Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
September 19, 2017  |  ByJohn Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board
NAW-Chairman’s Column: “Technology – Our Friend and Competitor”

I don’t think there is a distributor in the world who doesn’t think that technology is affecting their business and is something they have to address and embrace. I would also suggest that most distributors would say that they must have a specific technology strategy and invest more in this area than ever before, with even bigger investments planned in the future.

We all understand that we live in the digital age, even if we don’t necessarily enjoy all aspects or participate individually as much as our kids do. It seems as if every aspect of our personal life and business world is inundated with constant messaging about the digital age, the importance of technology and what is new in the technology world. Today, the leading technology gurus are arguing about the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on world dominance in the foreseeable future.

While I personally believe that it is critical for every distributor to have a deeper commitment to technology and a commitment to embrace the digital age, I think we all need to realize that technology companies have become, or will become in the near future, our biggest competitors. Amazon certainly gets the most publicity in this arena as almost every distributor has been impacted in some form by Amazon, and in many cases, it is both positive and negative.

I share this to emphasize the importance of actionable knowledge to each of us as we combat the competitors we face. In terms of knowledge, I encourage you to leverage one of the key aspects of NAW membership, which is education and information. One good example is the NAW blog Distributing Ideas, which hosts an ongoing series of blog articles under the name, Distributors in the Digital Era. Mark Dancer, a NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow, has been writing these articles about navigating the digital age. I encourage you to read these articles, because they will, at the very least, challenge your thinking in this area.

NAW has also addressed the technology space through the different NAW Roundtables (for large and billion dollar companies) and at the NAW Executive Summit (open to all size companies). Again, I encourage you to attend these meetings or have your people attend them.

Technology is moving so fast that it’s hard for any of us to keep up on our own technology, or be as informed as we’d like to be, especially as we sort through where to invest resources, time and capital. One of the many benefits of NAW membership is NAW’s commitment to best practices research, staying up on trends and keeping all of us informed with different perspectives offered through its library of Publications, so that we can navigate the challenging and changing business landscape.

Whether you’re a billion dollar distributor or a $10 million distributor, technology is either an enabler or an inhibitor to our progress. We’re all faced with many options in this area and it’s almost impossible to sort through everything on our own. Leverage your NAW membership and use the resources available to help sort through this challenge.

The largest technology companies in the world with the most resources are all interested in creating marketplaces to trade goods and services that could affect our business—and at the very worst, disrupt our value proposition in the marketplace. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do business with them or utilize their services. Rather, it is always helpful to understand the objective of these companies. As an example, in Amazon’s case, they are consistent and emphatic about wanting to own the customer, which has implications for all of us.

I share this as a perspective to stimulate some thought, and even more importantly, as a reminder to use NAW’s resources to help navigate your business landscape. We all want to improve our return on investments and the best way to improve your return on your NAW investment is to access NAW’s resources and attend NAW Roundtables and the NAW Executive Summit.

Thanks for listening!

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John Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board

John Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board

John Tracy is Dot Foods Executive Chairman.