Aquatics manufacturer Seachem’s select dealer program expands the definition of the buyer-seller relationship.
By Michael Ventre
It used to be a given. If someone needed help, they spoke to a human being.
|Pictured above is a small sampling of Seachem’s extensive product offerings. Click here for details from their website. |
In recent years, however, good luck finding a living, breathing citizen of the world to coax anyone through a customer service problem. What usually happens is callers get a voicemail menu that is so maddeningly lengthy and complex that it eventually requires another call to a different customer-service menu to help fix the phone just smashed as a result of dealing with the first customer-service menu.
Then there are the folks at Seachem Laboratories, who believe in a different approach.
When thinking of aquatic products, images of being deep under water and having to communicate in sign language come to mind. Yet part of Seachem’s “select dealer program” involves clear and open lines of communication between dealers and the company in an effort to make sure it provides support quickly, precisely and expertly.
“When a customer has a product and a problem, they speak with someone who can help,” said Doug Hill, president and COO of Seachem, which is based in Madison, Ga. “They don’t speak two days later to someone, or to someone who doesn’t know the product. They talk to a biologist or a chemist. It’s not your average customer service.”
Seachem offers all types of items for the avid aquarium enthusiast, including filtration products, gravels, medications, foods, reef products and many others. Moreover, customer service is only part of the select dealer program, which Hill feels has lifted his company above the competition in the past three years or so.
“Our goals have always been to have the program where it is today,” he said. “But it took a big investment to get there.”
Seachem’s select dealer program creates a bond between retailers and the company. Stores large and small that handle aquatics products establish relationships with Seachem at different levels, depending on how much of Seachem’s wares the stores decided to stock.
Although the concept has been in effect at Seachem for 10 years, it wasn’t until about three years ago that the company decided to reassess where it was and recharge it.
“We made a decision a few years back that, to bring the program where we wanted it to be, things internally had to change,” Hill said. “We wanted to bolster our ability to handle tech support on a true basis. We had to train individuals to handle that.
AT A GLANCE
Location: Madison, Ga.
Owner: Greg Morin, Jon Morin, Doug Hill, Jim Rogers
Years in Business: 30
Areas of Distribution/Business: Worldwide in pet and other industries
Annual Revenues: $10 million
Sales Growth (Year to Year): Average range 10 to 20 percent
Product/Business Categories: Manufacturing aquarium, reptile and other pet related products
Product/Business Lines: Seachem, aquavitro, Water Garden Oasis, JurassiPet, AviPet, FurPets
“Secondarily, we had to invest in IT, whether it was web, interface, development of educational data here in-house for the classes that we hold, as well as the entire system. We decided several years ago to invest heavily in this area. Education and the hiring and sourcing of individuals to carry out the program to where it is now.”
What happens in the select dealer program is that a store will contact Seachem and order a bunch of stuff. That store is then placed at a particular level, depending on how much stuff is ordered. The lowest is bronze, which requires a minimum of 40 SKUs (if a store carries one product in four different sizes, for instance, that counts as four SKUs). Silver is 70 SKUs or more. As the levels go higher, the retailer gets more and more attention from the company.
At the gold level, which is 101 SKUs or more, “Retailers are actually eligible to come to our facility to do platinum training,” noted Lindsey Kayal, sales support and education supervisor for Seachem. “They come out and do a two-day intensive training process. We train store owners, store managers, employees, on the chemistry of our products, how they hold up. They can see where the products are made, how they’re made, and see the people who are making them. It’s a more personal relationship.”
Don Kingore can attest to that. As a co-owner and general manager of Marine Fish in Marietta, Ga., he has enjoyed the benefits of Seachem’s select dealer program for about the past four years and is currently at platinum level.
“The greatest advantage is that Seachem provides us with store-use chemicals so that our employees can become familiar with them,” Kingore said. “I know of no other manufacturer that flies two of my employees to their facility for a two-day training course to learn all the features of their chemicals. That’s the most important aspect, hands down.”
Kingore said Seachem sends his store early release notices about products so he knows about them even before distributors do. He said he is especially impressed with Seachem’s customer service, and feels his customers are also.
“I’ve had several customers come in, or e-mail, to say they called Seachem with water chemistry questions and they’re very happy with the input they got,” Kingore said. “They’re infatuated with the staff Ph.D.s who explain everything in detail rather than saying off the cuff this or that about what they should do. Training is, nine times out of 10, horribly lacking in this industry.”
Seachem manages to keep its own customer service reps on their toes by being progressive in its product lines as well. An ideal example is its Aquavitro line of salinity, which has been out for about two years now. Seachem makes the salt in its own facility, and it sends each batch out for analysis by an outside independent company.
The result is that customers who buy a bucket can see the analysis of the contents on each individual bucket label, rather than having to accept a broad, general range of specifications and hoping that works for their fish tanks.
The outcome of all this attention to detail?
“The past two years, most of the companies we talk to in our segment have been down, and we’re up,” Hill declared. “We’re up nicely. We’re showing very nice growth, 15 to 20 percent for this year. We’ve been marking growth each of the past two years. At a time when the economy is waning and people are judgmental about the products they use, our business has grown.” <HOME>
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