Distributors Need to ‘Unlearn’ Pre-Pandemic Habits, Study Suggests

More than half of respondents said the industry needs to address “antiquated” leadership.

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More than half of distribution sector officials in a recent survey believe the industry is dealing with “antiquated” leadership, while nearly two-thirds say its executives must “unlearn” past leadership habits.

The analysis, conducted by distribution sector marketing firm UnleashWD, polled more than 200 distribution and manufacturing executives and other professionals about the issues facing the industry and how things must change amid the recovery from the pandemic.

Nearly all respondents, predictably, said their companies are facing down more supply chain constraints and economic challenges — namely inflation — in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the vast majority — more than 80% — also reported feeling the effects of additional factors in the current climate, including shifting customer expectations, different worker availability, and the nature of the pandemic itself.

More than 60% reported impacts from rapid social change and changing technology, while just less than half indicated feeling more effects post-pandemic from mergers and acquisitions and a shifting competitive landscape.

Labor issues, meanwhile, dominated internal challenges facing distributors, from employees’ changing demands to challenges retaining and attracting both executive and rank-and-file staff. Distributors reported that their employees were impacted by the pressure and stress of the COVID era, and that they subsequently altered their attitudes toward work-life balance, hybrid work, and the role of “meaningful work.”

The survey found that 53% percent of those polled believe that most distributors are operating in an “antiquated” way — instead of effectively leading their employees, they fall back on old habits that seek to manage or control their staffs; 65% believe some pre-pandemic leadership strategies need to be overhauled.

“Distributors are at an inflection point. If they want to survive, they must chart a new course,” UnleashWD founder Dirk Beveridge said in a statement. “They need to embrace some qualities and let go of others that led to their success in the past.”

UnleashWD said the survey included 224 respondents between April and May 2022. Nearly three-quarters of participants were distributors, 11% were manufacturers, and the remainder included manufacturer representatives, software providers and consultants. Nearly half of respondents were C-level officials, while another 45% were either vice presidents or managers.

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