Editorial: Down Time or Development Time?

Distributors make big moves as they position themselves to emerge stronger from the recession.

I Stock 985559164

Assembling this year’s Big 50 List was a strange exercise. I don’t remember a year in the past where everyone was focused less on their strong record of sales for the prior year and more on looking ahead. When the economy flips upside down overnight, last year’s performance begins to lose its importance. We’re all moving back to the starting line, right?

Anna Wells, ID Executive EditorAnna Wells, ID Executive EditorWe read plenty of earnings reports over the past few months where businesses of all kinds bemoaned a sales or supply lull that left them with idle hands and red balance sheets. But what impressed me most when assembling this year’s Big 50 List was how many resilient distributors used this time of economic sluggishness and uncertainty to bolster their businesses in exciting ways:

  • For one, merger & acquisition activities have still been well underway. Motion Industries has completed three this summer alone, and Lawson Products recently announced its largest acquisition in five years. DGI Supply added Production Tool & Supply of Rockford, IL in May.

  • Flint, MI-based Shively Bros. told us the company used its “quiet time” in April and May to enhance some internal programs, including a staff training and development program it calls “Shively Academy.”

  • Other companies doubled down their efforts on e-commerce. MSC recruited a new VP, Faisal Hussain, Ingram Micro, the No. 1 global distributor of information technology products. According to Steve Baruch, executive vice president and chief strategy & marketing officer for MSC, although MSC has always offered top-tier e-commerce, “we recognize that we must continue to transform to deliver a world-class digital experience for our customers.”

In whichever way your company chooses to act, it’s clear that softening the blow of 2020 will be a must. As we point out later in the Big 50 List, Applied Industrial has already published its full year 2020 fiscal results and, for a company that added nearly a half-billion dollars in sales the year prior, it saw its organic growth tumble by 18.5 percent. But the company tempered this with some optimism, citing the emerging growth of manufacturing and potential for re-shoring as the country eventually moves out of the pandemic.

And that might be the most universal point. While companies face various options due to size and cash position, they share some common ground in one sense: the economy most certainly will bounce back. What matters is whether we can remain clear-headed enough to stay the course.

A quote by the author Brittay Burgunder feels appropriate here: “It's surprising how much free time and productivity you gain when you lose the busyness in your mind.” Take that as a cue to use this time wisely.

Watch our Big 50 video countdown: Part 1 (#50-31); Part 2 (30-11); Part 3 (10-1)

More in Company Expansion & Consolidation