I know a family that has 15 children. Mealtime always has been an extraordinary experience in this household. The kids typically ate in shifts on benches around a large picnic-like table. There always was plenty to go around, but those growing teens who wanted extra helpings had to strategize to get what little might be left over. Sometimes they would cozy up to mom to get an early sampling, or trick slower siblings into looking the other way to grab what they weren’t eating. What I often observed was that the biggest or strongest or oldest child didn’t always get the most food. Often it was the smartest or the hungriest that used expert cunning to grab the last hot dog or more spoonfuls of spaghetti.

I, of course, have learned to eat before I visit.

When working on this month’s cover story, "Protecting Your Piece of the Pie", I couldn’t help but think of my friends’ dining philosophies. They aren’t much different from what we are espousing in our coverage of vendor consolidation. Larger customers are trying to reduce the number of vendors they are willing to work with to increase efficiencies.

On one hand, large national companies are at an advantage in these situations. On the other hand, most people we interviewed say local and regional providers still have room at the table if they make the right moves.

Just like the children, BSCs need to use their cunning to not only protect their local accounts from centralized outsourcing, but they also need to evaluate ways to take more than their current share of the business before customers make the first move. As contractors expand their own operations, they strengthen their ability to fend off larger providers who might want to steal their lunch.

It all comes back to who’s hungriest when you get your turn at the table. And a tip from my friends: sometimes the little guy can sprint into the fray to grab a healthy portion while the biggest siblings are distracted.