4. How will buying groups remain relevant into the future?

Prosser: It is critical that a buying group be far more than a “buying” group. At Pro-Link we view our role as more of a business partner than a rebate administrator or price negotiator. Our guiding principles from the very beginning of our existence have been to create lucrative sheltered income programs, develop a national brand and provide a team of folks to solve our members’ ongoing business problems. We have invested heavily into programs such as our redistribution centers that shift the cost of inventory from our members’ warehouses to ours, thus freeing up working capital for them.

Huffer: Buying groups like The United Group are a gathering place for like minds to discuss business and industry concerns and will remain so. Distributors will continue to need the purchasing advantages offered by buying groups, as well as the national and regional meetings, which offer camaraderie and perspective. Information is passed along by staff to members, from member to member, and between suppliers and members that is otherwise inaccessible to those outside the group. Our members and suppliers have networked and collaborated in ways that wouldn’t be possible without the atmosphere of The United Group. Our preferred suppliers also cooperate with us to offer training opportunities for members above and beyond their traditional channels.

McGann: By serving as a resource for information and resources that address the pressing needs of the member. By creating forums for collective innovation. By representing the membership to the supplier community as an operationally effective whole and worthy go-to-market partner.

Wilson: Buying groups will not. It’s a business model that’s fast becoming obsolete. The value that these organizations were founded on decades ago is eroding. So, just like the distributors who make up our group, we, too, must change with the market. Therefore a member-driven sales and marketing organization like AFFLINK will remain relevant by reinventing our value proposition to focus on maintaining our stakeholders’ relevance — securing our own future by investing in theirs. In the end, without each of them, we don’t have a business.

Haines: Buying groups are more relevant than ever due to the intense industry competition and consolidation. In addition to helping independent distributors buy better (discounts, rebates, promotions), the group structure and conferences allow for distributors to network with each other to learn best practices and operational strategies. We want to educate our members to sell better and manage their businesses more efficiently to grow their bottom line.

Another way groups will remain more relevant is product diversification — new industries, new categories and new customers. 

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