Bridge the Talent Gap by Fighting the ‘Distribution Isn’t Sexy’ Myth

Spreading the notion that distribution isn't desirable makes it harder for companies to enact strategic changes and attract workers. It's also just not true. Here's how companies can promote their industry and win the talent war.
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“Distribution isn’t sexy.” How many times have you heard that phrase or even repeated it yourself? The distribution industry is fraught with misconceptions that prevent companies from realizing their true value and worth. Suggesting our industry is less than others serves no function other than to paralyze distributors from making strategic changes necessary to survive in today’s market.

Not convinced that your industry is sexy? Distribution companies supply America with the products and services they need to the tune of $7 trillion. That makes us the third-largest economic engine on the planet. But beyond the sexiness of this scale, the distribution industry is unique in what we provide to our customers, our employees and the world.

Distributors looking to thrive today must refuse to participate in spreading these false narratives. When you allow the mental model “distribution isn’t sexy” to exist, it has a direct impact on your business model from the top down, particularly on your most valuable asset: your people.

Consider these negative impacts:

  • Inability to recruit top talent.
  • High employee turnover.
  • Diminished company culture and morale.

I’m often asked to define sexy as it relates to distribution. Other words that describe being sexy are attractive, magnetic, desirable, different, fascinating, exciting and appealing. When we perpetuate the myth that our brand isn’t sexy, what we are really saying to job candidates is: “If you want an exciting and profitable job, don’t look in distribution!”

Today, there are seemingly endless jobs to fill and a stiff war for talent. Within distribution, those challenges are magnified by a limited labor pool. As more Baby Boomers retire, younger employees are looking for more than just a job. They want a future with an exciting outlook where they can make a real difference.

Let’s get real: We turn off potential recruits when we say the work isn’t sexy or that the industry is stuck in its ways. What begins to happen when we disagree with the status quo and instead say, “Distribution IS sexy”? This is a conscious decision to change the narrative, adopt a better mental model and obliterate the myth once and for all. The distributors that have already done this are seeing stronger employee recruitment and retention.

Like you, these distributors have experienced the same war on talent, having to rethink people, processes and systems to make their businesses attractive to today’s workforce. Here’s what two had to say:

“The idea that distribution isn’t sexy just belittles the industry. It makes it seem as though we don’t have an important role to play, and we know that couldn’t be further than the truth. Attracting talent is one of the biggest barriers we need to overcome,” said Stephanie Porter, Director of Marketing & Brand at Porter Pipe & Supply. “Perpetuating this myth belittles the people that are working hard, doing this meaningful work every day, whether they are handling the material, stocking shelves in the warehouse or driving the product to the end-user. What’s great is that we have so much room for growth and development in this industry, and it really is all about the people.”

Bill Condron, CEO at The Granite Group, agreed: “Distributors are our own worst enemy. We kill ourselves and denigrate our industries when we perpetuate that myth. … You have to put your people first. If you build a culture where your people feel valued on a day-to-day basis, they’re going to be your best marketers for finding new talent and letting them know that this is a team you want to be on.”

There are things you can do to begin obliterating this myth that distribution isn’t sexy. Acknowledge that the myth exists and start listening for it. Be prepared to offer your counter belief that you’d put the business of distribution up against any other business out there. Build this conversation into your interviewing, onboarding, marketing, team meetings, and other opportunities to propel the narrative of the nobleness of distribution and the great opportunities within the industry.

The distributor is the backbone of this country, and it’s time we celebrate the nobleness of the profession and its entrepreneurial spirit. That will draw the next generation of hard workers to our doors. The distribution industry and its people are alive and well, helping to rebuild our country and our economy with the materials and expertise it needs for success. And that is sexy as hell.

Dirk Beveridge is the founder of UNleashWD, executive producer at We Supply America, president of the Beveridge Consulting Group and champion the distribution industry for over 36 years. His perspective on the future of wholesale distribution has guided his mission to advance the growth, relevance and transformation of the industry. Learn more about Dirk by visiting WeSupplyAmerica.net.

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