New Age Electronics | Fred Towns, President
I feel we have a new business climate that moves faster with digital information and content and communication. Meetings can share information and open discussions and not have to wait for a face-to-face visit – SPEED is key!
I am not sure if the world will ever return to the traditional ways that we had in 2020 — it will be a hybrid model with new SLAs and fresh, new ideas. I think the role of distribution will be more important than ever to support our retailers with the right inventory and fulfillment of goods faster to their customers. I also feel in-person meetings will be better planned with more focus for the vendors and customers because we can have planning discussions and provide content digitally before we sit down in person to meet. We have entered into a hybrid world, where people can choose in-person or virtual, depending on what avenue best suits their needs. Like we experienced in 2020, there is something for everyone, and NAE will provide the solutions in all formats so that our customers will continue to enjoy growth in their business.
Next Level Distribution | Jonathan Elster, CEO
I hear people talk about the new normal. I do think the digital approaches we’re taking will continue. We’ve seen a lot of value in it and so have my customers. [Even in non-COVID times] not every customer is able to travel to a trade show because of cost or because they are owner-operated. However, I do envision getting back in front of customers and getting back to trade shows, and getting in front of our suppliers. I don’t think this is the new normal – that we’re going to sit inside and just work from our workplaces. But as for the digital aspect of doing business, that will continue 100 percent. It’s really provided another avenue for us to get product in front of our customers even quicker than we have in the past. It’s been very successful, we’ve enhanced our website to be best in class, and we’ve made a lot of changes to search capabilities, online promos, invoice tracking and bill paying, that have been very valuable to our dealers.
PowerHouse Alliance | Dennis Holzer, Executive Director
I expect the distribution business to return to business as normal prior to the pandemic in the post-COVID recovery period, but we have certainly learned some important lessons as a result of COVID-19. Through the pandemic, communication was key to keeping dealers and distributors successful. PowerHouse Alliance distributor members have adopted new options to get products to dealers including same-day delivery, more member trucks on the roads, additional locations, and stocking warehouses with larger quantities of product. Through the remainder of 2021, we will continue to reap the benefits of enhanced communication as we introduce new locations, vendors, and products and return to a consistent in-person training schedule that offers more, including some additional surprises to be unveiled.
The Fesco Group | Raymond Levy, COO
We all experienced the attenuation of the distribution business as brands went direct to retail and bypassed the distributor in the middle. More retailers have closed, and we find ourselves in a new world with more and more brands chasing less and less retailers. Retailers are continuously trying to simplify their supply chain by shrinking their vendor base. As a result, opportunities have opened up for distributors who have vendor numbers and can supply a multitude of solutions.
Catalyst AV | Helge Fischer, Executive Director
Things will normalize, as restaurants, movie theaters and more open up, and people ‘feel’ like things are getting normal, and they are being vaccinated… There will be less fear — that is key to actually having meetings and demonstrations with dealers. I believe we will have mask mandates at trainings and still use video conferencing more than in the past, so networking products will continue to have strong growth. The world is maybe going back to the office, but a lot of companies will still prefer their employees to have a mix of office and at-home work. Again, there are many great opportunities for our Catalyst AV members and dealers.
21st CENTURY DISTRIBUTING | Tyler Nelson, Director, Marketing/Training
We at 21st Century Distributing believe that change is inevitable and are always looking to improve our dealer experience day to day. Will we see the same kind of face-to-face interaction that was considered the “normal” prior to COVID? No. However, that was changing regardless, with dealers utilizing incredible technological tools to showcase pre-project designs and proposals online without needing to be in front of the client. This change was also coming on the distribution side, and a need for dealers to have access to their products quickly. We implemented a 24-hour pickup program at our locations specifically to address this need so an integrator could place an order anytime and know it would be waiting for them that night or early the next morning. Change happens sometimes slowly and sometimes in the blink of an eye. It’s how you adapt and adjust your business models to meet this change, and then anticipate the next one that will determine your level of success. 21st is looking forward to the future.
Climatic Home Products | Doug Allen, President
As we move to the next chapter of the pandemic, there will be a “new normal” in distribution. This new normal will allow distributors to use technology and speed to market that will help better communications to our customers and delivery of new products. I believe that customers who were able to find distributors that could support some of their needs over the last 12 months will continue to support some percentage of their business moving forward because of the lessons learned during the pandemic.
Just as retailers found out that less suppliers are probably not the way of the future, distributors also found that a mix of suppliers from around the globe is important to the future of their businesses.
Almo Corp. | Jack Halperin, Senior VP, Dealer Channel Division
We anticipate overall manufacturer inventory levels will continue to improve as the year goes on. Manufacturers will be looking to make up lost share from the previous 12 months — this year’s holiday appliance offerings should be more in line with the traditional promotional period.
We also expect the buying groups to some extent will be able to conduct physical Buy Fairs. While the virtual experience has become a necessary and relevant way to conduct business, it’s still important to meet with dealers and vendors in person at such events when safely possible.
Over the past 12 months, we have learned that conducting business remotely is effective. Once our offices fully reopen, we’ll be able to provide a hybrid balance that is effective and productive for both employees and dealers.
D&H Distributing | Fred Eddy, VP of US Retail & NSP Sales
The new normal — whatever that looks like — will require versatility and fortitude. D&H has a depth and breadth of consumer and commercial solutions, and has proven its ability to provide high service levels regardless of how or what the world wants to buy. That agility applies across retail, ecommerce, and B2B disciplines. Even if business travel remains limited, D&H’s tenured field sales team will serve as a vital resource for manufacturer and retail partners. We’re positioned to fulfill day-to-day business needs in the short and long term, both virtually and in person. No one can fully predict the permanence of recent developments, but based on D&H’s 104-year history and current growth trajectory, we’ll be here, ready to support the channel’s evolution for many post-pandemic years to come.
Ingram Micro | Alexandra Harding, Director, Vendor Management, Business and Consumer Solutions
I do not think we will ever go back to the way it was. We are going to continue to see growth in ecommerce sales. I am happy to see some of these retail stores succeed in changing their model to curbside pickup and same-day delivery options. I think when we see each state start to reopen, you are going to see more of a rush, because people are so tired of being cooped up. You are going to see [unleashed] that pent-up demand just to get out. Ecommerce is still going to drive it; there is still going to be pressure on the carriers and that whole network. The delays will continue with delivery, but patience has changed things, and lowered the expectation of 24-to-48-hour delivery – and consumers understand this.
How will businesses open? When offices open back up, they will not open 100 percent – maybe only 50 percent. Will they offer hybrid work solutions that will continue to drive those work-from-home solutions? People rushed and went out and bought whatever it was that they could to make work from home do-able. Fast forward one year, and people are going to refresh these things because they will continue to work from home, and they will want to have a better camera, better monitor docking stations, and better networks. Once they realized they had their entire family working online, they realized that that four-year-old router needed to be thrown in the trash and upgraded, so that they could get on board with the latest Wi-Fi solutions that are available now, with mesh networking protection. So these are areas of business that are going to continue to see growth.
I think travel will resume being the way it was before because, again, people want to get out. But things will be slightly different – like that dining experience using QR codes to scan the menu, for example, will continue. These solutions save some trees. Touchless displays are out there a lot more. Not touching things as much, but where self-checkout options or mobile pay options are available, are trends, and because of these trends, things will change for the better for the environment.
My takeaway from this is that I hope people can be more kind and more compassionate. Many lives were lost during this pandemic; we shouldn’t lose sight of that. People are going to be more health-conscious, and more aware of their surroundings.
Exertis | Kevin Kelly, President & CEO
COVID has demonstrated that manufacturers and resellers alike have to work with a distribution partner that is capable to provide the resources and solutions needed to meet a challenge that is unthinkable in scale and scope. That’s exactly what COVID was — and is: A challenge that shook the business to the core. We demonstrated the true value of a distribution partner during the last year. In good times, everyone can use the word ‘partner’ when it comes to distribution. It’s easy to be a partner when times are good. When times are bad, really bad, manufacturers and retailers need a distribution partner that can stand with them and help them through a crisis in every way they need, including business support, expanded credit, flexible terms, and staged delivery of solutions. We did all of this — and more. Frankly, retailers need a distribution partner who, in every sense, is their business partner. I believe for all of these reasons the era of small distributors is coming to an end. Consolidation, already under way, will accelerate.