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Sanitary Maintenance sent a brief survey to jan/san distributors at the end of last year to get a snapshot of 2014 and capture their predictions for the year ahead.

Last year got off to a rough start with snowstorms and Polar Vortex freezing temperatures closing customer facilities and halting distributor operations. Sales in the first quarter fell sharply, but recovered as the year went on. In the end, nearly three-quarters of distributors saw a rise in sales over 2013.

Based on conversations from ISSA/INTERCLEAN, distributors indicated that although sales were up, profit margins, unfortunately, were down, cutting into the optimism. The SM survey reflects this sentiment, with a majority of distributors indicating a 1 to 3 percent profit growth, followed by another significant portion of respondents reporting a 4 to 6 percent growth. Distributors expect this modest growth to continue into 2015.

Since 2008, when the economy’s bottom fell out during the Great Recession and sales dropped sharply, distributors have been slowly climbing their way back. Sales have risen 2 percent every two years. Selling to the jan/san marketplace continues to get tougher. Distributors see online retailers and big-box stores as serious competitors — and for good reason. These retailers are expanding their cleaning product offerings and are also growing larger. For example, Staples recently acquired Office Depot.

There is a mix of optimism and concern about the year ahead. It’s anyone’s guess at this point as to how it will turn out. In the meantime, distributors can benchmark their own numbers against these survey results.