C&H Distributors

Although many companies offer some of the products that C&H Distributors does, they do not offer the expertise and knowledge of storage and material-handling products that C&H’s employees do. These competitors might not offer the ease of ordering through multiple channels, and it’s tough to beat the level of commitment of C&H to its core values. 

“Our mission is to make life easier for our customers,” Chief Marketing Officer Mike Snapper emphasizes. “We can help customers make the best choice for them, and that’s really what the website and catalog design is about. Our focus has been really on better serving what we call multiple channels. Our website is part of that. We’re also focusing on developing better relationships through account management.”

C&H distributes more than 60,000 commercial, industrial and institutional products, including storage products, material-handling equipment, maintenance and janitorial supplies, warehouse and dock equipment, packaging and shipping supplies.

Those sales are made through a variety of channels. “We’ve been a catalog company for 75 years,” Snapper points out. “A lot of our orders come by phone, and they also can come through EDI [electronic data interchange], fax and chat. We really want our customers to choose the order channel that best meets their needs.”

Snapper estimates that approximately 25 percent of C&H’s sales are online. “We’re not trying to push our customers to necessarily order over the web,” Snapper emphasizes. “We’re trying to provide the information and let them choose what they are most comfortable with. Consumers use multiple channels to collect information, especially for bigger projects, to make sure they made the right decision by making that final call.”

“When you start spending thousands of dollars on an order, many people still call or chat and make sure it’s all good before pushing the button on the website for, say, a $10,000 order, so they know,” President David McKeon stresses. 

Durable Items

Many of the items C&H distributes are not consumables. “Our niche is more material handling and storage products – durable goods,” McKeon points out. ”People don’t have to buy them as frequently, so they might not be familiar with them. If they want to buy a pallet truck – if it’s the same one they’ve bought before – there’s no need for a lot of discussion.”

“If people have a small or large project – they want to put some shelving or pallet racks up and don’t know how – we could have engineering drawings that they need to sign off on before an order can proceed,” McKeon continues. “It can range from as simple as they call in and the customer service representative takes the order, or they need a product specialist to put together a quote and some drawings. We can give the customer a layout. We work with our vendors, too, depending on what the product is on the project. Most of those vendors have engineering departments, as well.”

Nationwide Reach

C&H Distributors does business primarily in North America and has five leased warehouses there including a 320,000-square-foot one in Pleasant Prairie, Wis.; 80,000 square feet in Reno, Nev.; 50,000 square feet in Toronto; 30,000 square feet in Calgary, Alberta; and one third-party warehouse in Mexico City.

“We can pretty much hit the whole country in a few days with our stocking warehouses for the products we sell,” McKeon maintains. “It’s a durable good they’re buying. Based on our customer feedback, our delivery dates are in line with what they expect.”

Overnight delivery is an option. “People who are close to a warehouse, if they need something same-day, they could get it,” McKeon says. “We do just-in-time delivery if a customer wants something on a certain day every month. We can make sure it gets delivered on the day they want. There’s not a huge demand for that, but some people want it, so we do it.”

Marketing Efforts

C&H Distributors’ marketing efforts are bearing fruit. To build product familiarity for its regional customers, C&H Distributors held its second vendor fair July 16 in Milwaukee at which 15 different vendors displayed their products. Its redesigned website that was introduced last year has been garnering praise from customers and thanks from employees. 

“The website has brought about greater interaction, with more people adding to their cart,” Director of e-Commerce Melissa Bagley reports. “Customer satisfaction has been high compared to our industry and business-to-business e-commerce sites. We always try to go for continual improvement and are still seeing progress.”

“The thought would be over time, you’re going to keep making the website better and better,” McKeon adds.

C&H Distributors has a most valued partner (MVP) program, which functions similarly to an airline’s frequent flier program. “When we have customers that have been customers for a long time and made a significant amount of purchases from us, they have an assigned account manager that contacts them on a regular basis and develops relationships with these customers,” Snapper explains. “These are typically your bigger companies. We have thousands of them. People that are manufacturers are our best customers, people that are in the Fortune 1000 who make things.”

C&H Distributors’ warehouses use mostly pallet racking to store large, irregularly sized products, so automation is only used on order pickers and fork lifts. Barcode scanners direct pickers to the proper warehouse location and keep track of inventory.

Many of C&H’s competitors are more broadly based and distribute most types of maintenance, repair and operations products. Others are much smaller and more regional. C&H’s competitive advantage is its customer service and highly trained product specialists and account managers.

“We’ve been investing in people and growing the staff on our inside sales team,” McKeon says. “Instead of the distributor’s rep that waits for the phone to ring, these are people who reach out. They have accounts they manage. They build relationships for the long haul.” 

“We value the customer service and experiences we bring,” Bagley says. “We have received very positive feedback for that over the years and continuously work to improve the means by which we can interact with our customers.” 

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