To help member organizations compete against e-commerce and big-box giants, buying groups have spent an extensive amount of time and money identifying trends and developing tools and resources to deploy. These resources come in the form of better pricing, digital assets, training and developing a more consultative approach. 

For many buying groups, the goal is to provide tools and resources that enhance the role of the distributor sales representative in the purchasing process. Rather than just dropping off a box, the sales representative listens to the customer’s pain points and finds other ways to assist — whether through additional products, finding ways to generate savings or helping improve safety.

“DPA tries to help distributors change their paradigm by not simply selling on price,” says Haines. “That quickly becomes a race to the bottom and decreases overall profitability. Successful distributors leverage their product knowledge, company history and customer service.” 

For more than six years, AFFLINK has offered proprietary software that is designed to help members sell against big-box stores and logistics companies by allowing their customers to better manage their supply chain and generate savings. 

“More of our members are embracing and using [the software] than ever before, and are closing new business at a rate of 72 percent when provided opportunity to sell the concept in totality,” says Wilson.

Besides providing sales recruitment tools, Triple S also launched a new data-rich platform that gives members the tools to assess, recommend, implement, inspect and “dollarize” their programs. 

“Business managers care about dollars and data,” says Flinton. “Our members implement solutions to decrease absences, reduce waste, increase labor efficiency, protect assets, improve image, provide safety and become more sustainable. These solutions have a more meaningful impact on an organization’s financial health than simply analyzing janitorial supply costs.”

In addition to deploying resources that enhance the role of the sales representative, buying groups are also providing access to digital resources to enhance their members’ online presence and capabilities.

Triple S is nearing completion of its digital commerce approach that will “assist members with their digital branch, providing social media campaigns, content additions/updates, ERP connections and storefront continuity,” says Flinton. 

AFFLINK offers customizable digital marketing assets to generate demand, opening opportunities and negotiated delivery options.

The United Group (TUG) is also moving to expand digital capabilities for its members, from updating websites to helping with online selling.

“With the help of our preferred suppliers, TUG members are enhancing and upgrading their company websites and successfully capitalizing on e-commerce as a means to partner with customers and increase revenue opportunities,” says Ty Huffer, senior vice president of sales and marketing, TUG, Monroe, Louisiana. “TUG will continue to facilitate opportunities for members to adopt the best e-commerce practices, meeting them where they are and moving them forward.” 

Cost Still A Consideration

At the end of the day, price still matters — a lot. More than half (56 percent) of facility cleaning managers say that cost is important when purchasing products/equipment, according to the “2017 Facility Cleaning Decisions Reader Survey.” 

Better pricing is a benefit that typically comes with membership in most buying groups.

Through AFFLINK, members have pre-approved negotiated costing they can use “up and down the street in virtually every market segment, without having to incur the fees associated with a GPO or national cooperative,” says Wilson.

Similarly, DPA leverages the collective volume of the group to negotiate better product pricing, lower minimums, extra promotions and better pre-paid freight policies. 

“Our programs are deeper and better than what a small to mid-sized distributor would be able to get on their own,” says Haines. 

Competing against e-tailers and big-box stores ultimately comes down to value. 

With a wide selection of features and programs designed to benefit both distributors and their customers, buying groups can help level the playing field by giving distributors an edge when it comes to value-added services. 

However, distributors and the sales representatives will need to communicate that value to the customer if they want to stay competitive against increased competition for e-tailers and big-box stores. They will need to show that purchasing cleaning products and equipment is about more than just the convenience of a click and a box. 

Andi Curry is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati. 

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Buying Groups Help Distributors Compete Against E-Tailers