Perspectives on Canadian Jan-San Distribution Channels

Tom Fournier, president of Shade’s Mills Group, a sales strategy consultancy based in Cambridge, Ontario, shares insights from a career managing sales channels in Canada and the U.S. with an international jan-san products manufacturer.
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Tom Fournier worked across a number of sales roles in his career with Kimberly-Clark in Canada — from a territory rep to specialist roles, district manager, U.S. territory management for a specialty business and then national sales manager. In this week’s MDM Podcast, Fournier shares his perspectives on Canadian Jan-San markets and channels. Topics discussed include unique sales coverage characteristics of Canadian markets and recent shifts, as the sector has commoditized and been targeted by Amazon Business and other nontraditional competitors.

We talked about the fragmentation of markets, M&A and other trends. “There’s a lot of regionalization and diversity,” Fournier says, “that makes national distribution challenging. Toronto has about 34% of the total Canadian population, so very densely populated there, but then you can drive from Toronto, five hours before you get to Sudbury, and then from Sudbury, another eight or nine hours to Thunder Bay, and another eight hours until you get to Winnipeg.

“So, in a major market, like Toronto, you could have a degree of specialization; we could have office building specialists, we’d have industrial specialists, medical specialists, but then you get out to Winnipeg, and you have one sales rep and they’re much more of a generalist. I think that would reflect in the distribution complexity too. So in a major urban center, a large population base, that meant you would see specialization either in the type of distributor, or the distributor themselves would have specialist sales roles that your specialist could work with and support. But as you get into more remote geographies, then everyone tends to be much more of a generalist.”

We also talk about the M&A landscape in Canada. “It’s still a fairly fragmented market, a lot of regional players, a lot of local players, there are some national entities,” Fournier says. “And in the past, there were a lot of acquisitions. Unisource was formed by several large companies and merged together, and then they acquired some other companies, and then in turn became very active. And then that’s another recent acquisition by Imperial Dade. Bunzl came into Canada, and then they built out their national footprint in a number of different verticals largely through acquisitions, but there still remains quite a number of independent distributors.” And similar to U.S. markets, smaller independents have tried to work together through buying groups and various associations trying to counter the national players, he noted.

“Bunzl still has had some recent acquisitions. A lot of it, I think you’d characterize as regional distributors buying up very small local distributors. And I think a lot of that is an owner-operator looking to sell and transition out of their business. In Jan-San, you see the big three with the backing of equity money in the U.S. and they’re seemingly buying everyone up to the point where I’m not sure there are any independents anymore. But you know, if we see that Imperial Dade has just purchased two in Canada, there’s the first and then you really wonder if that’s there’s going to be a number of other follow-on acquisitions, whether it’s by them or Envoy Solutions or Brady Industries.”

Listen to our full conversation with the media player above or on the MDM Podcast page.


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