Silverman says companies are beginning to understand the importance of hygiene in the workplace, and in industries such as healthcare. Not only on the health of their workers or patients, but also the potential impact on revenues. High absenteeism rates, worker compliance issues, and the spread of disease and infection are real threats to a company’s bottom line. It makes sense to reposition distributors as business partners, instead of just salespeople, says Silverman.

“I think we’re consciously trying to offer value to our customers, rather than just commoditizing,” Silverman says. “We’re helping our customers do things to improve productivity, and (providing) solutions rather than pricing them on particular paper, or liners. We’re partnering with them to help them to help their business.”

Above all, distributors need to quantify value-added services for their customers, says St. Germain.

“A lot of times, distributors save their customers money and they don’t really tell them,” he says. “Remind your customers how much value you are delivering them, or have a quarterly report of their cost savings. You have to look at the bigger picture.”

The emphasis on building partnerships has led to opportunities for business diversification, says Jon Scoles, managing director at Scoles Floorshine, in Wall, N.J. The company has branched into laundry and warewashing, as well as developed sanitation programs for schools and healthcare facilities.

“The industry as a whole is starting to be recognized as an asset rather than an expense, and because of that, people are listening to us at a higher level,” Scoles says. “You’re not going to compete with Amazon on the B2B level. You have to offer them something they can’t do.”

Anthony Trombetta, director of sales at ISSA, says distributors should look at the entry of big box retailers as an opportunity to show off their expertise, something that easily sets them apart from purely logistic operations.

“You have to become more of a consultant,” says Trombetta. “Then you’re not just selling products — you’re selling solutions.”