Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors

"This Facing the Forces of Change report may be the best version published! It makes me a little uncomfortable, which is how we all should feel in any free-market business. I especially appreciate the research on generations in the workforce and how each makes decisions."

—Michael Medart, President and CEO, Medart Engine & Marine

Paul St. Germain

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Read the extended description

This is the only major research study analyzing the future of wholesale distribution within multiple lines of trade.

Since its inception in 1982, the landmark Facing the Forces of Change® series continues to provide insights about the overall future of wholesale distribution and the role of wholesaler-distributors. There is no other trends research report that covers multiple lines of trade and provides deep research, insights from best-in-class distributors and practical applications that benefit distributors of all sales volumes.

Wholesaler-distributors are living in times of great change and even greater opportunity. In this 11th edition—Facing the Forces of Change®: Navigating the Seas of Disruption—we explore these changes and opportunities in light of the many marketplace disrupters that are causing distributors to rethink their approach to technology, business processes and, most importantly, the customer experience.

Many of the forces identified in the last edition have only intensified and continue to exacerbate the change occurring today. A difficult economy, advancing technology, rapidly changing customer requirements, shifting demographics and tight margins have placed distributors at a crossroads, where they must take bold steps toward becoming more “customer centric”—leading to a maximization of the overall customer experience.

Compounding matters, these market conditions have unleashed a set of disruptive forces—in the form of new competition, technologies, business processes, government rules and regulations, and more—that are causing distributors to reconsider and redevelop their approach to value creation today.

The bold new steps wholesaler-distributors must take to combat these conditions include:

  • investing in resources that track and monitor customers’ behavior online
  • developing a deeper understanding of the financial implications to the customer of doing business with your company
  • creating demand for new services that customers acknowledge the value of and for which they are willing to pay
  • understanding how Millennials fit into your workforce—and that they aren’t as different as you may think they are

Such steps require distributors to develop a value proposition from the customer’s perspective—a factor that forms the basis of this report. As you read about the market disrupters, branding strategies, technology changes, workforce opportunities and developing trends described in these pages, do so through the lens of customer service, which remains a distributor’s best weapon in today’s ultra-competitive environment.

As Facing the Forces of Change®: Navigating the Seas of Disruption highlights, there is no shortage of “forces of change” that will impact distributors over the next few years. There is also no shortage of opportunities for distributors to embrace and leverage these forces. This study outlines

  • the economic challenges that continue to shape the business landscape — by Alan Beaulieu
  • the disruptive forces that drive change in wholesale distribution
  • how to leverage relationships in a customer-centric world
  • how to utilize a changing workforce
  • how to advance with technology
  • some of the key developing trends that will continue to shape business in the not-too-distant future
  • a look back at the previous edition to see how far we have come in understanding the forces that are shaping wholesale distribution.

This study can help you take steps to plan, prepare and execute strategies to capitalize on the forces of change. Read and reread it. Discuss it with your top executives, managers, and other staff. Develop short-term and long-term strategies that anticipate the trends and ultimately drive business growth and customer value.

BONUS FEATURE: A reader’s favorite in the last edition, NAW Senior Economic Adviser Alan Beaulieu once again provides a macroeconomic outlook.

NAW-Executive Summary_Facing the Forces of Change Navigating the Seas of Disruption


What Distributors Are Saying

“This Facing the Forces of Change report is indispensable for strategic planning if you’re a distribution leader. Overseeing a distribution business has never been more challenging and uncomfortable than it is today. We face an uncertain economy, relentless technological change, disruptive business models, and ongoing margin compression. This valuable report explains the challenges du jour and provides a planning tool, which our management team is using right now to map a pathway to the long-term sustainability and profitability of our company.”

—Dan Blaylock, CEO, TriMark Adams-Burch Inc.

“This new Facing the Forces of Change report is very good with relevant content that really captures the reader. As I read it, I was feeling a bit scared and impatient. But that’s good, because the report inspired me to take action!”

—Bruce Zwicker, Former President and CEO, Haines & Co. Inc.

About the Author

Paul St. Germain

While working for IBM, Paul was responsible for managing IBM’s business and strategic initiatives within the global wholesale distribution industry. He researched critical issues and trends, developed IBM’s point of view on industry imperatives; guided IBM’s industry offerings and solutions; and engaged with wholesale distribution executives to help them transform their organizations.