Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
September 22, 2016  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow
NAW-6 Strategies for Competing with Disruptors

Wholesaler-distributors are well aware that disruptors pose a strategic threat, and so are developing strategies to survive, compete, and prosper. Here are potential strategies for dealing with disruptors:

It’s important to note that all of the strategies have a common thread: wholesaler-distributors must clearly define the solutions or services they offer customers delivered through a high-quality and consistent customer experience. This approach recognizes that the business of wholesale distribution is a service. In this light, finding a winning formula for competing with disruptors is about offering services that are differentiated and meaningful.

Market Knowledge

For many wholesaler-distributors, the first foundation for building competitive advantage against disruptors is market knowledge, although the exact meaning of market knowledge can vary. For some distributors, it means knowledge of an industry; for others, it means knowledge of a specific local market; for others, it means in-depth knowledge about specific customers ….


This strategy recognizes that wholesaler-distributors must ultimately offer a solution to customer problems to succeed. A line card of products can be a solution if all that customers want is choice. Local inventory strengthens the solution if customers want quick delivery ….

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Exclusive Brands

Many wholesaler-distributors are building strategies around access to brands or products. In some cases, this strategy involves gaining exclusives, or near exclusives, from manufacturers. If large suppliers won’t support this strategy, distributors may seek out small or up-and-coming manufacturers. In other cases, distributors will offer their own branded products, often referred to as private labels. Either way, these distributors are positioning themselves as the source for products …

Local and Immediate

Other wholesaler-distributors will compete by going back to their long-established core capabilities of being local for customers and offering an immediate response to needs. These two benefits are mutually supporting. Local inventory can be delivered quickly. A technician that is just down the road is always available. Some distributors are skewing their product lines to emphasize products that cannot stay on the shelf for long ….

Online Business-to-Business

A potentially aggressive strategy for wholesaler-distributors turns an old phrase around 180 degrees. As one distributor said, “If I can’t join them, I will beat them.” This executive had considered using disruptors as a channel for his own company’s online sales because his business could not hope to match the distributor’s online selling capabilities ….


More than one wholesaler-distributor told us that a rope-a-dope strategy won’t work. Distributors cannot assume a defensive position, stand next to the ropes, and wait for disruptors to punch themselves out. Rather, distributors must build a strategy by looking for a fight they think they can win and going after it full throttle ….

Adapted from Becoming a Digital Distributor: Strategies and Tools That Create Value

The full study shares data, analyses, tools, recommendations, and more than 250 direct quotes from distributors who provide expert advice for creating a vision and driving your wholesale distribution business forward.

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Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Business Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for B2B innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve go-to-market excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.

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