When Jeff Tishko joined Colker Company, a distributor in the Pittsburgh area, 14 years ago, he was not sold on the firm joining a jan/san group purchase organization.

His feelings changed, however, when he went to a buying group conference, where he says he experienced the true value of these type of organizations.

“You sit with a manufacturer that is talking about products and then you get up and go to the next one,” says Tishko, comparing the conference’s arrangement to speed dating for manufacturers and distributors. 

Ultimately, Tishko met with 65 manufacturers in three days at the conference.

“I saw value in who drives the product…the manufacturer had to give me time and listen to me which is good,” Tishko says. “I think that’s a sign of a good, healthy organization that is going to grow.”

A well-structured jan/san group purchase organizaiton also allows members to have a voice in the products that are offered through the organization. Tishko says he works with his buying group “to fill holes we have” and provide what members would like in terms of products.

“We just don’t grab for any manufacturer that comes to us,” says Tishko. “If it doesn’t make sense, why do it? If it makes sense, then we should bring it in.”

Tishko says distributors who are considering joining a buying group should avoid being in the same buying group as a local competitor, because the overlap will be detrimental and lessen the organization power the distributor has behind it.

Distributors should also choose a jan/san group purchase organization that carries many of the same lines of products that they already sell to their clients.

Deciding whether to join a buying group needs to make economic sense to the distributor, says Tishko. Distributors should look at pricing and cost advantages and weigh them against membership fees.

Although it’s a big decision for any distributor, the access to national accounts set up by buying groups such as his should help make the decision easier, Tishko says.

“National accounts [allow us] to basically compete with worldwide companies,” Tishko says. Being part of a buying group “makes you feel bigger. A buying group makes the average ma and pa distributor feel like a corporation.”

Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wis. He is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.

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