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The gross margins to sales ratios from 1993-2002, here, makes for some interesting comparisons across industries. It also indicates that, with a few exceptions, gross margins have held up over the past ten years for wholesaler distributors.
At first glance, the ten-year trend flies in the face of strong downward pressures distributors have faced in terms of gross margin. The numbers don't tell the real story about the major shifts most distributors have made from managing a strong sales growth cycle in the last decade to managing a shifting and sometimes wrenching growth mode, with much stronger focus on a smaller, more targeted customer base.
From a big picture perspective, you can make the argument that the numbers show distributors have been extremely effective at doing what they do well in the face of unprecedented challenges: providing the critical flexible link throughout economic cycles that adapts and finds new ways to add value to both the demand and supply sides. That flexibility is all about innovation, ability to read customer needs, and connecting the right products and solutions.
At the end of the day, perhaps the most compelling (and obvious) conclusion from these government statistics is that it isn't how much pie you get served, but how you manage the pie on your plate. That's what separates the higher performing companies when it comes to profitability. That hasn't changed over a decade and radical changes to most channels of independent distribution.