It's All About Access
Spend some time with the American Business Forms folks at their annual meeting and you can't help but be impressed. They're a nice group of people who are well-prepared for a bright future.
ABF has leveraged its position as one of the largest distributors to gain access to products which broaden the company's scope. Not only are promotional products a good fit in addition to forms, labels and tags, but on the exhibit floor at ABF's meeting, you could also find packaging materials, office products, janitorial supplies, music CDs and statements, direct mail and workflow solution providers. Individual ABF associates can sell any of these products. Other large distributors, such as SFI and ProForma, are similarly positioned.
But what about smaller distributors who do not have thousands of dollars to invest in computer systems or the leverage to demand rock-bottom prices from suppliers? Although many small distributors would like to sell new types of products, they also want to maintain their independence.
Items, such as promotional products and office and janitorial supplies can be a good fit. However, for large ticket items that require substantial investment, such as workflow systems, billing systems, e-commerce or even large-scale fulfillment services, partnering with another distributor or a supplier entails the fear of losing control of the account. Whether that fear is real or imagined, not many small distributors would be willing to take the risk.
What is needed is some sort of central authority or association that could mediate partnership agreements between small distributors and manufacturers, suppliers or large distributors. This central authority could protect the small distributor's key accounts, while providing access to the types of ser-vices our ever-changing industry requires.