Editor’s note: The following is an editorial written by Floor Covering News founder Al Wahnon. Though it was written a few decades ago and some things have changed, such as the entrance of laminate, distributors importing their own lines, and so forth, its basic message remains relevant today.
The floor coverings distributor is as much a fixture in this industry as the manufacturer and the retailer. There are those who believe the distributor’s existence is threatened by mills establishing distribution centers around the country and retail cooperatives. We have seen distributors under siege before and we have seen them survive and thrive. There is no reason to think they are an endangered species.
Distributors offer a unique service to retailers, one that is intimate, personal and often beyond the traditional business relationship. The single, inimitable value of a distributor is it is a local business with local people able to perform quickly and efficiently. Local sales reps cover small areas, allowing time for evening sales training and assisting retailers at weekend sales events. Local inventories assure prompt deliveries and being in a dealer’s trading area permits almost immediate reaction to dealers’ needs.
The distributor knows his market, its flavor, its idiosyncrasies—and it’s his primary concern. His decisions are tailored to his marketplace, unlike the mill, which is attuned to national considerations. The distributor can establish flexible credit terms, provide personal consultation, assist in obtaining and completing contract jobs, and have its management available almost any time.
Through the years we have known distributors to start a retailer in business, save a failing retailer from fiscal disaster, accept needless risks to help a dealer through difficult times. Of course, the spirit of that relationship flows in both directions. Most retailers are loyal to their distributors and return the concern and the understanding—the friendship.
Since only a limited amount of manufacturers have the inclination or the resources to establish an adequate amount of distribution centers around the country, we don’t think the distributor is on the brink of extinction. Supporting this confidence is the fact those mills with distribution centers still rely on distributors in many areas of the country.
As for retail buying groups, they fill a specific need for the dealer. They buy effectively and efficiently and allow retailers to enhance their profit potential. The buying group does not do all the dealer’s buying and, consequently, its members still turn to distributors to broaden their product mix.
Today, distributors are growing, in size, territory, staff and product diversity. Most important, many distributors are growing in sales volume and profits. Carpet and resilient products are their mainstay, their largest volume items, but many now carry rugs, ceramics, and wood. Distributors survive, profit and grow because they accept progress, new ideas, new technology and new products. They know their place and they intend to keep it. Will they? Ask any retailer.