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I'm leading a project that involves purchase and installation of some extremely specialized equipment. Within this market there are only a 3-4 players worldwide and only 1 that operates in my country. As such I'm effectively forced to deal with their local distributor (which is a separate entity and a one man show). Since the beginning of the project my team has complained about snide or rude remarks from the distributor. I discussed this with my procurement guy and was told this is typical of this distributor, that he will take jabs at people then backpedal when called out and that his behavior doesn't change after being called out. I personally experienced it for the first time this week and can see it impacting morale given the duration of this project.

I have been considering options. Directly addressing the problem doesn't lead to lasting change and he doesn't have a boss to complain to. I've considered complaining to the manufacturer but see that as the nuclear option as this is a very lucrative contract for the distributor and I would expect the negative behavior to ramp up if they don't have an alternative lined up and he catches wind of it.

As things sit now the only option I see is ride it out, filter all interactions through me, I'll push back every instance where business decorum is not met, document everything, and make the complaint to the manufacturer in 14-16 months when the project is complete. It's slow and maybe ineffective but it's the only thing I can think of.

Am I missing a better way to deal with a niche supplier taking advantage of their position to be rude?

  • 2
    Typical to this industry the local distributor has exclusive distribution rights in the region. – Myles Mar 25 at 15:35
  • How feasible is it to use one of the other suppliers? – sf02 Mar 25 at 15:44
  • @sf02 It would come at a significant cost in terms of budget, timeline, and window in which our business needs aren't being met. Also this is registered pressure equipment so they'd have to be willing to invest in learning the processes of our local regulatory body. To make it worthwhile for them would be prohibitively expensive and slow for us. – Myles Mar 25 at 16:01
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    Looks like you're already doing the right thing. How you report this to the manufacturer is really critical to getting a satisfactory outcome. You'll want a direct contact at the manufacturer who has the authority to make decisions and you'll want to frame the problem in the context of the size of your purchase orders. Do not reach out anonymously, or you might not be taken seriously. Name names and establish personal rapport. – teego1967 Mar 25 at 16:11
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There isn't much you can do, unless their conduct makes it difficult for you both to satisfy your ends of any contracts.

I'd continue to do exactly what you are doing however, I wouldn't wait until the end of the project though. I'd be talking to the manufacturer and letting them know that this conduct jeopardises future business, or at the very least, will be remembered during contract negotiations.

It is probably in the manufacturers power to revoke rights of exclusive licence in certain circumstances. But this would depend on the contract between the manufacturer and the distributer.

  • Also, you may want to mention that the behavior of this distributor is a liability for the company - if one of their competitors were to open distribution of their products in your country, they might lose a significant portion of their revenue from that country overnight. – nick012000 Mar 26 at 2:49
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The easiest, but maybe not best, way to handle this is to work with your team so you all understand what an %ssh%le this guy is. You could maybe make it into a game by keeping a shared list of his outrageous behavior incidents. I know it's an unpleasant game. But it might get your team through it.

If his behavior sinks to the level of workplace harassment, it's prohibited in some countries and states. And your own company could get in trouble for not dealing with it. If you're worried about that, ask for a confidential conversation with the appropriate executive in your company to figure out what to do next.

When you get to a point where you no longer depend on this guy for success (your installation is complete) you should consider getting an executive of your company to write a letter to the CEO of the company that makes the equipment saying,

I write to let you know this: the workplace behavior of your distributor xxxx is causing problems for the staff of our company. That is unacceptable to us. We'd prefer to work with a different distributor in future. Can you arrange that?

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Does the supplier know he's being rude? Some people try to use the filter of "I am who I am" - but that doesn't work very well in the real world.

Carry on being the filter - there's no reason your staff should bear the brunt of his ignorance. But also contact the manufacturer, and ask if they have plans to correct the monopoly that this person has in your country. Find out if you are allowed to purchase the product from overseas (it's obviously passed all the country tests). I wouldn't worry about going 'nuclear' - let him deal with the fallout.

  • The monopoly business model is the norm in this industry. I've been told manufacturers make a significant portion of their revenue selling exclusive distribution licenses, similar to the fast food industry's franchise license system. – Myles Mar 25 at 16:20
  • I would have to assume he knows he's being rude in that he's been confronted on it more than once from my organization alone. – Myles Mar 25 at 16:24

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