When I first read Dan Holohan's "What function does a wholesaler serve?" about a month before it appeared in last November's issue, I experienced that strange feeling of déjà vu. It's not that I felt as if I had read Dan's column before. It was that I felt I had spoken with the same manufacturer.

As you'll recall, Dan talked with a manufacturer who wondered aloud why his company should be sharing its profits with wholesalers. From the manufacturer's viewpoint, wholesalers are abdicating their traditional responsibilities to their vendors. He believes that wholesalers today are stocking less product, providing less technical help to contractors and asking for extended payment terms.

By the time I finished reading Dan's column, I realized that I had spoken with a different manufacturer. Mine was an easy mistake to make, however, because just a week earlier I had visited a manufacturer who vented his frustration with wholesalers' sales and marketing skills.

In the meantime, I've talked with a few other manufacturers who told me they were disappointed in their wholesalers' performance. These manufacturers' comments concern me enough that I believe it's time that wholesalers tell their vendors exactly what they do for them.

This isn't a new idea. A year ago, I suggested in an editorial that wholesalers get rid of the empty phrase "value added" and be more specific in describing the important tasks they perform. Better yet, they should attach real numbers to their message to let vendors know how they're saving or making them money.

I also stated my belief that no issue in wholesaling is as relevant as the fact that too many vendors (and customers) don't understand the wholesaling function. We have done much of this damage to ourselves by assuming that other people know more than they do. Apparently, we haven't made much progress in explaining ourselves in the past year.

Since November, though, we've heard from wholesalers who have used our Letters section to tell the manufacturer in Dan's column what they have done -- and continue to do -- for their vendors. Our hope is that wholesalers are as articulate in describing their function to their vendors as they are in their letters.

Judging from conversations I've had with some manufacturers, I suspect the message isn't getting across. Too many manufacturers seem to be taking wholesalers for granted, or worse.

Dan Holohan has some further thoughts on this subject, which he'll share with you in next month's issue. In the meantime, continue to let us know your views on the function that wholesalers serve. More importantly, let your vendors know.