A Focus On Facility MRO: The JanSan Future Is Bright … But It’s Complicated

By Mark Prosser, VP Sales – Strategic Accounts, The United Group

I’ve been around this industry far longer than I’m willing to admit, and I recall as a younger guy working for a JanSan distributor dreading the inevitable conversation at parties or get-togethers. “So, what do you do?” “Uh, I sell janitorial supplies.”  “Umm, I sell hand soap.” Sometimes because it was a little more fun to see the reaction, “I sell tampons!” or “I’m in the toilet seat cover business.” “I sell trash bags.” We’ve all been there.

We may not be glamorous, but we are relevant. Our customers need the cleaning solutions we offer. People need healthy skin care solutions. People need women’s health solutions. Our customers need the can liners we offer. Terminology may have changed over four decades, but whether it’s janitorial supplies or facility solutions, whether it’s hand soap or skin care solutions, tampons or women’s health solutions, trash bags or can liners, in time I have come to appreciate that it’s an honor to be in this industry. I take pride in being a part of this industry. Why? Because at the end of the day, we sell CLEAN. We sell SANITARY. We sell HYGIENE. We sell a healthier and greener “away from home” environment, and that makes our industry relevant and consequential to the greater good of our society.

This relevance certainly doesn’t mean we do not face challenges. I hear almost daily of the struggles our distributors face finding the necessary talent to help their businesses thrive. Whether it’s warehouse labor, technicians, drivers, office staff or salespeople, we have a human capital issue. Competition is fierce for quality employees driven by low unemployment, a shortage of qualified CDL drivers and high compensation plans for young folks coming out of college, among other factors.

Quality salespeople are a particular concern. I recall a video by Mark Cuban, billionaire entrepreneur, discussing sales. He begins by opining that “Sales cures all. There’s never been a company in the history of companies that’s ever succeeded without sales.” He continues with the notion that, “When you’re selling, you’re helping. Sales is about taking the time to understand the needs of the person you’re selling to.”

Top notch salespeople are hard to find, and once found, difficult to retain. Our industry is actually pretty complicated with a broad range of knowledge required on many products and procedures necessary to find success. That knowledge does not come quickly, and many distributors feel pressure financially to transition people from salary to commission before they are fully prepared to attack the market with success. Without the necessary training in both products and sales process, most salespeople today fall back on “quote and hope” or “me too, less 5 percent” mentalities, and I do not believe this approach is conducive to a successful selling career in any industry, let alone our own.

Impatience to get a salesperson out on the street and generating profit, ill-prepared for the challenge, is a sure-fire recipe for high turnover. It’s important to lean on your supplier base, ISSA, or your buying group for training resources they have available to accelerate the “seasoning process” of a salesperson.

Another serious, but not new, challenge to distributors is margin compression across all categories. Competition certainly drives this at times, but in today’s world procurement professionals are savvier than ever and have greater resources than ever. A good analogy is how I buy shoes. I go to my local store, take the time and talent of their employee to select what brand and style I want and be properly fitted. I then go home and search the internet for the best price I can find to acquire my pair of shoes. This is an occurrence we face daily. How often do we do the demonstration, show the benefit of our product, educate the customer, and offer what we feel is a fair price only to find later that they bought the exact same product elsewhere for a little less? Incredibly frustrating, for sure.

This is why I believe any distributor should ask some key questions of current and potential supplier partners. How do you go to market? Do you sell direct to the end-user? Do you have local representation who will assist me in the field to sell your product? Do you have a written pioneering program? Do you have an established and enforced Minimum Advertised Pricing program? These strategies can ensure you keep that PO where it belongs — with the person and company who worked for the sale.

All these challenges notwithstanding, our JanSan industry continues to provide tremendous opportunities for companies and individuals alike. We have obviously experienced a period of great change in the last few years. But is that a phenomenon? I think not. Roll ups have been going on for decades and every consolidation cycle is called the death knell for independent distribution. My point is this: All those roll ups still exist today in some form or fashion. Independent distributors, as they have for decades, will shuck and jive to survive and thrive. It’s in their entrepreneurial DNA. There is room for everyone to succeed in this world regardless of size or scale. And all of them, big or small, provide professional opportunities for those individuals who are willing to put in the time and energy to prepare themselves for success.

The United Group® (TUG) is a Member-owned sales and marketing organization for independent distributors and vendors servicing companies across 5 distinct channels – Jan/San, Foodservice, Packaging, Safety and Office Products. Visit unitedgroup.com.

Share on Socials!

Related Articles

Related Articles

Comparing Lithium Batteries: Considering A Lithium Battery For Your Cleaning Machine? Here’s Some Facts You Need To Know

By Dan Sanchez, DS Media LLC Over the past decade, there has been a push in the battery industry to be the first to have a ...
Read More

Ozone Generation And Hydroxyl Air Treatment Provide Green And Effective Options For Bad Odor Removal In AFH Facilities

Newaire™ HO3 - 2500 Air & Surface Treatment System (Photo courtesy of Queenaire Technologies) Name the away-from-home (AFH) facility and chances are poor air quality and ...
Read More

Editor’s Note – June 2024

Harrell Kerkhoff The June 2024 issue of Maintenance Sales News Magazine includes the publication’s inaugural “New Products Award Entries.” Our subscribers will soon vote on these ...
Read More