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Author's profile photo Werner Baumbach

What’s hot in the Wholesale industry?

Do you like working on presentations, answering emails or designing solutions from a sauna? Me neither. Having said that, we have had one of the hotter summers here in Germany with temperatures often around the 100°F mark. As our office has no air conditioning, it often felt not too differently to a spa visit – great for a relaxing day off, not so much when trying to concentrate.

The mind does strange things sometimes under such conditions. You start fantasizing how to pay back colleagues that leave windows wide open in the blistering sun. Or in more optimistic moments, you might try to imagine being in a nice cool place – Greenland maybe. Both activities of the mind were not too fruitful. Temperatures remained high, Greenland far away and the number of thermodynamically challenged colleagues stayed roughly the same.

So, to channel energies into more productive areas, I started thinking about what’s hot in our industry – an industry that sometimes is perceived as traditional, hesitant to adopt new technologies and slow to adapt change. I believe that this was always an over-simplification, but in the last decade the game has started to change for everyone. Market, social and technology trends are coming together and are creating a perfect storm. Here’s a personal collection of hot areas that are continuing to fuel change in our industry.

Wholesale companies have always been great in logistics and have kept a close eye on process efficiency. Customer expectations continue to rise, though. Next day delivery today, but same day delivery already becoming more common. At the same time, a new generation of employees has a different point of view. For some jobs it is becoming more difficult to find motivated and skilled resources. So, it is not surprising that automation is gaining adoption. Currently this happens mostly in the warehouse e.g. with robots, but soon delivery will be via driverless vehicles on a broader scale. This shift in technology adoption also creates a shift in necessary employee skills.

A Multi-Generational Workforce

The need for such more skilled employees now faces a new generation of workforce with a different technological background and more diverse expectations about a job and an employer. And with blurring industry lines many companies are fighting for the same talents. This is great if you are looking for a job, but can be a challenge for Wholesale companies competing for these new talents. Many companies in Wholesale are at a slight disadvantage against competition from Retail or Consumer Products, as they are not as visible. If you’d ask your friends to name 20 retailers that should be an easy challenge. Naming 20 Wholesale companies would be probably more difficult. So how do you win in this environment? Some Wholesalers cooperate with schools and universities. Others use social media channels or word of mouth. Young talents are looking for employers that take them serious, care about them and offer an interesting work environment. Visibility will be key, whether through targeted activities or by potentially creating a brand.

In this quest for an interesting work environment technology can be one element and a competitive advantage. In a world of big data, we need the ability to translate gazillions of pieces into one digestible picture. Technically we call this actionable insight, but it really means giving our employees the right level of information to make the best decisions, whether that is in the warehouse or while supporting a customer. As one Wholesaler commented, “Today’s customers are becoming even more promiscuous. Delivering an outstanding service level is already a basic requirement. Many of your competitors will do just that.  So the secret sauce for success is finding that lever that helps you build lasting customer relationships, what makes you unique. To achieve this, you might design new offerings, tailor your engagement to the specific desires of a customer or bring expertise to the table that only you can provide.”

Just a few examples but I think some cool areas. And cool is great in this heat and great for an industry that is redefining its role. I think we are looking at exciting times and great opportunities. Hot or cold – enjoy the summer and all the best to your personal success story!

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