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Preserving the Art of Independent Distribution

In recent years our industry has experienced a significant shift. A market, previously dominated by independent distribution, has become one of big-box stores and acquisitions. This shift, while appealing to some, puts business owners and industry professionals such as ourselves in a bit of a quandary. Do we accept the realities of acquisition and embrace the change? Do we push to preserve independent distribution and the benefits that come along with it? Can we support both? My answer, we push hard to preserve industry independence, push harder to modernize the status quo and push the hardest to provide independent wholesalers with the resources they need to maintain their legacies.

Jeff MacDowell, executive director of Luxury Products Group, said “Keeping independents healthy and sharing best practices deters them from seeking out acquisition. It’s understood that this is a time like no other with brisk business, stressful HR practices and supply chain woes. However, the truth is, the peak has passed. With a slowdown on the way, the best thing for independents to do is hang on and improve their operations to remain profitable. Consumers, in general, will always prefer to buy local.”

Independent distribution is, without question, an artform. The personalized customer experience, intimate understanding of the local market needs, and the relationships developed by generations of business owners make it unique. This uniqueness, in today’s quick-buy digital world, is both refreshing and impactful…so how do we make it sustainable? Through the introduction of modern technology and resources designed to accommodate for the nuances of plumbing distribution, we can offer independent wholesalers with the resources they need to account for things such as web-based competition, logistical obstacles and operational hurtles.

Ted Havel, IMARK Plumbing vice president of marketing & suppliers relations said, “The mission of IMARK Plumbing is to help independent wholesalers thrive and generate the highest possible financial returns, while delivering above-market performance in volume and market share to an industry-leading group of manufacturers. Our aim is to provide a combination of marketing solutions and superior financial returns, while delivering above average rates of market share growth for our supplier partners.”

Maintaining and expanding the group’s overall purchasing volume is essential to the group’s success and ensures the best possible earnings for the IMARK membership. The IMARK Group Growing Forward Program is an acquisition strategy designed to maintain and grow the group’s purchasing power by alerting member companies of fellow IMARK Group members companies that are in acquisition mode.

While family considerations are of principle importance during the company sales process, many member-owners of independent distributors often feel that the best thing they can do for their employees and customers is to so sell their companies to fellow independent distributors. This initiative has resulted in far more member companies selling to IMARK peers and has kept that purchase volume inside our organization. For additional information on IMARK Growing Forward, please contact Ted Havel at

As a member of a buying group, whether it be IMARK Plumbing or another, be sure to take full advantage of the training, financial and marketing resources available to you. If you are unsure of what those resources are, or what they look like, seek out the assistance of the groups marketing or business services team. Look for modern technology providers who can accommodate the needs of your business and help you manage your inventory and the logistics of distribution. Collaborate with other independent distributors who share similar successes and obstacles and have conversation around best practices.

The opportunity to modernize independent distribution, and keep it independent, is here. Through the implementation of new-age ERP and marketing platforms, we can maintain the core values of how we choose to conduct business, while laying the groundwork for future success. The skills are there, and the technology exists, so let’s use it.