With the steep decline in school construction over the past few years, we are seeing gym equipment history repeat itself. As the market has declined, we are seeing a few gym equipment manufacturers try to increase their area of coverage by bidding jobs direct to owners or contractors in locations far from their base of operation. This is a trend we have seen before with results that were less than positive.
In the early 1990’s under difficult economic conditions, some misguided people in the gymnasium equipment industry decided to provide custom basketball backstops, divider curtains, wall pads and other gymnasium equipment without using local dealers. Manufacturers used different strategies but in almost every instance, the gym equipment manufacturers who tried this method–including the three largest–got into trouble and changed ownership within a few years.
So why were results not as expected? What was lost by eliminating the local representative? A lot! Local dealers add significantly to transactions involving custom gymnasium equipment. The combination of a good manufacturer with a high quality local representative should result in smooth projects with minimal problems. So what does that local representative bring to the table?
- Proximity – Local representatives are just that, LOCAL. Being in the territory allows representatives to respond promptly and be involved in projects from planning stages through installation and beyond. They can assist designers and specifiers with choosing proper equipment and correctly preparing project documents. They can attend project meetings as necessary, visit the site to determine when equipment will be required, assist with coordination issues and properly field verify dimensions to make sure product fits and performs as intended. They will be there for owner demonstrations and training and are available for warranty and service issues that arise after a facility is occupied. There is no way a factory west of the Rockies can provide these services for projects in the east, so the architect, contractor and owner all become dissatisfied.
- Relationships – Local dealers work every day in a territory, so they know the players in the market. They have associations and history with local installation crews, providers of supplies and services as well as the people involved in erecting schools from the designers to the contractors to the owners. These connections make transactions run smoother and past experience provides comfort that any problems will be promptly and correctly resolved. Plants that are thousands of miles away cannot provide or take advantage of the benefits of local interactions.
- Local Knowledge – By doing repeat business in a home market, local representatives learn the lay of the land and the unique rules for doing business in their territory. They know the licensing and permit requirements, local tax codes and project/contractor union labor requirements. Many times, factory direct prices will specifically exclude all local taxes, permits and license fees in the fine print, leading to unexpected costs or problems for those running a job.
- Experienced and Trained Installation – Local representatives will have their own crews or regular installation subcontractors. These installers have experience and are often factory trained or approved to install products. They know the manufacturer’s clamps and fittings as well as their standard design methods for gymnasium equipment. Many times, a distant factory is successful in obtaining a job, and then they try and find an installer. Their “standard” estimate for installation costs might be too low for a specific market, so the installers they find may be unhappy with their compensation, leading to shortcuts or poor performance during the install. Installers used are often new to gymnasium products or have never seen products from the successful manufacturer. Gymnasiums require folding equipment that weighs thousands of pounds to be installed over bleachers or in areas that will be utilized by schoolchildren. Inexperienced or unhappy installers should be avoided.
- Multiple Product Lines – Most local representatives offer other products in addition to gymnasium equipment allowing architects, G.C.’s and owners to get more “bang for their buck.” Draper has local dealers that offer telescopic seating, flooring, operable walls, projection screens, lockers, casework, library furnishings, classroom furniture and many other products. With different products in the local dealer’s arsenal, they are able to assist designers with multiple specification sections, decreasing the time required during research for projects. The contractor can often combine multiple sections into a single contract, reduce his cost and reduce his coordination duties, allowing him to deliver a project on-time and within budget. Owners may benefit from lower costs and will have fewer people to contact for warranty or future service work. Most gymnasium equipment manufacturers offer only gymnasium equipment, so the ability to provide a worthwhile package likely does not exist.
With all the benefits that local dealers bring to the table, the best gymnasium equipment manufacturers have adopted a strategy of only selling through a network of qualified local representatives. Don’t get sucked in by a cheap, factory direct gymnasium equipment price only to find yourself regretting it because of lack of service! Remember you get what you pay for and local dealers provide many valuable benefits.
Our new gymnasium equipment website offers a handy tool to find our local dealers all across North America. You can try it here, or choose Gym Equipment Contacts/Dealers from the left margin when you’re on our Gym Equipment website.