Are Distributorships on the Way Out?

By Whitney Klinkenborg, Pella Corporation
January 10, 2017
THE TALK... | Operations

Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon an old Window & Door article that questioned the end of independent distributors. The article was written in 2004 and our world has greatly changed in the last decade. E-commerce is booming. This gave me pause. Are distributorships on the way out? 

Fortune recently reported statistics that indicate consumers are now making more than 51 percent of their purchases online. I realize I am lending to that percentage. I often walk past a store in the mall and, rather than go in, I make a mental note to visit the store online later. While I enjoy the in-person experience of looking and touching, I prefer shopping from my sofa, swathed in pajamas, searching for the best deal.

However, like nearly all consumers, there is a line I won’t cross with online purchasing. Large, costly items still require a brick and mortar purchase. That, and a discussion with an expertToni White, CMO of Synchrony Financial summed it up best in a Forbes article about a recent retailer study that found customers like to research online but make big purchases in stores. “A major purchase is a commitment for many consumers,” she said. “Having that personable and knowledgeable sales associate is important.”

The fenestration industry falls under this criteria. Customers’ familiarity with windows and doors is limited, with their purchases in our category limited to only once or twice in a lifetime. Homeowners only begin to investigate windows and doors when it becomes an issue. And it can be overwhelming—there are so many options, materials, sizes, performance ratings, etc.—where to even begin? If only Pinterest would do it for you.

Homeowners, builders and contractors have enough to worry about. Having an expert to consult on a complex, costly purchase is a relief. Being able to see samples and interact with someone that knows which product is best lends a level of confidence to consumers.

Back to my initial question: am I concerned our distributorships are on the way out? No. Consumers want to look, touch and feel before making a purchase. I am confident our distributorships will continue to not only be lucrative for our current owners, but for generations to come. Distributors will become a refuge for consumers in an ever-evolving, e-commerce driven world, as long as they continue to be experts in their field and put their customers’ needs first.

Do you think e-commerce is a threat to specialty retailers? Post a comment, take the poll and/or send me an email with your thoughts on the subject.

Survey Results for 01/11/2017:
Is e-commerce a serious threat to window and door specialty retailers?
Not yet

When she’s not chasing her two toddlers, Whitney Klinkenborg can be found at Pella Corp., where she has held various roles over the past seven years, including showroom manager at the Pella Crafted Luxury showroom in the Chicago Merchandise Mart. Most recently, she works to identify talented leaders for Pella distributorships.