Last March’s annual Foodservice Equipment Distributors Association meeting was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and also one of the most troubling. It was among the best because it really drilled into core issues. And it was troubling because it revealed just how extensive the challenges are for E&S distribution heading into the future.

On the second day of the meeting, Michael Workman, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, said some very true things—things that E&S dealers will have to address, or they won’t be survivors for long.

“The dealer no longer controls the information, and the salesperson no longer owns the customer,” Workman said. And he’s right. Think about that. Fifty years ago, your information—and therefore your advice—was your key value to a relatively uninformed customer base. Yes, physical distribution was a value, and inventory was a value, but what could make you uniquely valuable was the quality of your information. You were your customers’ access point to knowledge. Part of what the customer paid for was that knowledge.

That’s no longer true. Information—good information or bad, or maybe just raw data—is available everywhere now through the Internet.  So you no longer have that leverage. What tool, what value, do you have that can replace it? What can you get paid for?

And here’s another point regarding the staggering impact the Internet has had on your marketing and everyone else’s: Online communities such as Facebook, LinkedIn, club and industry blogs, Twitter, etc., give customers access to one another!

Have you thought about the implications of that? Remember those old maxims about word-of-mouth? Remember the old rule of thumb that said satisfied customers tell three people, and dissatisfied ones tell seven? Or nine?

The basic premise still holds. Dissatisfied customers are more motivated to talk than satisfied ones. But now, thanks to the Internet, they can tell scores, hundreds, thousands of other prospects. With that kind of access of one customer to another, fulfilling the brand promise is more crucial than ever before.

Control of information has shifted forever. How you adapt to that will largely define your future.

What should the E&S channel do about that? Tell us what you think at

Chief Editor”””

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