Successful Distributor Traits

Successful Distributor Traits

By Diane Calabrese / Published April 2024

distributor warehouse stock photo

Is there anything better than stopping to fill the fuel tank when on the way to a social event and getting splashed with fuel? Yes, being greeted by a fuel station attendant who is happy to provide the service of filling the tank.

Fuel station attendants were once the norm, not the rare exception. Somehow, though, the idea of compressing the chain of manufacturing and distributing took hold.

Compression has overtaken every industry. And it’s not always a good thing. What’s lost with a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to everything from restaurants (salad bars) to banks (ATMs and smartphones) to equipment sales (direct from a manufacturer online) is a human connection.

Make that the sort of human connection that builds natural feedback loops, a social network that keeps useful information— and the quest for the best and correct information—at the forefront of business. Without a waiter or waitress visiting the table of restaurant patrons, the owner of the establishment will never know what’s liked and what’s not.

Distributors play the vital role of connecting to end users. In doing so, they ensure that products are used correctly and maintained properly.

An end user could become an expert in all the equipment he or she uses. But in taking time to do that, time that could be devoted to the primary function of his or her business is lost.

Role confusion does not just make for a chaotic production on a theatrical stage. It also leads to industry muddles.

Distributors streamline the flow of information—accurate and concise information—between manufacturer and end user. They serve as a bridge and a gateway.

Successful distributors understand their role. And they do everything possible to refine their performance of it.

“While I don’t think there is one golden trait that sets a distributor apart, I do feel that having a partnership mentality is important,” says Missy Ordiway, a Deco Products representative and distributor. Her company is headquartered in Denver, CO.

The mindset of being partners facilitates interaction with customers. And it is essential that distributors “work with the clients who are purchasing from them,” says Ordiway.

“Distributors who go beyond simply pushing products and become true partners with their clients— understanding their needs and proactively suggesting solutions—stand out,” explains Ordiway. And she iterates what some of the stand-out approaches are.

“They offer value-added services like training, technical support, and marketing assistance, becoming an extension of their clients’ businesses,” says Ordiway. “This helps the client as well as the distributor.”

Partnering may extend to offering potential customers occasional sessions on new products. The sessions can be topically focused (e.g., wastewater collection, electric motors) and tied to relevant product solutions.

Strong end users of products must have a reliable source for their products. Successful distributors aim for consistency in reliability. And that reliability encompasses quality of products and responsiveness.

Candor also counts in every setting. Not everyone can do everything—even the most engaged and qualified distributor.

Yes, end users with a product issue want it resolved as quickly as possible, but they also want it resolved correctly. They appreciate the distributor who explains that it will take 24 hours to have a part shipped overnight and that it will take a firm two days to complete a repair.

“Be upfront and honest as to what you can do and when you can do it,” says Mike Hansen, sales manager— water division at Dultmeier Sales in Omaha, NE. Service center customers want to have solid time estimates so they can adjust their workload accordingly.

Great service, says Hansen is the one trait that sets a distributor apart from others. It’s an umbrella that covers many things beyond quality products.

There’s a cordial team that’s obviously expert in the products it sells and services. And there’s a roster of the most up-to-date and innovative products, which are supported by expert advice on use and routine maintenance.


Is there one trait that all distributors must have? “In a word, dependability,” says Josh Wagner, retail manager at Atlantic Pressure Washers in Linthicum Heights, MD.

“Our goal as a distributor is to have the right product when you need it,” explains Wagner. “It’s a must because it ensures customers can meet their goals in a timely way,” he comments

“The concept sounds simple, but dependability is where most distributors failed during the recent [pandemic],” says Wagner. They failed because they had not put in place the mechanisms to compensate for the unexpected.

“If a company does not have the processes to succeed and handle ‘roadblocks’ when they come up, then dependability is the first trait to go out the window,” says Wagner. “By contrast, when you have the correct systems in place to meet this goal, then you become even more valuable to the customer when emergencies arise.”

Steadiness is a close ally of dependability. And distributors with a great deal of team turnover—any business with too much turnover—has difficulty steadying itself. The turnover figuratively rocks the boat, but it does literally, too.

Every new hire must be afforded time to learn processes and procedures and develop a working rapport with the team. It takes time. More frequent hires equal more time consumed.

Of course, at the end of any introductory period, what the distributor wants is a team member who has the skill sets necessary to fulfill his or her role. That is, a team member who is competent.

One distributor commented to us off the record that developing and retaining a competent staff is a big issue for everyone. That includes distributors and all channels of commerce. This is an issue that comes up again and again among those in the industry and one that is concerning because of its impact on communities, society, and the health of the economy. But we leave it aside here.

We will assume that distributors can and do find new hires as needed, new hires who will learn what they do not know. Hires who will also stay and grow in their expertise.

“At a minimum a distributor needs the following roles filled: production, sales, shipping,” says Wagner. “If your staff can’t produce the product correctly—accurately and on time—you lose a customer.”

But there are multiple ways to suffer losses. “If your staff doesn’t know the product they are selling, you lose a customer or at the very least a sale,” says Wagner.

Then, there’s follow through. “If your shipping department is a wreck and can’t wrap a pallet, pack a box, or coordinate transit, leading to missed deadlines or delivering damaged products, then once again you have lost a customer.”

Obviously, the goal of a distributor is to keep and expand the customer base, so any loss is a negative. There is no positive side really, but any loss of a customer does indicate where shoring up is needed.

Aim for the best. That’s what successful distributors do.

“When the staff is up to speed with processes and follows them from start to finish and delivers the product to the customers’ expectations, then you’ll have success in your distributor chain,” says Wagner. “Recently this ‘extra’ hasn’t been found in companies, and as a result distribution chains worldwide are truly struggling.”

Wagner has tapped the lid on an enormous issue for our industry and others. Something seems to be weakening the links that once fortified industries (and all that grows from industries).

Put the phrase “work ethic deficit” into any search engine and the return of articles on some version of “too many people just do not want to work consistently or at all” is overwhelming. Did it all start with the global perturbation caused by the COVID-19 virus that started circulating widely in 2020, or did it begin earlier?

A little of both, it seems. Distributors—like all other businesses—must compensate for that reality in addition to accomplishing all other tasks related to their enterprise.

Daunting? In 2024 that word applies at least on some days. But a commitment to the industry and the end users it serves defines every successful distributor. Commitment means forging ahead and finding alternatives and workarounds as well as keeping pace with regulations.

Successful distributors have full confidence in the products they sell. That’s because they have full confidence in the manufacturer(s) of the products. They take advantage of training offered by manufacturers, and they relay concerns and ideas from customers to manufacturers.

There are many jokes in old movies about whether the cook would eat at the restaurant where he works. If the cook would not eat there, why would a prospective patron eat there?

The analogy: Would a distributor shop at his or her business? Would he or she rely on the service center at the business? If the answer is “yes” and “yes”—most certainly “yes,” therein is a successful distributor.

A successful distributor knows his or her business falls into the excellent category and is determined to keep it there. Distributors fill a specific niche. And there’s a lot to be said for specialization, starting with no fuel on dress clothes .

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