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Why won’t the Fire Service buy my product?

How many times have I heard suppliers say this, in frustration, when clearly they have an exceptional product? Although it is changing slowly, fire services are conservative and risk adverse; they like to go with products and brands they know and feel comfortable with.

There are two broad types of products, those that are specialist tools that the agencies need a limited number of, like drone aircraft and/or rescue tools, and those that are distributed everywhere throughout the agency such as boots, gloves and radios. The second group usually has, overall, a much higher price tag.

In my career I have sat on both sides of the fence buying and selling. Take it from me, buying is by far the easiest and selling the most frustrating.

To be blunt, specialist equipment purchases are based on brand identification and relationships with the agency, where the agencies staff are continually being kept up-to-date with new and changing technologies. Most of these purchases take place based on quotes and/or are specialist items with only one supplier, they don’t get into drawn-out and bureaucratic tender processes where probity is so strict that it gets in the way of the identification of full product value by limiting access to the buyer.

Here are a few observations that may be of value for the specialist market, I haven’t spelt out the benefits because they should be obvious;

  • Demonstrate your equipment as often as possible. Highlight major changes that separate your product from the opposition. Wasting time on small changes doesn’t impress.
  • Make sure all the agencies know who has purchased your equipment, at home and overseas, it gives them comfort that others have used the product.
  • The last point make’s it hard for the new player, who should concentrate on innovation, first making sure your product solves a problem and the agency knows it is a problem.
  • Do anything to get a pilot study, trial and/or proof of concept into an agency.
  • Build your brand with many small purchases
  • Get articles and advertising into industry journals

For those products in the mass purchase and/or expensive categories that will go through the full tender process it is important to establish yourself well before and even more important to have high brand recognition. The probability that a new player, that is not well known in the market, will win a large tender is very low.

When the shortlist in the tender process is presented to the executive team, most of the questions asked will be targeted at the least known brand and along with the increase in questions may come a decrease in credibility. At a base level, tenders are won, when all else is equal, on brand credibility.

Most of the known brands are very good at profile maintenance, but let me identify one new issue in relation to the executive group signing off on a tender. Often these days the CEO/Commissioners are coming from outside and have not been brought up in the industry. Therefore, they have no idea of your brand even though it has been part of the industry for years. In this new world those advising the CEO/Commissioner are important to get to through the traditional methods of exhibitions, demonstrations and industry magazines. To get your name in front of the new breed of leader you need to position your brand executives in situations that allow one-on-one informal/social interaction. Three good examples are;

  1. Sponsor an industry award or dinner, you get to sit at the head table all night with the person you want to get to know,
  2. The placement of industry journal advertisements next to the higher level management article that the CEO is reading as opposed to the articles on tools that the practitioners are reading.
  3. Support a charity that has an affinity with the agency and invite the CEO/Commissioner to fund raising events.

It is a hard industry to break into, think very carefully about how you push your name forward in the placement of advertisements and remember that face to face contact is worth its weight in gold.

For more information, email neil.bibby@mdmpublishing.com

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Asia Pacific Fire, Editor