Dan Weltin

There’s no doubt that Amazon is a threat to jan/san distributors. However, it’s not quite the distributor-killer it’s made out to be — at least not yet. Our cover story this month shares data from Sanitary Maintenance’s “2019 End User Purchasing And Service Survey.” According to the research, only 11 percent of end users buy more than 50 percent of their products from an online source other than a distributor. Nearly 20 percent buy none of their products from an e-tailer like Amazon. And the largest group of end users — 36 percent — only buy 1 to 5 percent of their supplies from Amazon or a similar vendor.

One might assume these low numbers are because building service contractors and in-house facility cleaning managers avoid e-commerce and prefer phone and in-person sales. But that’s not necessarily the case.

According to the survey, nearly 40 percent of end users purchase more than half of their cleaning supplies via e-commerce with jan/san distributors. That’s encouraging for an industry that is behind-the-times when it comes to technology and the internet. Plus, 56 percent of end users indicate they will buy even more products online if distributors improve their e-commerce capabilities.

Where Amazon is currently hurting jan/san distributors is the non-cleaning supplies that their customers still need: office supplies, breakroom items, first aid kits, etc. Half of the survey respondents use Amazon to purchase products like these. But as our cover story points out, nearly 70 percent of end users would buy these supplies from their distributors if they were offered.

It would be foolish for distributors to ignore Amazon. However, end users in the jan/san industry seem to favor traditional suppliers rather than e-tailers. This means distributors can still compete as long as they provide their customers the products and services they desire. See page 12 to discover what’s on their “wish lists.”