Ready to Start Dating?

Manufacturers are looking for dedicated dealers who will get the job done, and dealers are looking for suppliers who value them
Christina Lewellen
August 15, 2008
COLUMN : Talking to Dealers | Management

A dealer buddy of mine sent me an email this week that started with an apology for ranting and then went on to his rant. He wants to know (not from me, but just in general), where his suppliers’ sense of service went through the years? He seems to have woken up and realized, now that business has ebbed a bit, that the door and window manufacturers supplying his dealership aren’t making the cut anymore. He’s disappointed in the quality of the products, the excuses for lukewarm warranty service and the overall absence of a business partnership that should be in place for both businesses to grow.

I wrote back and told him that maybe he should think about starting to date again.

I’ve heard with increasing frequency in the last few months, from both dealers and manufacturers, that the slow marked is precipitating some supply chain adjustments for many companies. Manufacturers are looking for dedicated dealers who will get the job done, and dealers are looking for suppliers who value them and will commit to backing them up. Many realize that kicking their supply chain efficiencies to the next level will not come from cleaning up processes within a company, but from encouraging cooperation among companies.

Simply put, dealers, you’ve got to break down the walls between you and your supplier. And if you don’t really like what you see, there are companies out there that would be more than happy to show you what’s behind their magic curtain. One example is Window City—the Toronto-based vinyl window manufacturer profiled in our August issue. I discovered another one recently right in my own neighborhood.

Even with a bad knee, Tiger Woods could whack a golf ball from my front yard and hit local door manufacturer Upstate Door’s building. Now, having a window manufacturer or a door shop in a small town is nothing new, but I was surprised to learn that one such manufacturer is located mere blocks away in our sleepy little village in western New York.

Of course, I went and visited the folks at Upstate Door recently and got a good look around the building I had barely even noticed before I knew it was home to a door manufacturer. They’re an old school woodworking shop, constructing stile and rail units, many of which use stain-grade wood species. Though they make the doors in this tiny town, none of the products stays here—most of Upstate’s products go to custom, high-end homes throughout the Northeast.

President Robert Fontaine founded the business about 10 years ago and has grown it into a $7 million a year company. When it was smaller, he told me, the company sold directly to builders and contractors. Now, about 70 percent of its products go through a distribution network—and the company is ready to make its distribution network bigger. Having recently invested in some automated CNC equipment and a large paint booth for its primed products, Fontaine and CFO Nathan Coogan believe Upstate Door is ready to take on new customers. “We want to steadily grow but still provide our level of service,” Fontaine says. “I think it’s important to grow at what you’re good at.”

With an impressive Web site,, customized products that are hard for bigger companies to match and in-house technical experts at the ready, Upstate Door is flirting with the idea of getting out on the dating scene to begin to woo new dealers.

So, my dealer brothers and sisters, are you ready to be wooed? Don’t get me wrong—I understand the value of loyalty and I’m not suggesting that bailing out on a long-term business partnership is a brilliant idea. I’m sure there are more than a few manufacturers who are getting all spun up reading this (and if you are, send me an email—I’d love to hear your thoughts), but remember that relationships are a two-way street. If your blood is starting to boil at the thought of your dealers jumping ship in hard times, maybe you should ask why they would have reason to do so? I apologize for my instigating mood, but if you’re not confident that your dealers would fall on train tracks to stay your customer, there are other up-and-coming manufacturers out there ready to romance them—especially now that the market is allowing dealers time to pay attention to their advances.

Try to keep the gagging to a minimum, but I’m with a guy who still asks me to marry him about once a week, despite the fact that we’ve been married for more than five years. Dealers, if your current suppliers proposed today, would you still say yes? Send me an email and let’s do some relationship counseling—are you ready to start dating again?

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at