Perhaps the best thing to emerge from the recession is that it forced distributors to take a closer look at their businesses, which has led them to discover new opportunities.

Whether done through fear, or motivation, this move has led to a revamping of the business. Distributors are embracing the changes by establishing a new role in the marketplace, one that is made up of hygiene and sanitation experts, rather than product specialists, says David Frank, an industry consultant. It all comes down to one word: Value.

These days, distributors have 360 degrees of competition, including online. As bigger players enter the jan/san market — such as Amazon, Staples and Grainger — Frank says distributors need to find new ways to differentiate the business. 

“Distributors are going to have to move beyond performing a transactional value and redefine their business model in order to compete,” Frank says. “They have to be experts at facility management, and get away from being a product expert. If they are just moving a box, the other guys can do it faster, cheaper and better. Corporate America understands that.”

This can be achieved by focusing on specific market verticals, sales training, sanitary expertise and education, and supply chain optimization, Frank says. The good news is companies can’t offshore cleaning — it has to be performed onsite, giving those who embrace the new landscape an upper hand.

“I don’t think [big box companies] have an understanding of our industry, the ability to go in and really solve their problems,” says Linda Silverman, president of Maintex Inc. in City of Industry, Calif. “We have to understand that we understand our business, but we have to deliver value. We have the ability to come out as a winner.”

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