WASHINGTON Have you ever bought radio equipment and wondered whether you got the best price?
Although they enjoy a bevy of models, manufacturers and dealers from which to choose, many station engineers have little time to shop around. But choosing the right vendor and getting the best price doesn’t have to be a matter of luck, according to sales managers of several equipment dealers.
By using knowledge of the market, building relationships with dealers and judging vendors by their sales and service records, buyers can get the maximum benefit from radio equipment vendors, these experts believe.
“Fortunately for buyers, the reality of the situation today is that pricing is very good,” said Tim Schwieger, president of Broadcast Supply Worldwide. “Because of the nature of competition, there’s a real opportunity to get a good price.”
Some manufacturers of equipment choose to sell their products directly to users, bypassing dealers. But although that practice is common in the post-consolidation era, dealers remains an active part of the broadcast equipment-buying model.
Dealers contacted for this article agree that one way buyers are getting low prices is buying in bulk. Dealers buy equipment in bulk from manufacturers; users can do the same from dealers. Schwieger said BSW offers savings to customers who buy equipment in packages of five or more different items.
Getting to know you
Vendors also agree that a customer can enjoy advantages by establishing an exclusive relationship with one dealer.
“We know who you are and know your needs,” said Brian Krajcirovic, a salesperson at Mouser Electronics. In addition, he said, “You get one bill instead of 40.”
Having an exclusive relationship with a dealer involves other benefits. For example, regular customers of Lighter Electronics might receive “discount pricing, loaner equipment and additional support,” said Matthew W. Lightner, president of the company. “We go the extra mile if there’s a problem with a product.”
Lightner said his company provides after-hours support for established customers, who can page an engineer on call 24 hours a day.
Even if they regularly patronize a certain dealer, customers should always get at least three quotes when making new equipment purchases, another vendor said. That’s not necessarily a contradiction.
“You should find someone you’re comfortable with and, every once in a while, check them,” suggested Buck Waters, salesman at Broadcasters General Store.
If you have an exclusive relationship with one vendor, “it comes down to trust” when asking for a quote.
“Especially if they’re a frequent customer, you’re going to give them a good price,” Waters said.
Price alone may not determine a buyer’s choice of vendors. A client may put more value on a company if it offers certain product lines, toll-free phone access, 24-hour support and/or Web site access.
But what makes a vendor attractive, said BSW’s Schwieger, is ability to get a customer a product quickly, accessibility of a sales force and access to products via a Web site at any time.
In certain circumstances – when an engineer is working late into the night trying to repair equipment, for example -customers must be able to place orders via the Web rather than having to wait for regular business hours, he said.
“If an engineer puts in an order at 3 a.m., we get the order at 6 a.m. while he is sleeping and can take immediate action,” Schwieger said.
BSW’s current system requires the sales staff to review each order. To increase the speed of processing, the company is planning to launch a system that would allow customers to order equipment directly and send an immediate request to manufacturers for the item, Schwieger said.
The company also recently announced it is relocating its shipping and receiving operations to Wilmington, Ohio, from its headquarters in Tacoma, Wash. The new warehouse will be located at DHL Logistics, a warehousing, inventory management and distribution center that will be connected to BSW by a dedicated data link.
Not all dealers use the Web for sales. “Within the broadcast industry, everyone sells the same thing at the same price, but what distinguishes us is our customer service,” said Waters of Broadcasters General Store. “We give customers better one-on-one service.”
Lightner said his company also does not offer Web ordering; he prefers phone interaction. Because Lightner Electronics sells products from vendors with minimal advertised prices – which he said protects dealers from competing with online shops that do not offer equipment support – he does not put pricing information on its Web site, he said.
“If we talk to customers, we can give them a lower quote,” he said.
Lightner also offers a service he believes is distinctive: system integration. With more engineers stretched thin or taking jobs outside of radio, some dealers offer turnkey solutions, in which they sell and install equipment for stations with the help of the station’s engineers.
Do your homework
To make the purchasing process easier for customers, most dealers urge them to research products before shopping around.
Among the most common mistake by customers is a lack of information about the specific product they want to buy, said Mouser’s Krajcirovic. Mouser sells products from approximately 250 manufacturers, so a “part number, manufacturer or description of part” is helpful to be able to narrow the search for the appropriate item.
Lightner said it’s vital that customers understand the application of the product. If the vendor knows the ultimate application, he or she can ensure customers pick the best equipment for the job.
Another common mistake by customers, according to Schwieger, is that customers are not specific about the date by which the product is needed.
“Everyone is in a hurry to get the prices; and then nothing happens for several months,” he said. “It may take several weeks or months to make a decision, and then customers want the product immediately.” During that time, products can be discounted and prices could go up or down.
With budget requests needed months in advance, many engineers price equipment this way, he said. Instead, he urges customers to get quotes for budgetary purposes only and submit ballpark figures to their stations while giving sales people an estimated time for possible delivery of the equipment.
“Customers have the perception that there’s a big profit margin to what we do. That’s not true,” Schwieger said. “It’s truly a buyer’s market.”