The 2020 Mid-Year Economic Update_long

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PART ONE: In this episode, industry consultant (and MDM contributor across five decades!) Bruce Merrifield discusses post-COVID scenarios for distributors and the imperatives to transform into more customer-centric, profit-driven entities to compete effectively with digital sellers. Key question: What if customers want digital first, then virtual support as needed, and finally physical visits by the “experts” they select? What will you and your assigned, regular-calling rep do? 

In this episode, longtime M&A advisor Brent Grover shares his perspectives on how distribution M&A markets are shaping up in 2021. Short story: Financial buyers may have the edge over strategic acquirers, and overall buyers may want to be more patient than most sellers like this year. But as in every previous cycle, there are great opportunities across these highly fragmented markets.

In this episode, Brian Gardner, founder of SalesProcess360, demystifies the Sales Process Audit that industrial sales organizations can implement to get ROI from CRM. While CRM can be an impactful technology, Gardner stresses that organizations need the right processes in place to capitalize on their CRM investment. With over 25 years of experience in sales management and CRM, hear Gardner’s insight on how companies at all stages can get the most out of their sales process.

Over the course of a 50-year career at F.W. Webb, a diversified HVACR, plumbing and PVF distributor serving nine Northeast states, Ernie Coutermarsh has made an incredible impact on the industry, business associates and the lives of so many he has touched. In this interview, Ernie shares his thoughts on leadership, innovation, talent development and much more.

In this June 12, 2020 segment of MDM LIVE, John Caplan, President, North America & Europe,, urges distributors to drive digital in their businesses and the need for a marketplace strategy going forward. Hear much more from Caplan — including inspiration for taking your business digital, tips on getting started with and practical advice on how to sell internationally.

In this June 5, 2020 segment of MDM LIVE, Barry Litwin, CEO of Systemax, parent of Global Industrial, talks about the company’s ongoing digital transformation, online customer service and how they are helping their customers prepare to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 with its R3 (Restore, Return, Rebound) program.

Jonathan Byrnes, senior lecturer at MIT and founding chairman of Profit Isle, a profit acceleration SaaS company, talks about the key elements of profit segmentation to manage the shocks of the pandemic and strengthen customer relationships – better defined customer service levels by profitability, smart product substitution and inventory management, digital transformation and setting up resilient supply chain systems.

In this special one-hour edition of MDM LIVE (May 29, 2020), hear the latest intel on how distributors are shifting from face-to-face to low-touch sales engagement – remote selling, resetting roles for outside/inside/customer service teams, building a more digitally-enabled sales force, sales comp challenges, analytics and more.

Over the last few years, Milwaukee-based HVACR distributor Gustave A. Larson Co. has implemented an agile management operating system, revised its sales model and refocusing service offerings. From the May 22, 2020 MDM LIVE episode, hear CEO Andrew Larson talk about how these work-in-progress transformation efforts have positioned the 430-employee company to weather the immediate impacts of the pandemic, and to accelerate growth going forward.

Products, features and benefits. How are we doing (or not doing) on monthly goals set up with Supplier A or Supplier B? These are the day-to-day conversations that, while particularly urgent in the current uncharted pandemic-infested waters, can get in the way of deeper strategic conversations about how to create more value for customers. In this third podcast of our three-part series on innovation, Dorn Group’s J Schneider maps how to rethink your business model to build a more customer-centric and innovative organization.

In this second of our three-part conversation on innovation in distribution, J Schneider of strategy and consulting firm Dorn joins host Tom Gale to discuss what innovation looks like in 2020 for distributors and manufacturers. In this episode, we look at the ways smaller distributors often have an advantage to identify opportunities for innovation, the need to be selective in building manufacturer-distributor partnerships around a shared vision for innovation, and how to build a culture of innovation.

While this privately-held industrial supplier with more than 300 employees may not be a Harvard Business School case study in management structure, the three-brother leadership team has managed to buck the odds of many third-generation businesses by nurturing an entrepreneurial culture in an 85-year-old company. Listen to Doug Ruggles share what’s worked to drive growth with a customer-centric solutions approach.


In the first of a three-part series, J Schneider, Vice President of Strategy for Dorn, a strategy and consulting firm located just outside Chicago, discusses how distributors and manufacturers can develop new innovations. In addition to outlining varieties of product, service and delivery innovations, he talks about how to drive growth by building a culture of innovation defined by customer needs.

Justin King of B2X Partners talks about how change management is one of the biggest challenges of any digital transformation project and the critical need to build digital experiences that are customer-first oriented. He also addresses how to leverage the knowledge and expertise in an organization to create better online experiences that drive revenue.

Mark Dancer of the Network for Channel Innovation talks with Tom Gale about the challenges distributors are addressing as they undertake digital transformation programs. As author of the upcoming edition of the Facing the Forces of Change report series published by the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, Mark has been in research mode for more than a year and shares some of that insight in this edition.

Update on Lawson’s transformation journey. Four years after transitioning its sales and digital models, Lawson Products President and CEO Michael DeCata gives MDM’s Tom Gale a progress report on the company’s service-intensive approach and talks about its SAP implementation, salesforce transformation and its unique go-to-market model.

Interview with Kirk Zehnder, CEO of Earnest Machine This 72-year-old fastener distribution company out of Cleveland disrupted its outside sales model, creating a team-based sales department structure that had an immediate impact on culture and revenue.

Former Amazon team member and Amazon seller consultant Alan Adams speaks with Tom Gale on Amazon Business from an insider’s perspective. This podcast references MDM’s Amazon Business Forum conference, held in December 2018, that explored strategy and effective tactics for both partnering with and competing with Amazon Business.

Disruption, distribution M&A and shifting value propositions. After selling his family’s paper distribution business 20 years ago, Brent Grover has been a consultant and prolific author on pricing, M&A and creating value in wholesale distribution businesses. Brent talks with MDM’s Tom Gale on the next phase of his career and his take on the current challenges in the industry.