Are We Really Witnessing the Demise of the Distributor?
Let me play the devil’s advocate here. If floor covering distribution is dying, why would Beaulieu purchase LDBrinkman? Do you really think that one of the largest carpet mills in the world would want to buy into a loser? I don’t think so!
Why would Mohawk enter into an agreement to distribute Congoleum products nationwide? It might lead you to think that Mohawk believes there’s a future in distribution.
To say that distributors won’t be needed in the future is — certainly, from all the indications I’ve gathered — just not so. A survey of retailers recently undertaken by Business News Publishing Co., parent of NFT, projected only a slight decline over the next five years in the percentages of purchases made through distributors. Certainly, the drastic decline that some would have you anticipate just isn’t in the cards.
I took a look at a list of the top 25 flooring distributors published in a September edition of a weekly industry trade publication. Guess what? Twenty-four of the distributors named on that list logged a combined annual volume increase of approximately $174 million over the previous year. That seems like a rather healthy increase to me.
Among those top 25 distributors, only Beaulieu of America’s Brinkman Hard Surface Division suffered a decrease in volume. And if all of Brinkman’s distribution activities had been reported in the aggregate, as in past years, I’m not sure that decrease would have even shown up.
There’s another interesting thing about the top 25 distributors: together, they represent a cross-section of the good old U.S. of A. If floor covering distribution is doomed, someone ought to tell the successful businesspeople who toil in this segment of the industry. They don’t seem to recognize that. Instead, they just keep growing.
Our association, FIANA, stands in testament to the continued growth of distribution. Obviously, all floor covering distributors are undergoing an evolution, but they always have been. Distributors will find a way to deal with the challenges of the day and continue to grow their businesses — just as they always have.
Will they be successful if they don’t change? My guess is they won’t. They must find new ways to improve their business expertise and better market their products.
In other words, a profitable future depends on education. As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to follow FIANA’s motto: “Professionalism through Education.”
Are distributors doomed? Don’t bet on it.