True Partners

Pet industry distributors’ growth is inextricably tied to independent retailers’ success.


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The pet product distribution landscape has changed dramatically in the 50 years since the Pet Industry Distributor Association (PIDA) was founded in 1968. Membership peaked in the mid-1990s with more than 130 independent distributors. Most were small, regional companies with ties to one or more of the big, national premium pet food manufacturers.

 

Fast-forward to today’s consolidated industry and you will find multiple national distributors and a small, but robust, cadre of regional players. PIDA’s membership ranks now total 37 distribution companies, down from 53 just five years ago.

 

With that in mind, you might think that the days of independent pet stores relying on the support of several distributors delivering to their communities is as outmoded as the milkman or doctors who make house calls. But a recent survey of PIDA members shows that the market channel supported by distributors remains vibrant and growing.

 

Last year, PIDA distributors had annual sales of $3.8 billion at wholesale, supporting $5.13 billion in retail sales. This is a healthy increase of more than $500 million since 2012. During that same period, the number of distribution centers grew from 104 to 109, even as the number of distribution companies declined by 30 percent. Warehouse space also increased by six percent, to just under eight million square feet, holding an average of 21,000 SKUs in stock.

 

Growing sales require a professional sales team to introduce new products, offer advice on local and national trends, merchandise shelves and endcaps, and take orders. PIDA members employ 537 outside sale reps and 382 customer service reps out of a total employee base of 5,753.

 

The Personal Touch

PIDA surveyed independent retailers in 2017 to see how well the distributor-retailer relationship is working and found that, while there is room for improvement, most retailers felt that they were treated as a valuable customer by their distributors. They noted that engagement through their distributor sales reps was highly regarded, providing advice, education, sales tools and an understanding of their unique business needs and interests.

 

“Actively engaging with us to provide support and tools to help us sell the products we get from them,” was one retailer’s expectation of her distributors. Another looked to his distributors to “provide trend analyses” and valued a distribution partner “[that] works with us on a business plan to grow our mutual businesses—one [that] clearly knows what our store is about and looks for programs to meet our needs.”

 

More than half of the pet store owners surveyed had ordered from four to seven distributors within the past year. The biggest reason retailers turn to multiple distributors is to get brands that they want, since no one distributor carries every product they want to stock or that customers request.

 

Although price was the top reason pet store owners will choose a distributor, it is certainly not the only reason. A distributor cannot compete on price alone, and service is what makes the difference. Critical service elements include product selection, accuracy of order fulfillment, ease of ordering, prompt delivery, and relationships with the salesperson and the company. Courteous and helpful delivery drivers were also particularly well regarded by retailers.

 

The success of pet product distributors is inexorably linked to the success of their retail customers. The ability of local businesses to beat the competition in the battle for pet owners’ loyalty takes the support of a supply chain that is firing on all cylinders. Distributors provide the essential support of logistics and sales professionals who are dedicated to their customers’ success. PB

 

Steve King is president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association and executive director of the Pet Care Trust.

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