Foodservice Equipment Reports

How Many E&S Dealers?

One of the questions people often ask me is, “How many equipment and supplies dealers are there?” In light of the consolidation of dealer sales that is clear from an analysis of our FER Top Dealers listings, I thought I’d take a look at the number of E&S dealers in the E&S marketplace.

We’ve been buying Chain Store Guide’s Directory of Foodservice Distributors for decades. Many foodservice media organizations use CSG’s directories—they also publish directories of chain operators, independent restaurants, supermarkets, c-stores etc.—as a resource for their circulations.

But one of the added benefits is that they tally up the number of foodservice distributors in various categories. And this is where I get my data on the number of E&S dealers.

The remarkable reality is that the number of E&S dealers doesn’t change that much. I’ve looked at these numbers since the early 1980s. CSG has never listed more than 1,250 E&S dealers serving the U.S. market. Now that doesn’t mean this is every distributor selling equipment and supplies. Broadline distributors do, too, as we all know. And the big folks mostly have multiple branches. It doesn’t count chain-purchasing co-ops, group-purchasing organizations and the like, some of which have contract arrangements with dealers. When I ask broad-based manufacturers how many active distributor accounts they have, the number is usually in the 2,000-2,200 range. And it hasn’t changed in years.

A few years ago, CSG changed the way it counts distributors. They now tally distributors in the following categories: food, supplies, equipment and full-line. In the 2014 directory, CSG lists 1,001 food distributors, 1,157 supplies distributors, 666 equipment distributors and 416 full-line companies in the United States. I called CSG Senior Market Research Manager Brian List (great name for a guy working on directories, no?). He ran an analysis of those that sell both equipment and supplies: 1,119. By the way, in Canada, there are 65 supplies distributors, 40 equipment distributors and 23 broadliners.

So, the total number of E&S dealers may be down a little, but not much. While the large, national dealers have the size and scale to serve national customers, there is a world of need for E&S out there. It’s true that modern catalog houses—we call them Internet dealers—are making it a bit more difficult to compete as a local dealer serving small local operators. But there are still folks with a garage, a Chevy Suburban, a loyal customer or two and a dream. As my partner Ken Gill taught me years ago, the cost of entry to be a dealer is not high.

By the way, don’t forget to register for our annual President’s Preview E&S Market Forecast meeting. It’s scheduled this year for July 29 at the Westin O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill.  We’d love to have you join us. All the details are here.  


Robin Ashton


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