The Distributors is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2021, and to celebrate we chat with National Merchandise Manager, Andrew Johnson, about how the business has grown to have 34 sheds and more than 47,000 active customers across Australia.

C&I: How has The Distributors evolved over its 40-year history?

AJ: The Distributors began when five individual members came together to form a group that would enhance their buying power and create an entity where they could go to national distribution model.

The Distributors is made up by various individuals who own their own businesses, having often started with very small sheds (in backyards and garages) to having grown with us over the journey and reinvested into their businesses to enhance their skills and enhance their product ranges to deliver results for a multitude of different types of customer bases.

We’ve grown to have 34 sheds across Australia, which carry anywhere from 5,500 to 10,000 products in their warehouses and distribute to multinational companies right through to mum and dad milk bars – it’s been a great 40-year journey.

Our strength is our individual owners and their drive and passion to distribute and supply product to as many customers as possible. It’s their personalities that drive the growth of the group through their expertise in their businesses.

C&I: How did you combat the disruption to distribution channels over the past 12 months?

AJ: Our strength is within the petrol and convenience channel and so the business was affected significantly in the first half of COVID, but we did pivot quite well to diversify our business and so in the second half of COVID we were able to bounce back. That was through the ability to service the independent grocery channel and work very closely with them.

There were some areas where we took a significant hit, things like cinemas and the airport where we would normally do a lot of business, were just decimated. And that certainly impacted on the members, but to their credit our members looked outside of the box and at other products, such as hand sanitiser and face masks, and tried to enhance their grocery offer. They really did an exceptionally good job at holding their own during a difficult time and delivered some really great results.

C&I: How was The Distributors performance in 2020 and how do you expect to fare in 2021?

AJ: 2021 is looking very bright for us as business rebounds and the petrol and convenience channel is starting to deliver some good results.

We are actually in line to deliver some growth into 2021 and that is through winning some new accounts and through continuing to deliver the exceptional service that we are known for.

2020 was a tough year for everybody and our greatest challenge now is getting our supply chain back to normality with containers and the shipping supply chain issues that various manufacturers have faced due to COVID.

There has been a greater shift towards working with Australian based products and manufacturers that can produce products here. We’re working with all of our suppliers to really enhance that and make sure we can continue delivering results for our customers in 2021.

C&I: What sets The Distributors apart from its competitors?

AJ: Without doubt it’s our service. Our strength is the fact that we have a national coverage with localised service. Each of our members around Australia are incredibly passionate about their businesses because they actually own it, and that is what sets us apart.

While we have national coverage with one price point for a national solution, it is delivered by a local entity from those independent individual business owners, and that delivers us with great results.

Also, the fact that we have more than 240 reps that can build and support customer relationships is incredibly important. That separates us and our service levels against our competitors. We can activate and execute exceptionally well for a multitude of different types of businesses.

In 2021 we will simply strive to do better, to be better, and to deliver more and exceed our customers’ expectations.

C&I: What will be the immediate focus for The Distributors in 2021?

AJ: To be able to provide the best possible service at the best possible price and continue building on the strong relationships that we have in place. We will also look to grow through new opportunities with new points of distribution and to work with our supply chain and our members to continue supplying our retailers in full and on time.

We’re putting together a mid-year conference from 26-28 May to be held in Sydney, where we will invite all of our members to attend and celebrate the 40th anniversary and we’ll also have an online trade show for all of our retailers nationally.

C&I: How has the convenience industry evolved over the years?

AJ: Retailers are certainly becoming far more sophisticated with their offerings and are diversifying and looking for new ways to generate revenue. These days they need to offer a full service in terms of the different product availability, whether that be a range of ‘better for you’ options be that in food or beverages, consumer expectations are certainly changing. Retailers are becoming far better at merchandising in their stores and we in turn need to make sure that we have those products available and are able to deliver them to our customers.

At a glance: The Distributors

  • 26 members
  • 24 shareholders
  • 34 warehouses
  • National support office
  • Centralised systems
  • Operating for 40 years
  • 47,000 active customers

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