By Paul Bernier and David O’Guin
With many years of experience in the Industrial Gas/Welding supply industry, I have learned that many companies do not truly offer safety services and supplies in their product mix. It is understandable, since the margins are not in line with what we enjoy in gases. But, if you are not providing safety products to your industrial customers, who is? Our main marketing objective is to try and provide as many products as possible to our customers, adding more line items to our invoices, truly striving to be a one-stop provider, as much as possible. Sure, most distributors offer welding safety products, maybe hard hats and safety glasses, but what about becoming a true, full line safety distributer, providing the product mix and expertise like we do with welding and other gas related verticals?
There are many negatives to truly becoming a “full-line” safety distributor, such as: bringing many more SKU’s into your stores and warehouses; adding more vendors and vendor relationships; training associates; and competing against other safety houses and distributors, not to mention a huge number of internet sites offering low pricing.
However, the positives, if done right, can far outweigh the negatives and add more products and services to your existing customers who need to buy those items anyway. Safety products are in-line with what we provide now and can truly add more value to you as a supplier and as a true partner. Also, if you have or are considering a vending service, safety items can fill vending machines with so many more SKU’s and profit. From safety glasses to batteries, Tyvek suits to respirator filters, safety products add value and profit to your vending offering.
A true safety distributor has to carry more than the basic safety supplies you can find at Lowe’s, i.e., safety glasses, ear plugs, leather gloves, and hard hats. A full-line safety supplier will certainly carry these items, but also fall protection equipment, respirators, confined space equipment, lockout/tag out tools, signage, hearing protection, hiviz workwear, first aid, hazardous chemical protection products, just to mention a few. Along with this comes added services training responsibilities to not only your staff, but the end users as well.
Knowing that safety products are available in so many other areas like stores and online shopping sites, it is very important to make our company the “go to experts” like we do in welding, beverage, and other services we provide. At General Air, we learned through surveys that our customers were looking for us to carry more safety products and services, so we decided to jump in with both feet. We brought in Safety Specialists, partnered with crucial vendors, committed to adding “safety zones” to our retail locations, training, and even created a safety truck displaying products inside, as well as having a boom and pully system attached where we can demonstrate real fall falls and how the equipment works. We offer “free” safety training to our customers as a service, they in turn buy the safety products from us.
Safety products are a required commodity that our customers “have to” buy, and training is a required service our customers must have. It is important to understand that there are so many safety regulations and requirements enforced by OSHA, MSHA, EPA, and other agencies, not to mention the huge costs associated with injuries and large fines. Any business that requires their employees to wear a respirator, must have them not only fit tested initially, but also trained annually. In fact, any business that requires safety glasses or hearing protection must also provide annual training -to mention just a few.
By offering our customers this training at no charge, we separate ourselves from other competitors, we build stronger and more valuable relationships, and provide the safety products and training to help keep our customers and their workers safe. Also, by becoming a full-service safety house, we have opened up other industry channels that we typically don’t deal with, but still buy and use safety products. Myself and my counterpart, David O’Guin (Northern Colorado Safety Manager), have committed ourselves to continually train and supply our customers and their workers, with the products and training they need to keep them safe and avoid costly fines and injury expenses.