How E&S Distribution Is Changing

We spend a lot of time and energy collecting and analyzing the data and information for our annual FER Top Dealers Report. We do it to give our operator readers insight into the size, scale and service offerings of the leading E&S distributors. We also do it to understand and help all our readers understand how the channel operates and changes. And it certainly is a-changing, as Mr. Dylan would say.

As a group, the 61 verifying dealers had another remarkable year. Combined 2015 sales for the 58 U.S. companies that verified (we have three Canadian dealers verifying) rose 13.5% to $6.653 billion, up from $5.863 billion in ’14. That’s way ahead of the general foodservice E&S market, which FER estimates grew 4.8% in nominal terms last year. It’s the fifth consecutive year the Top Dealers posted double-digit sales gains.

A big story is once again the increasing impact of Clark Associates, which the runs market-leading, among other E&S enterprises. Other dealers with significant internet presence also posted good gains.

But it’s not the only story. Five other of the Top 10— Edward Don, the Boelter Cos., Singer Equipment, Bargreen Ellingson and Hockenbergs—posted double-digit gains last year. All 10 had sales gains of 5% or more. And with Clark included, the Top 10 posted a combined sales gain of 14.2%. Most of the rest of our verifying dealers did well too—the second half of our 58 U.S. Top Dealers posted combined sales growth of 9.1%—but the clear trend is the biggest are getting bigger.

The facts are interesting, but the important question is, why? The growth of internet sales is something I think we all more or less understand, in part because we understand the convenience of using this media to buy things ourselves. Add to that the reality that foodservice includes many small operators that don’t buy capital goods very often. The leading internet dealers have become educators of these operators. The money they have had to invest in configurators and content make it easier for occasional buyers to feel more in control of a complex specification process.

The biggest dealers getting bigger is all your doing, the you being the nearly 80% of our subscribers who are multiunit operators. Whether you are a chain working with one or more of the many chain-oriented dealers in our listing or a big noncommercial foodservice operator who needs an experienced bid-specialist to help you pull off that big renovation, you rely more and more on distributors with national size and scope.

Read through the Top Dealers and you’ll find other story lines, including the growth of cash-and-carry models, the entrance of major “retail” players such as Amazon, Staples and the warehouse clubs, and the relative stasis of broadline distributors’ E&S efforts. And we’ve expanded our Top Dealers listings of Canadian distributors. Check out the full article, starting on pg. 28.

Our thanks to all the dealers and distributors that verified and reported their information. We can’t do this without their help.

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