By  Brooke N. Sykes, Jr., CMTSE
      Hardinge Director of Turning/Milling Sales and Technical Services, N.A.

As I began to compose this, I remembered that the last time I submitted an article for one of our industry’s periodicals was back in 2002. The article was titled “Communication (Perception) is Everything” and appeared in AMTDA’s July/August 2002 issue of ToolTalk. Much of the article premised the importance of good communications between distribution and builders. I am writing this article with the same passion for distributor/builder relations in our industry, except it is now for AMTDA’s descendant, AMT’s Distribution Group.
AMT’s merger with AMTDA brought me closer to the builder view of the machine tool supply chain. When I wrote my article in 2002, I was employed by the distribution world. As of December 2014, after almost 34 years in that world, I made a change. I am now employed in the manufacturer’s world with my new position with the Hardinge Group. Let’s think about this: AMT merges with AMTDA; Brooke leaves distribution to join the manufacturing community. So the question comes to mind: are these worlds really that different? Will my insights and perceptions change?

This leads me to the title of this article. Star Wars is making a big splash with the upcoming December release of Star Wars the Force Awakens, Episode VII. High expectations have been set by the reappearances of many of the original cast. Can you remember the unthinkable turn in the story as we discovered that Luke Skywalker was actually the son of the notorious villain Darth Vader? Vader tried his best to coax Luke to the “dark side of the force.” As a distributor, we sometimes used that description for the builder community. I feel certain that builders have some equivalent description of the distributor community!

Truth be known, my father, like Luke’s, was part of the “dark side.” My dad finished high school then completed his tool and die apprenticeship at Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company.  From there, he went on to hold various sales and management positions with B&S until his retirement. I was very fortunate to have him as my manufacturer’s representative as we sold Brown & Sharpe CMMs early in my distribution career.

Early in my career, he tutored me to have “open eyes” for both sides of the builder and distributor viewpoints. My father taught me that distribution was the most important asset he and his company had to get their product to market with the highest level of cost effectiveness. He also explained the challenges that he had to manage to acquire his fair share of his distributor’s selling time and resources.

The memories of the opportunities we worked on together were very good. As we worked to sell CMMs in a very competitive market, we seldom lost. What was the magic ingredient in this distributor-builder selling effort?  Well, you could easily say it was the father-son relationship, and yes that did help. But really, the magic ingredient is a “seamless” presentation and appearance to the customer of the builder-distributor relationship. Customers would feel that our two companies were really one, one company there for their benefit through our product. By the way, I have also had this experience with other builders using non-family members; it is all about the relationship.

How can you establish “seamlessness” in the relationship? Well let’s circle back to my 2002 ToolTalk article, “Communication (Perception) is Everything.”  Though my wife would argue otherwise, I love the topic of communication. Communication can make any plan come together, including the distributor-builder plan to win individual sales opportunities or to take products to the market.  

George Bernard Shaw cautions us though with his quote, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” This is exactly where we do not want to be. Concentrate on making sure the team all has the same game plan and that communications are frequent and accurate.

So how is it on the other side? Pretty much the same, with just a slightly different view.

May the Force be with you!