Stefan Dehn, Head of Marketing and Sales with power supply specialists Schulz-Electronic, talks about online trading in electrical products and the responsibility of a modern distributor.
The possibilities for obtaining information, for instance about power supplies, were never so good as today. Thanks to the Internet, potential customers are already very well informed before making contact with a dealer. This would seem to speak in favour of online trading – however, experience has shown us that distributors are still as much in demand as ever. What is the reason for this?
eli: Herr Dehn, there is an immense amount of knowledge on the Internet. That ought to suffice to find an appropriate power supply device – or do you, as a distributor, know more than the Net?
Dehn: Maybe there is an inexhaustible amount of knowledge on the Internet. But in practice, the first thing you need to know is what you should be looking for. There are terms that you can enter in Google; but then you are at the mercy of the search engine. At the top of the results are entries that have been financially supported and technically optimised to head the list – in other words, the results have been filtered by Google.
eli: The hits are not really that bad.
Dehn: Right – and the suggestions may match up quite well. However, there may be other, better solutions to be found elsewhere. And you will only find them if you talk through the particular features of your application with a competent distributor – whether it is a standard device you are looking for, or a customised variant. Thus the advice of a good distributor is useful right from the first project idea, long before an order is defined and compiled. In fact, just being a good distributor is not enough.
„ A distributor who has his own developers and technicians, and maintains good relations with his manufacturers, is a bit like a manufacturer himself”
eli: So ideally the product specifications should include input from the distributor?
Dehn: If he is good, at this stage he will already have an eye to aspects like future security, modularity, extensibility, ecology, communication abilities with regard to Industry 4.0. on their own, many enterprises can only find fragmentary information about all these. Here the distributor becomes a development partner for the industrial firm. And it is important to note: with complex products there is generally a greater need for explanation.
eli: And does this include your power supplies?
Dehn: Today, they are complex laboratory devices with numerous parameter-setting possibilities and many interfaces to a wide range of software. By speaking directly with an advisor, you can discover more quickly which characteristics are relevant for the planned application, and what options need to be ordered additionally. Consultation also touches on aspects that go beyond the equipment to be ordered.
eli: Can you give some examples?
Dehn: These are generally particular features of the application that influence the characteristics of the source, like the question whether the source needs to have the possibility of absorbing energy. Other topics are cooling concepts and the necessary installation room, assembly options and optimal use of space, the control system, the software and the choice of interface. And it is unusual for only one item to be needed. Very often customers are looking for functionally optimised systems consisting of several devices, even from various different manufacturers, plus additional hardware and software. Online trading that is reduced to dispatching boxes cannot offer an integration consultation of this kind.
eli: So consultation is not just a pleasant experience, but is essential?
Dehn: Especially when demands get higher – and that happens fairly often, because applications and their requirements are growing more complex all the time. Then customers wish for very special changes to the devices to be made. A distributor who has his own developers and technicians, and maintains good contacts with his manufacturers, can carry out adaptations, alterations, re-finishing himself without affecting the warranty rights. In this respect he acts like a manufacturer to some extent.
eli: Wie weit kann denn diese Individualisierung gehen?
Dehn: Examples range from complex switch cabinets with built-in buffer capacitors, safety devices with emergency discharge option, to special DC outputs if required, or control devices via CANmp and their pre-delivery testing. But meeting special requirements is not all we do.
eli: What do you mean exactly?
Dehn: Things rarely end with the purchase of equipment. In many cases start-up support and training are required. These are difficult to implement with an online shop. Another point is the distributor‘s geographical proximity to the customer. This, too, is more than an 'agreeable extra'. Talking to an advisor not only shortens the procurement process, it also optimizes the order. Thanks to personal consultation, many items that are unnecessary can be discarded from the order and possibly others added to improve operation. And even after delivery the support of the consultant is required.
eli: Well, clearly personal, competent advice has its advantages. But it also has its price.
Dehn: A distinction needs to be made here. Personal consulting puts a stop to the price spiral. By recommending one device that will do the job of several others, or advising modifications that will make further purchases unnecessary, consulting a specialised distributor will already prove worthwhile. And do not forget: Many specialised distributors offer their customers the possibility of testing products prior to purchase. However, buying is not always the only – or the best – option; equipment is frequently available for hire or leasing.
eli: Thank you for talking to us.