It seems as though everyone has a hand in the oil distribution market today. From auto parts stores to tooling manufacturers to long-time distributors and manufacturers, industrial and automotive oils are ubiquitous. However, not all products are the same and it can be important to evaluate the industrial oil supplier before purchasing a product that may cause equipment failure or significant production downtime.
- Track Record – a purchaser should consider the track record of the distributor. How long have they been in business? Would you provide references? Would you provide contact information for long-time customers, especially if the product is going in to a critical application? How strong is your distributor financially? Most distributors will not give you such sensitive information, but if a supplier cannot pay the bills, what does that do to your business?
- Multiple Vendors – a purchaser should consider how many product lines the distributor has access to. This would help in providing the best product at the best price. In addition, access to local vendors may also be a plus. Local vendors provide competitive products at competitive prices with, perhaps, expedited service. In addition, a local vendor can custom-blend particular products for specific applications.
- Wide Range of Products – many distributors offer a wide range of products, from hydraulic fluids, way oils and gear oils to engine oils and transmission fluids to metalworking fluids and coolants, and would be able to provide “one-stop shopping” for many situations. Other items to consider would be the ability to provide equipment (i.e., fluid pumps, hoses, and regulators, oil testing services, waste disposal services, and clean-up products).
- Ability to Service the Customer – what type of delivery can the supplier provide? Are freight charges additional? Is picking up the order an option? Often, a machine operator will be working on a job and need a particular type of fluid (or a mechanic will need to change the oil in a vehicle) and pick up an empty pail in the shop. Is a will call window available for quick, last minute service?
- Knowledge of Products – oil isn’t just slippery stuff. There are several different base oils which provide for a range of operating hours. There are different additive packages for different types of oils. How much does your distributor know? How much access to help with technical questions does your distributor have? A working knowledge of product information is beneficial. In addition, for specific applications, a certain type of certification may be necessary or beneficial to the purchaser or manufacturer of a product (i.e., ISO, Society of Tribologist and Lubrication Engineers).
- Payment Options – does your industrial oil supplier accept credit cards and cash? Does your distributor allow for open accounts? How much credit is available? Is there any flexibility with regard to credit lines? A strong working relationship with your distributor may lead to less aggravation down the road should you need a change in terms or an expanded line of credit.
- Back-Up Plan – do you have another option should something happen to your distributor? Does your distributor have a back-up plan should an emergency occur? If a delivery vehicle is down for maintenance, does your distributor have a back-up plan?
- Product Specifications – do the suppliers’ products meet certain specifications that your equipment might need? For example, there are many types of motor oil on the shelves. Some are licensed, some are not. Does your equipment need the API certification? Does your transmission fluid need to meet the new GM specifications? Does your engine require a full-synthetic motor oil? Often, these designations can be critical to engine performance or warranties.
- Relationship Building – has your distributor visited your facility? Does he/she understand what you do? Can he/she provide suggestions for new or equivalent products? In today’s climate, many people wear many hats. Do you have time to make sure you have enough product on the floor to finish a job? Would your industrial oil supplier make the rounds and check your inventory of fluids? Will your distributor take away empty drums so that they don’t take up space in your shop?