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No matter how reliable a distributor’s ability may be to obtain supplies, ship them efficiently and provide the proper training/service to boot, these qualities are greatly enhanced by understanding the specific needs of end users. Distributors who fail to recognize changes in customer preferences can lose business to competitors who are ahead of the curve.    

To help gauge where these trends stand, Sanitary Maintenance polled end users (both in-house facility cleaning managers and building service contractors) on a variety of purchasing topics for the “2023 End User Purchasing Trends Survey”. Specifics include top purchasing priorities, the equipment in most demand, the importance of e-commerce capabilities and more.  

When it comes to purchasing priorities, it seems as though end users are focusing on products and equipment that will result in process improvements and productivity advantages. Floor equipment and vacuums make the list, but interest in battery-powered equipment, specifically, has grown considerably in interest. The likelihood of this demand could be a result of staffing shortages and equal or increasing cleanable space in facilities.   

This sounds like the perfect opportunity for distributors to promote autonomous equipment options, but that suggestion may fall on deaf ears. The fact is, only 13 percent of end users plan to purchase robotic machines over the next 12 months. This tally is even lower than the 2021 result by 5 percentage points.   

This is perhaps one of the more surprising findings of the entire study, as cleaning executives across the United States struggle to fill job openings and would theoretically be looking for any efficiency boost they can find. On the other hand, the upfront price combined with the unknown long-term ROI of robotic equipment could be main reasons for slow traction.   

No matter what products or equipment end users are purchasing, the good news for distributors is that while purchasing patterns were unpredictable during the pandemic, that’s stabilized a bit in 2023. End users continue to plan ahead and order early to offset any supply chain kinks. This allows end users to order in larger quantities, but do so less frequently. It’s a logical plan and opens the door for distributors who are willing to provide emergency services or last-minute deliveries, if that need arises with customers.   

This “2023 End User Purchasing Trends Survey” also revealed some less-than-exciting trends distributors should be mindful of. When it comes to purchasing office or breakroom supplies, end users are far more willing to go the route of patronizing Amazon Business or similar e-tailers. In fact, 62 percent of end users indicated they currently do so, up from 57 percent in 2021. Distributors have less to worry about when it comes to conventional cleaning products, as nearly three-quarters of end users noted that 10 percent or less of their cleaning supply expenditures go through e-tailers.   

The other good news here is that 70 percent of respondents indicated that if their distributor offered these non-cleaning supplies, they’d stick with that distribution partner when doing their purchasing.  

The study also revealed that distributors have a good grasp on what their end users are willing to pay for as opposed to what is considered to be a value-added service. While 74 percent of distributors offer product training, 62 percent offer site-specific drop shipments and 54 percent offer dispenser installation for free. Meanwhile, just a fraction of those same end users would pay for each of those respective services — 27 percent for training, 14 percent for drop shipments and 29 percent for dispenser installation.   

One category stands out from the rest, though: equipment repair. While more than half (55 percent) of end users reported that their distributors provide repairs as a value-added service, a whopping 63 percent of them would be willing to pay for it anyway. This is the only category where there is a willingness above 29 percent (the runner-up being emergency services) that end users would pay for a service.   

When asking end users what the top reason would be for switching distributors, “better product price” still led the way by an overwhelming margin at 52 percent, with the runner up being “better customer service/attention to me” at 21 percent. While customers put a slightly larger emphasis on “better value-added services” compared to 2021 data, there was little-to-no change to how end users felt about switching priorities overall. Distributor association affiliations and personal certifications continued to carry little weight when it came down to why end users would consider a switch, coming in at 8 and 9 percent, respectively.   

Explore the results of the full survey for more insights into how distributors can best position themselves as a reliable business partner for end users.