Ask Australian Retail Technology's (Artech) Gary Simmons what he doesn't want from a distributor and he has no hesitation in pointing to a recent experience with one of Australia's top 10 distributors.
"It was just a comedy of errors," Simmon said.
After receiving a fax touting a new flat-screen monitor at a "reasonable price", Simmons requested and received follow-up information from the product manager.
After deciding to purchase one of the displays as a test unit, Simmons struck his first difficulties. He had not conducted business with the distributor before and as a result the sales rep wasn't particularly interested in the call and actually tried to discourage the business. ("You do realise our minimum annual purchase is $20,000? Will that be a problem?) The sales rep decided that it was best that Artech deal with a sub-distributor; however, when contacted, the sub-distributor claimed it didn't even sell the product.
Simmons called the sales rep back who transferred him to the product manager. After waiting on the phone with the message, "Your call is important to us, please hold" for half an hour, Simmons hung up and called back the sales rep, who gave him the product manager's mobile.
However, the product manager's message bank was full, so he was forced to leave a message with reception.
The next day Simmons was called by the product manager who agreed to waive the $20,000 limit and allowed Artech to place an order. The order was lost and re-faxed three times but eventually he was able to pick up the test unit.
Three days later he faxed through an order for a second unit. Nine days later he was phoned to say it was ready to be picked up, but when he arrived at the distributor he was told that it wasn't in the warehouse.
Rightly annoyed, Simmons tried to unsuccessfully phone the product manager to find out what went wrong, but found he was unavailable. After making contact with his sales rep he was informed that there was a "pricing problem" and the order needed to be approved by the product manager.
Finally, Simmons made contact with the product manager and was told there wouldn't be a problem and blamed the people in the warehouse. Amazingly, Simmons was able to pick up the product this time, but when he took it away he found he had been supplied with an ex-demo unit in a tattered box with pen marks all over it and of a generally "grotty appearance".
The product manager was apologetic and promised to drop one over to Simmons personally. The next day it hadn't come and the product manager made the same promise again. As he did the next day. The following day he didn't even call.
Simmons then decided to take the matter to the national sales manager after he was unable to make contact with the product manager. The sales manager called and was apologetic and finally admitted that the product wasn't in stock. He suggested Simmons install the demo unit and then they will swap it when the new stock arrives.
Four days later, the product manager called to say the product was available and he will deliver it personally to the client. However, the unit never made it.
Simmons called the product manager who explained that he was unable to make it and that he is no longer responsible for that product and that he will have to deal with a new product manager.
The new product manager said he considered it a service issue and that the service manager would take care of it. Simmons refused to have the matter passed on again, and after half a dozen more phone calls was finally told that he could pick up a brand new unit.
"Imagine how I felt when I installed the unit and found out that although it looked new, it in fact had an old BIOS and three bad pixels," Simmons said. "They had obviously got it from the returns department and supplied it to me as new."
About to head off on a two-week break, Simmons rang the national sales manager to have the matter sorted out and requested a replacement unit.
"I left it in their hands to swap it over. When I got back from holidays there was no e-mail or message to confirm that the product had been swapped over."
Simmons rang the sales rep and was told that person no longer handled his account. Finally, the new sales rep phoned to say the product had been swapped over.
"What it really boiled down to was that it was dishonesty from the word go. It wasn't in stock, but they tried to ay it was stuck in the warehouse and it just went on and on," he said.
"The communication was atrocious, it was incredibly hard to contact anyone, people didn't have direct lines and they couldn't transfer you between Sydney and Melbourne.
"Needless to say I won't be doing business with that distributor again."