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For more than 50 years, this column’s main focus has been to provide a broader view on the events and news of the day in wholesale distribution — a wider perspective to provide important context on what’s really going to impact the business. Every manager knows how easy it is to get caught up in the moment and our natural tendencies to over-react to the crisis du jour. But denial is perhaps even more dangerous and where the real value of perspective can be more than worth its weight in gold.
As we approach the next decade, this industry is at an inflection point from a melting pot of trends that have been boiling over into more sectors of distribution. The biggest burner has been the technology revolution, which has us in this venturi of intensifying heat that is testing traditional distribution models like never before. But there are several other ingredients we have covered in these pages that include generational and demographic shifts, aging business models, the increasingly global marketplace and cyclical economic impacts.
This issue isolates these key challenges distribution executives face with a report on our annual trends survey and deeper interviews with a diverse cross-section of distributors and suppliers. As the lead report outlines, the top challenges identified are related to technology, talent and economic conditions. This is not news. Except for the concern about tariffs, you might be thinking this is déjà vu all over again— haven’t we been focusing on technology and talent issues for several years now? Of course, and I expect we will continue to cover these topics from many different angles.
My key takeaway is that the difference this year is that wholesale distribution has reached a critical maturity level in transitioning from a disruption response to more innovation initiatives — reactive to proactive, defense to offense. The reports in this issue illustrate how distributors are now addressing more complex and qualitative problems that used to be more often than not managed with a one-approach-fits-all mindset. And we’ll continue to bring you our reporting on how successful distributors — traditional and otherwise — are solving for these identified challenges and more.
MDM’s core mission since 1967 has been to bring you, our reader, the best management guidance, ideas and insight gathered from the leading thought leaders and distribution executives across many distribution sectors. We look forward to expanding on that mission in 2020, over the next 10 years and beyond. The industry will look very different in 10 years in terms of how to be successful and competitive, but core value propositions will not fundamentally change. We hope this issue helps you to consider specific areas and how to plan for where you can build the most competitive advantage for 2020 and beyond.
As always, we depend on your input and feedback on what’s working and not working, so we can shape our research to best serve your needs. Please let me know what your key issues are and how you are building your company’s future by contacting me at [email protected]