While there is no denying many manufacturers—both large and small—have taken to selling and delivering products direct to the retailer, and consolidation has made it difficult at times to figure out which distributor is which, the fact remains wholesalers still play a vital role in helping the specialty dealer and contractor succeed.

Despite the old adage about cutting out the middle man to save money, when it comes to flooring, especially certain types, the fact is, distributors can make life a whole lot easier for retailers—whether you live in a major market or in some small town in the middle of “nowhere.”

Yes, there are some pockets across the country where retailers have mentioned to me the difficulties in finding good, quality distributors to service them. I understand you are sometimes stuck with a wholesaler—or in some cases a group of them—that might not provide the best of services, but because it is the one representing a specific brand you carry you have no choice but to use it.

But, generally speaking, across the country, wholesalers have been investing in technologies to upgrade their facilities and systems to better serve the specialty dealer. And, in certain cases and areas, you do have recourse by going to your manufacturers and letting them know if a wholesaler is not up to par. If enough retailers in an area let a mill know its brand is not being represented/treated properly, you can bet it will find a new partner to represent it. But if you don’t complain, the manufacturer will never know and it’s just business as usual.

Beyond the few bad apples, though, distributors perform a vital link in the selling chain when it comes to the majority of floor coverings, accessories, and tools and equipment to help the retailer, contractor and installer. From acting as a large warehouse that can get you product within a day’s time so you, as a dealer, do not have to devote space—and money—to carrying every product on display or every bucket of glue, trowel or staple gun needed to complete a job; to extending credit beyond what a manufacturer—or your local bank—will give; to being a resource for sales education and installation training; to helping resolve claims, a distributor can truly be a local dealer’s best ally for success. Many now handle e-commerce via the industry’s B2B protocol, making it that much easier to place and track orders. In fact, some distributors have taken the lead in this area to push the industry forward.

Just like a retailer is invested in its local community, a distributor is invested in its local region, meaning it knows what is taking place in and around your town so it has a solid grasp of the style and design trends, not to mention a more bird’s eye view on business conditions and what to expect.

As such, your distributors can also be great assets in helping you to form business plans for the coming year. Now is when companies should be setting their goals and agendas for 2015 and one, if not all of your wholesalers can assist based on their vast knowledge of market conditions and trends.

The point is, today’s distributor is not the same distributor that did business when your parents and grandparents owned the business. Just like your operations in terms of how the store looks, how you market, how you sell in general has changed over the years, so have distributors—and like you, they’ve changed for the better.