As distributors look for ways to fend off disruption, many are considering how to repurpose legacy brick-and-mortar facilities. The general idea is that two or more people interacting in a physical space can create compelling and differentiated value. Some concepts include a food service equipment distributor building out a fully functional restaurant and dining facility, or a plumbing wholesaler assembling a digitally enabled working system of pipes, heaters, sinks and appliances. Once created these active operations can host a variety of events including hands-on training, talks by trendsetters and subject matter experts, customer forums to discuss needs and solutions, off-campus training for local colleges, tours for grade school students, banquets and barbeques, and more.

Underlying these facilities and events is the idea that distributors can create something that online disruptors like Amazon cannot – real-world, hands-on experiences facilitated by actual people. There could be something big happening here. Just as Amazon has been dubbed The Everything Store in a classic book by Brad Stone, so can distributors be known as “The Experience Store.”

The value created through experiences might include education, problem-solving, familiarization with new products and technology, brainstorming and many more. Realizing the potential for many different experiences and the need to keep facilities busy, one distributor created an “experience manager” position filled by an up-and-coming star from the next generation of employees.

It’s early and execution of The Experience Store strategies may vary widely by the line of trade and distributor strategy. However, some best practices are beginning to emerge:

  • Carefully select your staff for an event. People should be both knowledgeable and creative. The role at an “experience” event is not purely a sales, marketing or training function. Active listening skills are required as well as the ability to think on one’s feet. One distributor offered that the role is not unlike people working at an Apple Store – part geek, part evangelist.
  • Design experiences for customer and distributor value. The value for a distributor is more about building customer loyalty and strengthening the distributor’s brand. Debriefs after the event can be used to identify learning and best practices for the next event.
  • Look for inspiration from books and online sources. To design a differentiated experience, read the Stone book. For ideas on the social value of bringing people together, read “Celebrating the Third Place” or “The Great Good Place,” both by Ray Oldenburg. As an idea for your business begins to gel, go online and make visits to experience spaces. One distributor has traveled to Singapore and Milan to experience next-generation brick-and-mortar distributorships in his line of trade.
  • Tell stories about your experience events on social media. Getting the word out can help build your brand and position your company as a modern, dynamic business and a great place to work. Moreover, your stories can help make your reputation with your suppliers as a builder of experience-based brands for their products. Real-world experiences create business-to-business brands.

The Experience Store concept is one of 25 innovation ideas that we have collected through our ongoing research for the next Facing the Forces of Change® wholesale distribution trends study to be published by NAW in late 2019. All 25 innovation ideas can be found in the recently released new challenge paper, Creating Innovations and Shaping the Future of Business: A Look at Commerce, Technology and Human Forces in Distribution, which I hope you will read. Every idea is identified through brainstorming with distributor leaders, and by bringing new ideas to bear from outside the distribution industry. All of our innovation ideas are a work in progress. We need your help. If you have comments on this post, or if you have relevant examples or expertise to share, please reach out to me at [email protected].

And, if you’d like to receive updates related to the next Facing the Forces of Change® studycomplete and submit this form and we’ll keep you in the loop.