Distributors Dish on Keeping Employees Safe & Integrators in Business During COVID-19

From disinfecting freight and altering pick-up procedures, to offering PPE and online webinars, leading distributors reveal how COVID-19 has impacted them.

Distributors Dish on Keeping Employees Safe & Integrators in Business During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, integrators across the globe are turning to their trusted distribution partners for support — and distributors are responding.

Extended terms, curbside pickup, virtual training, online ordering, disinfecting cardboard, social distancing floor signs are becoming the norm as distributors adjust to help integrators maintain cashflow, minimize inventory and stay abreast of the latest technology while being limited in their ability to travel.

On the technology front, security systems, entertainment systems and home networking equipment are flying off the shelves.

SSI sister publication CE Pro spoke with several distributors who outlined their efforts, and how integrators in their territory are coping with the “new normal.”

SS&Si Dealer Network

At the SS&Si Network, president Jake Voll shifted business to be curbside-pickup only. The company does not have a self-pick warehouse and no lobby areas in its facilities.

“Dealers want to stock less products these days to conserve cash,” says Voll. “Most of them are practicing ‘just in time’ inventory, primarily because now it is so difficult to forecast what their future sales might be.”

“But for many integrators, business is similar to what it was before the crisis,” he adds. “Many tell me their business has not been as severely impacted as they had anticipated. In fact, some dealers said their business was initially up when the pandemic hit.”

Voll says thermal imaging cameras are a hot commodity right now as integrators move to deploy the cameras in corporate, school and restaurant settings. SS&Si has 600 dealers nationwide in 46 states.

ADI

“COVID-19 created a very fluid environment and we put together a dedicated team early-on to monitor the situation,” says Bob Appleby, vice president and general manager, ADI North America. “Our main focus has always been keeping our customers and team members safe, while continuing to provide the products and services our customers need.”

In the ADI branches and distribution centers, the company quickly made modifications to ensure that customers could safely access essential goods. For example, ADI implemented Curbside Pick Up in addition to its Pick Up Anytime service. The distributor also created a dedicated webpage with real-time information for customers to learn about the changes and get information on some of the relief and loan programs available to them.

The company encouraged online ordering and provided how-to-videos to help integrators take advantage of its Digital Branch. “This year, ADI made a significant investment in our online Digital Branch — which became even more important during this time. We saw a significant uptick of the number of our customers using our Digital Branch since the start of COVID-19,” says Appleby.

The Digital Branch allows dealers to place an order for deliver or select Pick Up Anytime service using a secure, contactless locker at one of ADI’s locations.

“We also made sure that our service offering matched the ‘new way’ people are working, whether from home or contactless transactions with paperless billing, extended return policies, online returns, shipping options to reduce foot traffic, and more,” adds Appleby.

On the supplier front, Appleby says ADI worked closely to monitor potential supply chain delays, launched a series of free daily webinars, and hosted an online panel discussion on how integrators can reposition for the future.

“Also during this time, we launched our new on-demand training platform — ADI Academy — that offers industry and product training that customers can attend on their schedule, anytime and anywhere,” says Appleby.

Inside its branch locations, ADI complies with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements for personal safety and the safety of others. Some additional precautions it put in place include:

  • Shield guards at all checkout and order pickup counters
  • Providing face coverings for all our team members
  • Visible signage throughout the store to remind everyone to maintain 6 feet of physical distance
  • Floor markers designating 6 feet of distance for checkout lines
  • Hand-sanitizing stations at the branch entrance
  • Increased daily cleaning scheduled for high-touch areas

From a product standpoint, ADI has seen the COVID-19 crisis open up some new opportunities for installations in vertical markets like education and healthcare. There are also new technology needs around video surveillance and thermal imaging products, remote cameras and monitoring, contactless access control, intrusion and analytics. On the residential front, video doorbells and security systems are in high demand, as well as upgraded home networking gear.

Stampede

Stampede has taken its dealer assistance in a unique direction with its Stampede XtraCare Program, which aims to help dealers acquire personal protective equipment (PPE). The company shipped SafeXSound kits to its dealers that include three-ply surgical masks, hand sanitizer, powder-free gloves, and a Bluetooth speaker or headphones. The kits are for personal use only and are not meant to be sold in any other form.

The SafeXSound packages are part of Stampede’s broader Xtra Care Program that also includes a financing component and an online marketplace where dealers can turn products into cash.

“Taken as a whole, we believe that XtraCare is the most comprehensive health assurance, business relief and facilitation program ever developed for the Pro AV industry — and it can’t come at a more critical time,” says Stampede president and CEO Kevin Kelly.

DOW Electronics

At DOW Electronics, the first priority was to focus on the health of its employees and its business. The company initiated several precautions to ensure it could remain open and continue to ship and receive products.

“Once we established our cleaning procedures, workplace interaction, and telecommuting sales and office staffing, we identified that besides staying open, the best thing we could do was to make sure our dealers had all the resources and support they needed,” says Dave Elkin, senior vice president, sales and product management.

Among the resources and support adjustments DOW made were to modify its pickup areas for appropriate social distancing and to increase the available courier and shipping services to get products in dealers’ hands without them having to come into a location. At the same time, the company ramped up webinar trainings with the help of its vendors and included several informative sessions focused on SBA loans and the processes to obtain government assistance.

“As things were changing almost daily, we continued to push information to our dealers state by state and even county by county to help them identify if they were essential and ensure they were informed to make their own decisions to stay open,” says Elkin.

On a case-by-case basis, DOW assisted with extended or modified terms and even lowered the free shipping threshold to make it easier for dealers to get products in their hands.

Count DOW Electronics among the millions now using Zoom to host virtual meetings. Dow also has assisted with extended or modified terms and lowered the free shipping threshold to make it easier for dealers to get products.

On the product front, since DOW is an active distributor in a few key segments (custom integration, 12-volt specialty, satellite video & broadband, and commercial unified communications-as-a-service or UCaaS), it identified some crossover opportunities and helped expand dealers’ offerings to include products.

“As more time went by without our sales teams being able to physically visit our dealers, we scheduled several virtual lunch meetings for individual dealers. We had several members of our executive teams get on a video webinar and chat. During these sessions we bought them lunch, thanked them for their partnership, listened to them talk about how business has been affected and the adjustments they have made. We gathered information about additional product opportunities that our dealers’ customers were asking them for. We are currently working with both existing and new vendors to have these products available for our dealers,” says Elkin.

“One thing we never changed was the communication level our dealers were used to, whether it was to just say hello or check in on them, or to talk about success stories other dealers were having with certain types of products, train on existing or new products, or discuss SBA opportunities and best practices to stay open and busy. Regular communication has helped us and our dealers share information and stay up to date,” he adds.

PowerHouse Alliance

“The PowerHouse Alliance benefits from being an alliance of companies that have been in business for 25, 50, and even 100+ years. As a group, we have plenty of experience in dealing with changing market conditions, whether it be a natural disaster, recession, war or now pandemic. Over the past few months, we have kept a pulse on the COVID-19 pandemic, listening to our vendors and customers, and allowing each market to dictate our course of action,” says Dennis Holzer, executive director.

“While some markets across the U.S. are more ‘open’ than others, we have allowed those markets to run, and markets that have been more impacted by the pandemic, to slow down their pace as necessary, all while doing everything we can to safely respond to our integrators’ business needs and continue to provide immediate product availability.”

Holzer says PowerHouse members have implemented changes to their day-to-day operations including restricted will-call and drive-through pickup areas, freight disinfectant, and strict cleaning procedures.

“Despite the changes in day-to-day operations, we have been able to maintain the high level of customer service, technical support, training, and order fulfillment our customers have become accustomed to. It’s all just happening in a slightly different way,” he adds.

PowerHouse Alliance distributor member Pioneer Music Company (PMC), in the Midwest, has locked down all entrances except for one per location, which its customers have been asked to use. The new protocol is for customers to call and schedule pickups, or to call upon arrival to arrange for the safe exchange of goods.

PMC has also implemented freight disinfectant. As soon as inbound product is offloaded in the warehouse, the PMC team sprays the freight with an ammonia solution, and it sits untouched for a period of time before the team checks it in using gloves. Likewise, in a separate area, the disinfectant is used for outgoing shipments once a pick-up order has been pulled ahead of the scheduled pick- up time.

Across the entire group, members are limiting the amount of customer traffic in their warehouses to ensure everyone is able to keep a minimum 6-foot distance from one another at any given time.

Mountain West, among other members, has implemented strict cleaning protocols including mandatory sanitization of touch points such as door handles, will-call carts, counters and more, every time a customer enters or exits the building. The offices are also cleaned twice a day and a deeper clean and sanitization is performed on weekends when all member locations are closed.

PowerHouse has pivoted to offer all its training online working with its 250+ vendor partners.

The virus has also shifted the types of projects upon which dealers are bidding.

“There is no doubt there will be a change in the types of projects being bid on post-COVID-19 and we have had multiple discussions with members and our integrators across the country about the opportunity to update existing and new client systems,” says Holzer. He notes that home and commercial networks are a key category right now.

“With everyone in one household being home and adding strain to the network, smart home, audio, video, etc., it has exposed flaws in the home technology (or lack thereof ). Similarly, businesses have realized faults in their systems to enable employees to work from home. Discerning integrators should allocate resources now to call on their existing customers to provide suggestions to remedy the exposed flaws in their systems,” he suggests.

For an in-depth look at trends and how distribution is dealing with the pandemic, check out SSI‘s 2020 Wholesale Distribution Executive Roundtable.


This article first appeared on SSI sister publication CEPro.com.

About the Author

Contact:

Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald Expositions Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at jason.knott@emeraldexpo.com

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