Who you gonna call?

Tips for choosing a welding and gases distributor

PRACTICAL WELDING TODAY® JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2006

January 10, 2006

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Shopping around for a welding gases distributor involves several key issues critical to a successful long-term business-distributor relationship.

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A lot goes into the successful operation of a fabrication company. Whether it's large or small, your business involves many details, from the work itself to the employees who perform it to the finances. And that's just for starters.

The welding and gases distributor you use to get the equipment and consumables you need works much the same way. For example, if you need a cylinder of oxygen, the distributor first has to receive the order. Your order goes to dispatch, a cylinder is pulled out of inventory, that cylinder is loaded onto a truck, the truck is driven to your company to deliver the cylinder, the driver exchanges the cylinder and takes it back to the distributor, and then the cylinder goes through a specific and complicated inspection and filling procedure. And performing just this one job requires intensive paperwork, both for the distributor and the Department of Transportation/Hazardous Material.

Your relationship with your welding and gases distributor shouldn't be a detail placed at the bottom of your list of priorities. Choosing the right distributor not only can help ensure that you have the right equipment when you need it, but it also can lead to an efficiency improvement in how your company operates.

Points of Interest

Whether you're shopping around for your first distributor or are considering changing vendors, several factors can help you make the decision that's right for you.

  • Service and Support. While you may think that service is a given, what it means here is that your distributor will go above and beyond the call of service. Your distributor should be reliable and able to react to your needs immediately. To do this, a distributor must have enough capital—cylinders, trucks, inventory, plant, and manufacturing capacity, for example—invested to support you fully.


    Another area in which capital is important is when it's time for your company to change the way it uses consumables such as gas. For example, your welding and gases distributor should know when it's time to supply you with a larger and more cost-effective gas delivery system—from a 12-pack cradle to a microbulk system or from a microbulk system to large bulk delivery, for example—and have the capital to help you facilitate the changes that will aid in your business's success.


    Communication is critical when it comes to service and support. Whether your business is large or small, good service needs to be there. Much of how you work with your distributor is relationship-based and requires communication, so make sure you have numerous ways to get into contact with your inside and outside sales representatives—a direct-dial line number, mobile phone number, home phone number, 24-hour emergency number, and e-mail address.


  • Experienced Staff. Your distributor should instill confidence in you when you make equipment decisions for your company. How long a distributor has been in business can tell you a lot about its experience. Likewise, the company's staff should have enough experience to make you feel confident in working with them. Distributors whose staff has come up through the welding and gases industry know the business and often are most capable of being a step ahead of you in knowing what you need. To find out about a distributor's experience, request the names of customers you can contact about their experience with the distributor you want to learn more about.


  • Vested Interest. When you're researching distributors, investigate how much vested interest the company has in its operations; for example, in its capital equipment, its facility, and in its staff training. Many times you can tell what a distributor is putting back into the company simply by seeing what the business looks like.


  • Inventory. Welding and gases distribution is a capital-intensive business. Make sure your supplier will have adequate inventories to supply what you need and that it will agree to stock what you need, such as filler metal and laser lenses.

This is where distributors may be able to get creative with you to help make it easier for you to do business with them. For example, some distributors offer a service whereby a salesperson visits your business, takes a look at your centralized supply room, and checks to make sure you're constantly stocked with what you need. This type of creativity in a business relationship can help set one distributor apart from another in your search.

Do Your Homework

When you're shopping around for a distributor, a few steps can get you to the best answer for your company.

  1. Take a tour. Tour the facilities of two or three vendors before you decide on a supplier. Many times a tour will tell you what you're getting into if you choose to work with that distributor. A distributor may be able to get you what you need at a competitive price when you need it, but you won't know what's going on behind the scenes unless you see it firsthand. Some vendors are organized and orderly in their business operations, while others conduct themselves in chaos. In addition, some vendors offer the opportunity to try out new equipment in an on-site demonstration room before you decide to purchase it.


  2. Get advice. Look for a distributor that can help you do your job better. For example, a distributor may be able to suggest different grinding wheels that will grind faster and help increase your productivity while lowering your operating costs.

  3. Ask around. Check with colleagues in the industry that you don't compete with. Ask them who their distributor is and why they use them.


  4. Perform your own evaluation. Look at a company's Web site, check the company out with the Better Business Bureau, and find out if the distributor is a member of any professional associations. If you're choosing an independent distributor instead of a national distributor, check to see if it belongs to a buying co-op.


  5. Seek a commitment. Beware if a distributor hesitates to answer a question or give an overall commitment to working with you.


  6. Find out which products the distributor represents. Check out which product lines the distributor offers, and call some of the manufacturers to see what they say about working with that distributor.


  7. Plan ahead for repairs. Find out if the distributor is factory-authorized to repair the equipment you're buying. You don't want to decide to work with one vendor, buy its equipment, and then have to go to the supplier down the street that you just turned down for repairs.

Steve Beckman is a territorial sales manager for Rockford Industrial Welding Supply Inc., 4646 Linden Road, Rockford, IL 61109, 815-226-1900, fax 815-391-8980, sbeckman@riws.com.



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