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Not long ago, there were repeated calls by the national media that we were lifting out of a recession, at the exact same time the manufacturing sector was in a steep nosedive. This industry is a little more battle-worn and hard-bitten, and any positive sales news offers some badly needed and deeply deserved breathing room for survivors of the past few years.
This time around, technology is playing a bigger role for some distributors in how they will manage this order upswing without over-committing to inventory or tripping on fill rates. Many distributors have a tighter read on customer patterns, fill ratios and service levels than a few years ago. There are trading exchanges and distribution hubs in place that are more sensitive to demand triggers.
Some distributors have automated transaction processes in some electronic fashion. They are positioned to boost productivity without adding bodies, and now see sales per employee move in a positive direction for the first time in a long time. As the article on p. 1 illustrates, there is a lot of money and efficiency sitting on the table, whether e-business or basic cost control. So while some distributors fear falling through the ice right now, others are skating because they are not over-leveraged.