Competition in the jan/san market from the big box retail stores is nothing new. Retailers such as Lowe’s, Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, W.B. Mason, Costco and Staples have maintained a foothold in the jan/san market for 10 plus years. But now, these stores are aggressively expanding their reach through a variety of measures, including an attractive online marketplace and on-site delivery targeted at jan/san and MRO.   

Adding to the competition, Inc., already the largest consumer e-commerce site, launched, a business-to-business e-commerce site, in April. This site offers more than 500,000 products including office supplies and janitorial and sanitation products. is not alone in this online push for e-commerce business from building service contractors, in-house service professionals and facility managers.

In November 2011, Staples Inc. upgraded its website aimed at business customers with consumer-like features and put a sales force in the field to help sell their product lines. And in March, Grainger Industrial Supply announced it had budgeted $40 million to build out its online sales channel.

The reality is big box retail stores do bring a lot to the table. Their sheer size means they have massive facilities and websites full of competitively priced supplies. But before jan/san distributors get lost in a world of doom and gloom, it’s important to remember the big box business model is based on high-volume product turnover rather than support and services, and that’s where local distributors remain strong.

“There have always been times where we’ve had to adjust to competition for the business,” says Charles Moody, president of Solutex Inc. of Sterling, Va. “We’ve had to go back and show customers they weren’t saving as much as they thought and stress they were losing that added touch.”

Click here to learn how jan/san distributors can effectively compete against these national retailers.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.