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Where Have All The Distributors Gone?

Over the past three to five years, end-users have shifted their ideology when it comes to material handling distributors. End-users no longer expect their material handling providers to simply peddle a piece of equipment. They demand solutions, and they are becoming more wary of dealing with multiple suppliers to meet their needs. Instead of dealing with one company for a palletizer, another company for an AS/RS and then a third for conveyors, end-users today want the security of an integrated system provided by a single source. Therefore, the customer is the one driving the shift toward using integrators rather than distributors.

To capitalize on this new reality, distributors have evolved into integrators in order to provide value added solutions rather than just reselling products. In short, distributors have listened to the customer and are providing the total solution by becoming a partner with the end-user.

Becoming an Integrator

To become an integrator, distributors must be able to make a broad range of equipment work together. End-users need their distributors to go beyond selling them just equipment. They need broad-based solutions, and they need a partner who can solve not only their mechanical issues, but also the control and interface issues involved with their warehouse management systems (WMS). It’s truly a different mindset.

Being an integrator requires talking in solution-based terms and explaining how these solutions can improve ROI. Integrators must have a deep understanding of the intricacies of their end-user’s business in order to be able to recommend solutions. Integrators have to understand what needs to be accomplished before acting.

Integrators not only provide and install the equipment, but then have to incorporate the controls, warehouse control systems, and WMS communications. More than ever before, end-users are focused on the controls of the operation and the flow of information that is needed to run their operations. To do that effectively, integrators must gain deep understanding of what it takes to run their customer’s business. They must ask questions, spend ample time in their customer’s business and learn the objectives the customer wants to accomplish. Once proper understanding is gained, integrators can begin to design and develop the value-added solutions.

In the past five to ten years, systems and controls have become much more complex. By purchasing various pieces of equipment from several different distributors, the risk of the total system failing falls on the end-user. But by working with someone able to “integrate” all the pieces, the end-user has a trusted partner to turn to if any problems arise. Using one integrator mitigates the end-user’s risk.

Distributors have to adapt or else risk losing the business altogether. Integrators have to become more hands-on and facilitate the entire process for an end-user, from concept to completion and then provide long-term support afterwards. Integrators help bring an objective view focused on the best solution.

The Manufacturer’s Role

As a manufacturer, we are taking a more active role in the relationship, creating a three-way  partnership. In the eyes of the end-user, the manufacturer and the integration partner are seen as one. The support provided by the manufacturer to the integration partner, such as design and concept engineering, project management, controls and software interfaces, and after-sales service is required to offer the best and most complete solution for end-users.

By having trusted partners who can integrate many segments of automated equipment into one solution, we can focus on our core competency, which is manufacturing conveyor equipment. Our approach is that we are a manufacturer. We don’t sell direct and we are not an integrator, which is why we align ourselves with people who are.

As integrators become experts in their niches, the manufacturer can penetrate those markets more easily. If you’re dealing primarily in the garment industry, for instance, you begin to garner a deep understanding for how the industry is run. You begin to build a reputation and have a very good understanding that can help when you deal with other customers in that niche.

Seeing Results

In today’s environment, companies that can offer broad solutions will be the ones who get the customers. Integrators are getting an esteemed reputation in the marketplace because the connotation that they are just trying to make a quick buck has disappeared. End-users appreciate the collaborative nature of working with integrators and their manufacturers and are embracing this new philosophy with open arms. That is why at Hytrol, there is no such thing as a conveyor distributor.

Meet the AuthorGregg Goodner is the president of Hytrol Conveyor Company, located in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and on the Web at http://www.hytrol.com/web/.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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