Being in the Industrial Distribution Industry for over 35 years, I have always enjoyed the excitement of face-to-face selling and relationship building. In many cases, I have had the same customers over the course of those 35 years, many of whom I am pleased to consider friends. 

In all the years I have been in this industry, this has been the accepted way of doing business. 

Fast forward to the years 2020-2021 and along comes the unprecedented Covid-19 Pandemic, and it completely changes everything we know about selling. Sales representatives still spend some time out selling in face-to-face situations, but the bulk of their time is now spent in different types of selling situations. This is a huge relationship industry.

How Buying & Selling in Jan San Distribution Has Changed

Today, with nearly every client I deal with, the question is usually the same, “How do we buy?” The fact is, customers are having trouble figuring out how to buy from distributors. With so many working remotely on both sides of the selling process, end-users and distributors, it has become much more difficult to get through the purchasing process. There are new barriers to the old ways of selling.

In many cases, both the salesperson and the customer are working remotely and unable to meet face-to-face. Some customers have not been given access to online ordering, as the distributor may not have the capability or the sales rep doesn’t know how to set them up on it. Many web stores are so out of date they can’t find the new products they are looking for. 

Customer relationships in our industry have failed in the past when customers feel ignored, and when sales reps can’t get that face time. Even times that reps don’t return calls or have the proper product knowledge to help the end-user affect the relationship. There has also been a lot of consolidation in this industry, from having around 7,000 distributors 20 years ago, to under 2,000 today. New companies often don’t receive proper information from the selling company, so many end users fall through the cracks. This alone is a huge opportunity for the smaller independent distributors.

The funnel has certainly changed due to covid, in large part because so many businesses have closed permanently. If you are not already doing business with an end user due to restrictions, it can be nearly impossible to get meetings with prospects. In effect of these challenges and changes in the industry, sales reps will need to find new ways to make initial contacts and better ways to track progress.

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Succeed By Making it Easier for Clients to Buy Online

Historically, the industrial distribution industries have lagged far behind other industries in helping our clients with the ability to shop online. Many websites are outdated and, in some cases, are six months or more behind in getting newer products into online catalogs. This is especially problematic with all of the exciting new health and safety products that have come to the marketplace over the past year. The pandemic has created opportunities in new market areas and many distributors have been slow to take advantage of them. 

Despite recent indications showing that Janitorial and Paper Supply distributors transact less than 10% of their business through online ordering and their online catalogs, it is an amount that is staggeringly low when compared to other industries. 

Another recent report indicates that Janitorial Equipment & Supplies is expected to continue growing, even despite any commercial setbacks from covid. And demand will surely be needed with the continued sanitation guidelines that will likely be in place moving forward across industries. Because of this, it’s more important now than ever to ensure you have an actionable e-commerce plan to compete and gain an advantage with the continued trajectory for growth. 

Everyone in the Industrial Distribution field should remember that much of the competition comes from the Amazon’s of the world. Imagine the positive effects to profitability and cash flows if your online presence is improved, and imagine how much more revenue could be generated if the number of transactions done online increased to just 20-25%! During the new normal this may be the minimum businesses need to achieve to simply survive.

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This is still a huge relationship business. The stages of engagement are just developed a little differently with shoppers online. Envision your customers being able to place all of their orders and get the proper information while working remotely from their homes. An online store where they can not only place their orders, but they can also provide all the ancillary items they may need to go with the products they use. Where they can find information on all of the new items in your catalogs, provide the updated information that salespeople can no longer get out to show them. 

The days of catalog shopping are dwindling, and the new digital frontier is wide open. It’s the time to transform your business online to cater to the changes happening in the industry and create a seamless and engaging experience for your clients. While things might be a little more challenging with the times in distribution for Janitorial Equipment & Supplies, the opportunities are abundant!

[Thank you Michael Tighe for your brilliant insights and for sharing your experience with us.]

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Author

  • Michael Tighe

    Michael Tighe has been in the Industrial Distribution for over 35 years. He was the owner of Industrial Cleaning Products Inc a distributor of Janitorial Supplies and Equipment for over 27 years. He was also Vice President of Business Development for Triple S. Michael served on the Board of Directors for both International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) for 4 years and Triple S for 11 years. He is a graduate of Merrimack College, North Andover, Massachusetts and has an MBA from Syracuse University.

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