SalesPad’s Year in Review: Distribution in 2020

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Adapting to change in 2020

We won’t be sorry to see 2020 in the rear-view mirror, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t full of learning opportunities. For our final post of the year, we’re checking in with some of SalesPad’s leadership team to get their thoughts on a tough year, and to see what they’re excited for in 2021.

After a difficult year, what is one thing in the distribution industry that you’re looking forward to in 2021?

Jeremy Boogart, Senior Vice President of Product:

A return to some semblance of normalcy. Some of the volatility and disruptions have tapered down already, but we are a long way from normal. Distribution businesses have had to adapt quickly in the last year and I am excited to see what this forced innovation brings as the disruption pressures fade and that energy can be applied to new areas.

John Carrier, Chief Operating Officer/Chief Financial Officer:

Predictability. 2020 has thrown a tremendous number of curve-balls making it hard to plan and predict, resulting in the decision process being more challenging. I’m optimistic things will settle down in 2021 through a combination of the passing of time, a vaccine, and lessons learned in 2020 that can be applied to help with the predictability aiding in making more informed decisions.

Matt Abbott, Chief Strategy Officer:

Like many, I am extremely interested in the intensely complex distribution networks for the COVID-19 vaccines. While there certainly will be hiccups, I’m amazed at what can be accomplished when we rally around a common mission.

On a very different front, I am excited about efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of transportation in the distribution space. Amazon, through its investment in Rivian, is expected to launch its custom electric delivery vehicle in 2021. Tesla, fresh off of signing deals with Walmart and Pride Group, is slated to launch the Tesla Semi in 2021 as well. While these are the most well-known examples, I’ll also be paying close attention to companies such as Nikola Motors, Workhorse, Volvo, and Canoo next year.

Where/how have you seen resilience in the distribution space this year?

JB:  I have seen a number of distributors show the ability to quickly pivot and adapt to the new environment. That has meant a lot of different things to different distributors, expanding PPE product lines, adding more B2C business through ecommerce, or finding new suppliers. A lot of companies have done whatever it takes to keep the lights on.

JC: Predominantly with those who were already providing essential goods or services or already poised well to work remotely. For example, Door Dash, Uber Eats, Amazon, and disinfectant manufacturers/distributors have grown exponentially. 

MA: I’ve witnessed incredible resilience in the people that make distribution companies go on a daily basis. With everything happening in the world today, life is stressful. Some distribution businesses have gusts filling their sails while others are stuck in the doldrums. In speaking with our distribution customers, I’m amazed and invigorated by the spirit and energy of people finding solutions to difficult problems they never could have anticipated.

What’s the most valuable (industry-related) lesson you’ve learned over the last year?

JB: Your supply chain probably isn’t as robust as you thought it was. A lot of distributors quickly found out that their JIT inventory and vendor relationships were not as resilient as they would have hoped for. You will see a lot of companies doing more math to calculate a comfortable level of safety stock and how much they trust their vendor lead times. This next year I anticipate that you will see a higher level of inventory on balance sheets and increasing the number of vendor relationships as people cultivate alternate sources for all of their mission critical products.

JC: There’s a huge need to quickly evaluate and adapt. Those that move too slowly will not survive.

MA: It’s probably flexibility. The companies I’ve seen successfully navigate this challenging year and thrive in this unpredictable environment proactively built flexibility, efficiency, and speed into their businesses. Most achieved flexibility through smart investments in technology such as workflow automation, inventory management, ecommerce, etc. As a side note, it’s been extremely rewarding to hear stories from SalesPad customers describing how critical our software has been to their success.

Some industries have seen a huge spike in demand this year, while others have seen a drastic reduction — What advice would you give to those who have had a less than stellar year?

JB: Explore new channels, partnerships for selling your products. People are buying differently than they have before and we are just starting to see the impacts of WFH culture. Get out ahead of your digital tools and footprints. There is an art to offering and promoting your products in these other spaces. Look for new suppliers so that you can source things from different geographical areas. Calculate your safety stock and reorder points more carefully. Stock-outs are more prevalent than ever and even harder to prevent. Think about carrying more volume of your mission-critical products.

JC: Adapt and pivot quickly. Identify areas to change the mix of your products or services into more areas that are “essential.”  Add SKU’s related to disinfectants and antimicrobial products. Additionally, service providers should consider using these types of products to treat offices, gyms, churches, or other facilities. An example of this would be a pest control service forming a new branch to disinfect buildings instead of just spraying for bugs. They have the infrastructure in place to do it, but need to move quickly adapt a few products and processes to launch.  Easier said than done, but those that identify and pivot quickly into areas of demand will be much better off.

MA: Related to my point above, I would strongly suggest that companies take a look in the mirror and identify ways to make their businesses more resilient and flexible. Done right, investments will have a nearly immediate payback.

Any thoughts you’d like to add?

JB: Its been a tough year and we live in an industry that usually isn’t known for being on the bleeding edge. However, the companies that can adapt more quickly are the ones who will be in a better position to succeed through instability. Think about the places in your organization that have a single point of failure and assess your ability to adapt to change by stress testing your operations. How quickly can you bring on a new supplier, retailers or channel? What would your bottom line look like without being able to get your best selling product for a couple months? Do your best to identify your biggest risks and plan to mitigate.

JC: I am concerned about the erosion of Company Culture for all companies. Culture makes a big impact on separating one company from another, and humans like to interact with each other. Zoom or Google Chat can’t fully replace that – whether for business or personal.


We hope you were able to weather the 2020 storm without too many major hiccups. It’s been a long one, but we’re eagerly looking the future, and we’re hopeful that 2021 is a great year for you and your business. If there’s any way we can help you increase the profitability of your company in the years to come, we’d love the chance to help you succeed.

Happy New Year!

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