From August through October, “The Wide Line” blog will feature a series of columns authored by Dan Strongin, a well-known name in the food industry.

Below is the second part of my interview with Diane, a product manager from Nelson-Jameson.

Diane: We are not trying to be everything to everyone. We know our niche: food. We don't carry items for heavy industry or oil fields like other suppliers. Even in lab products, we focus on products geared towards the food industry; we know who we are and whom we serve, in order to help those we serve find solutions.

Dan: Can you tell me a bit about training for customers and how does the training work?

Diane: Since we supply solutions, not just products, we are not interested in just dropping a product at a customer's door. We help put it to good use, providing clear, well-written procedures, and we may even help set up and run a sample where we provide hands-on training.

Training and support depend on the product. Sometimes it is done with a manufacturer’s representative and sometimes with our internal experts. We end up helping out a lot with lab and safety equipment: certain types of items for explosion prevention, for instance. Sales people will even take our tech people on the road in order to demonstrate.

In ingredients, often someone goes into the plant to run a trial, as every plant is different. In sanitation, we may provide samples of items like brooms and brushes, lab coats, and hairnets to ensure they meet their needs.

Sometimes we provide training seminars in partnership with outside organizations. These are not to generate sales or offer a pitch, but are training oriented and focus only on education.

Dan: How can Nelson-Jameson make things easier for a business?

Diane: It is easier to buy a bunch of supplies from one supplier than one product from a bunch suppliers. Cut just one PO for multiple items and you can be sure you'll get things that work. We can help identify a product or solution even with only a loose description. We are a time saver, especially for frequently bought items and we can help with substitutes as we have multiple sources. [Try and do that when you buy direct.- Dan] They can get a combined pallet of many products, allowing them to keep their money working and not tied up in inventory. It's not just taking an order for us, it’s helping a customer.

We are proactive, making the extra effort to understand. With pumps, which we work with a lot, there are questions we ask to ensure they get the right one for the job. It is a single phone call where there is a lot of information exchanged. We want to understand what they want to accomplish: to find the best solution.

Dan: How does Nelson-Jameson Keep informed on audits and regulatory information?

Diane: NJ has a designated department focused on compliance for the people we serve, a full-time job in most companies, keeping up with government and audit requirements, and it is getting even more time consuming. We can help minimize the work load, and ensure it is up to standard, enhancing the completeness and turn around time for required documentation. Nelson Jameson recently completed it's own SQF audit so we can relate to what our customers are experiencing.

Dan: What about logistics and turnaround times?

Diane: Depending on their location, and how much they buy, we help lower logistical costs. Depending on the volume ordered, we provide dedicated route deliveries weekly, every other week, or monthly. We can ship UPS, FED EX, and LTL if needed, from our regional warehouses, to help keep the price of these services down.

If near one of our regional warehouses, customers can call orders in just a few days ahead of scheduled delivery. If needed quicker, we can ship UPS and FedEx, often the same day. Beyond that, our sales and warehouse people are aware of when we normally deliver to a company, so if orders are missing, these people have been know to ask customer service to call them. We look out for each other.

Dan: How does Nelson-Jameson address shortages of product?

Diane: We rarely run out of a mainline product as we see shortages coming, and since NJ has multiple sources for most items, we have options. We try to be proactive, even temporarily limiting individual orders, to keep everybody running.

Dan: What about working with suppliers?

Diane: Suppliers don’t have to guess at our customers' needs; we give them good input and work together to develop products to meet those needs.   For instance, the industry is becoming more electronic, and more specialized. We work to help vendors anticipate our customers' needs. In the color coding of products we pioneered working with our suppliers to go from three colors to a rainbow of colors. Nelson-Jameson works with a multiple manufacturers and volume commitments necessary to develop new colors in a variety of products where the individual customer cannot.

Dan: What problems do you solve for customers when they take full advantage of the NJ system?

Diane: As a single-source supplier we can help them with most of the problems they have, and when we can’t we will direct them to another company. Our job is to lookout for the customer!”

Note: A thanks to Diane. Our conversation made me ponder further what is this magic that makes the people that make up a company like Nelson-Jameson walk the walk, not just talk the talk? We will explore this in the next post, taken from an interview with top management.