The distribution channel is, perhaps, the least glamorous and the least respected sales process, but it is the most essential. Without it, you can’t get your product to your customer. With that in mind, it’s good to know the basics.
The distribution channel represents the various levels your product passes through on its way to your ultimate customer. You may sell your service through a broker or clearing house that provides you with a client. But if you’re selling a material product, you have to deal with a distribution channel. There are several different kinds of distribution channels, but most contain one to four steps on the path from producer to buyer. Here are three basic types:
1. Conventional Distribution. This type of distribution channel is typical of retail sales. It’s used with almost all consumer products, from dresses to groceries to television sets. This system starts with wholesalers who are known as distributors or jobbers. (If a broker is involved, they don’t take possession of the product, they just get a cut for getting it from the producer to the distributor, or in some cases direct to the retailer.) The distributor’s trucks pick up products in the largest possible quantities, to maximize efficiency. Most trucks involved are 18-wheelers. They carry a trailer, van or container that is 40-45 feet long and holds 22 pallets, arranged in 2 rows of 11. Each pallet is 4 feet by 4 feet. Once delivered to the distributor, the product may be transported in smaller delivery trucks to the retailer. In some cases, it may go to the retailer’s warehouse before the retailer himself distributes it to his retail stores.
2. Fulfillment centers. This type of distribution channel starts with the producer of the product delivering it at his own expense to a distributor at a hub with a warehouse called a fulfillment center. The fulfillment center then breaks down the producer’s pallets of product, re-packages the product, puts them into the right containers, then fills orders for the product by delivering it via common carrier or using his own trucks.
3. Direct. In this scenario, it’s also possible for you as the producer to sell your product directly to the retailer. The retailers may pick up at your warehouse, or you may have to deliver it to their warehouse or retail outlet, or you may deliver to a fulfillment center. Some specialty items are also sold using the direct distribution channel. Fresh bread, for example, is often delivered direct to grocery stores via the bread company’s own vehicles.
As unexciting as they may seem, these various distribution channels have inspired volumes of writing by experts regarding the problems that can arise and ways to ameliorate them — information well worth studying. No matter the distribution channel a product takes from the producer to the ultimate customer, what they all have in common is the crucial role they play in the sales of the product.
There’s so much more that could be said on this subject. What’s been your experience? Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine, the largest wine brand in the nation, invites you to lend your voice to this discussion on Distribution Channels with your comments, thoughts, and opinions below.
Who We Are
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.
Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.
They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) & Shelf Smarts courses to help consumer product brand builders achieve success. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.
Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular business site at www.thebarefootspirit.com.
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