- Sometimes the Best Solution Is No Product At All
- By Steve Marcotte — posted 03/07/2012
I had been in my current position as a custodial superintendent for the Department of Housing at a major university in the southeastern United States for about six months. While I was still learning the nuances of the operation, I was visited by two vendors selling cleaning chemicals and supplies. These two vendors had diametrically different approaches, which are outlined below.
The First Approach
The first vendor began our conversation by asking me what I thought of our state college’s American football team’s victory over a neighbouring state college’s American football team. Without having a dog in the fight, so to speak, I told him that I really didn’t care either way. Chagrined, he continued with his pitch, asking me about the weather and then proceeded to offer me a ruler with a built-in calculator. It was unique and interesting, although I think my second graders at home would be more enthralled by it than I was. I thanked him.
As the meeting continued, the sales rep again reached into his satchel and pulled out the next greatest thing that he was sure I needed, which, to protect the company’s identity, I will refer to here as “polar bear repellent.” I responded that, being in the southeastern United States, I didn’t think the university would ever need that particular product. He appeared dismayed, and I wondered whether he might ask for his ruler/calculator back. We parted without an order being placed that day or any subsequent day.
The Second Approach
The next morning, I was visited by a representative of a separate janitorial supply company. The gentleman introduced himself and gave me a brief description of his company and its customer service philosophy. He asked about my background, which is in retail and mixed-use facilities, and how I came to be in the employed at my current position at the university. He then explained he had worked with my predecessors and had become familiar with the complexities of the college’s various buildings, which range in age from one to 70 years old.
This individual then asked if I had any particular problems for which he could offer some advice. I replied that it appeared the university’s chemical costs were high and asked if he had any recommendations. I was fully expecting his recommendations to include buying even more chemicals from his company. But he knew that the university’s dilution system dispensed both concentrate and ready-to-use formulas at the time. Instead of pitching his products, he offered a simple recommendation of dispensing only ready-to-use formulas and locking out the ability to dispense concentrate. The university immediately implemented his suggestion, which ultimately resulted in substantial savings in the months and years to come.
Just as with the first vendor, our meeting that day ended without an order. However, in the decade to follow, his company became one of the college’s primary vendors maintaining a record of excellent service. I took from that initial interaction a philosophy that has served me well—I would seek out vendors that offered solutions, not merely products.
The ruler/calculator from the first vendor? I still have it mixed in with the other items that have accumulated in my bottom drawer over the years. We never did have an issue with polar bears, although there was that problem with the goat. But that’s a story for another time.
Steve Marcotte currently serves as the Custodial Services Superintendent for the Department of Housing for the University of Georgia in Athens, GA. For more information, visit www.uga.edu.