A sales career in jan/san distribution has historically been a steady — if not safe — choice because it's in a venerable industry with a reputation for providing solid pay and job stability. However, that same steadiness has made jan/san distribution a less sexy option than, for example, the commercial real estate, medical, dental or pharmaceutical industries where sales careers can provide a huge pay day.

Because of this, many distributors and their hiring teams assumed that younger generations didn't think jan/san was cool enough to apply. As a result, some distributors didn't bother recruiting these young, inexperienced workers. But times have changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the practice of cleaning out from under the blanket in which it was covered and onto center stage, lights beaming with intensity. The industry is exciting — even to younger crowds.

Now with the attention of the Millennial who has exceedingly gained buying power, and the Gen Zer who is a few years into the workforce, jan/san distribution has the opportunity to attract everyone from those born during the Space Race to the people who handled cell phones before they could read. To do this correctly, hiring managers must go beyond the status quo and embrace changes to recruitment strategy.

Those just now turning their attention to younger sales reps could be in for a surprise. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Spruce Industries, Rahway, New Jersey, realized jan/san distribution has more appeal to younger generations than was previously thought.

Daniel Josephs, the company's executive vice president and chief operating officer, thought as recently as two years ago that the jan/san industry was not sexy enough to attract the inexperienced worker. In his mind, what has since changed isn't the attitudes of younger workers, but how these people are perceived. After hiring two Millennial sales reps two years ago, Josephs realized that fears that those workers didn't want to come sell in jan/san was more rumor than truth. Today, half of the sales reps the company employs are under the age of 30 and are a good fit.

Some jan/san distributors are getting better at attracting inexperienced talent, but others continue to struggle. Those who find themselves stuck should evaluate their business and see if it's currently catered to only employees of a certain generation versus anyone of working age, like it should be.

"My advice would be to take a look at your environment — and I don't mean that Millennials are picky," says Josephs. "I think owners and people in leadership positions need to look at how they're leading. If you're leading like you're leading a Baby Boomer, it's hard to attract Millennials."

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What Gen Z And Millennial Workers Want