubishi would not budge. Frustrated, Mark told the client the situation, and in an effort to provide great customer service, offered to split the cost of the incorrect lamp. The client had overheard the call and was very impressed that Mark would offer to eat half of the lamp cost even though it was the client’s fault. He commented that if a small business like HTA could offer service like that, why couldn’t Mitsubishi. While it isn’t clear if a better relationship with Mitsubishi would have helped, I can tell you that I feel confident that my projector vendors would have cut me some slack.
In the end, my client and HTA client are very happy and will continue their relationships with us. However, the experiences we had with our vendors were very different.
Our business is about more than AV; it’s about the relationships one builds along the way. I pride myself on the strong connections I have both personally and professionally, interacting with so many people in this business. Keeping those connections strong and relevant isn’t easy and takes time, but the return, both tangible and intangible, is far beyond what you put in.
Todd Anthony Puma is president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.