Upholstered shaker style rocking chairs with matching ottomans are very tough to find. But, we found a pair at Weir’s Furniture in Dallas, Texas and bought them. Now, fast forward fifteen years later. We wanted another pair of these great chairs. A call to Weir’s landed us the manufacturer’s brand, phone number, style number—the works, and great customer service. We were excited. A quick check on the manufacturer’s website revealed the same chair was available, but there was no matching ottoman shown. So, we gave the OEM a quick buzz to find out the answer, fully realizing the manufacturer was accustomed to dealing with furniture stores or suppliers, not with actual furniture customers.
The rep’s first question was: “Are you a dealer?” “No,” I said apologetically, “I just had a very quick question about the availability of an ottoman to match your shaker rocker?” Silence, a deep sigh, and then: “Have you been on our website?” With all the warmth I could muster I replied, “Yes mam, but it is difficult to figure out if any of the ottomans shown come with this shaker rocker…as it once did fifteen years ago.” The icy call reception got even chillier. “If you don’t see it on the website, we probably don’t have it anymore.” Finally, I just gave up, muttering a few not-so-nice-words about their brand!
I needed a new pair of Lucchese western dress boots. Since the Dallas boot store through which I ordered my last pair had gone bankrupt, I called a friend at a Western clothing store who gave my Lucchese’s dealer’s direct phone number. Lucchese prides itself in handmade boots. In reality, the consumer can pick the size, leather, color, toe shape and heel shape. When I placed a call to this OEM and identified myself I heard a warm and enthusiastic, “Oh, yes, Mr. Bell, you are one of our really good consumers. How can I help you today?”
“I need a new pair of boots exactly like I have purchased before. I wanted to see if you could tell me which of your boot dealer’s had a pair in stock.” The reps response was stunning, “Actually, Mr. Bell, there are only four pair in the world like you have…and you own three of them! We would be delighted to hand make another pair just like you enjoy. Where would you like your dealer to be located? We can arrange for the boots to be shipped to them and they will call you when they arrive.”
Original equipment manufacturers sometimes are so focused on the stuff they make; they distance themselves from the consumers who buy what they make. While their primary customers—their network of dealers, wholesalers, and suppliers—are super important, in the end, it is their consumers who will drive the success or failure of both ends of the product distribution system. Without a solid consumer strategy a stray call like mine can trash or trumpet their brand.
Way too many organizations take pride in making the dogmatic point that they are a B2B business—like manufacturing (e.g., Lucchese) and are fundamentally different from a B2C business (e.g., Marriott or Disney). However, invite a business to lunch and I will guarantee you that people will show up instead! Business to business is fundamentally people to people. Lucchese gets that; the furniture manufacturer that may or may not have had an ottoman apparently does not! How can you put the ultimate “customer” in your business-to-business strategy?