Independent wholesalers faced with the challenges of consolidation, electronic technology and competition from outside the distribution channel can learn a lesson or two from Wolff Bros. Supply Co. Our 2000 Wholesaler of the Year meets these challenges by keeping its focus on the distribution function.

In fact, all wholesalers would benefit from a closer look at Wolff Bros. Throughout the company, people at Wolff Bros. understand their primary job is sales and the best way to sell is through service.

As with other good wholesalers, Wolff Bros.' appearance can be deceiving. Behind its headquarters' bucolic exterior, however, is a state-of-the-art warehouse that is a foundation of Wolff Bros.' success. The company has invested heavily and wisely in its warehouse; the investment has enabled Wolff Bros. to reduce the number of employees needed in the warehouse while at the same time to increase employees' productivity.

The emphasis on technology at Wolff Bros. is on keeping product flowing smoothly through the system from vendor to customer. Among its benefits, technology has allowed the wholesaler to track and reduce errors as well as improve customer service and vendor relations.

But Wolff Bros.' story isn't just about technology. The company doesn't invest in technology for its own sake. Whether it's used in the warehouse, back office or by sales reps in the field, technology must support the people who provide the actual service.

The wholesaler's commitment to its people has allowed it to succeed against its traditional rivals and compete against companies outside the distribution channel. Wolff Bros. hires the right people, trains them well and rewards them for performance.

When we select a Wholesaler of the Year, we pick a company that has a message for the rest of the industry. This year, the message is directed not only to other wholesalers but to manufacturers as well. As we see it, the message is best articulated by George Wolff, fittingly the wholesaler's vice president/sales:

"We don't exist because manufacturers are nice people and they want to give distributors a slice of their profits. We exist because we perform a valuable function. But just like people, there are great, mediocre and terrible distributors. Manufacturers need to distinguish between the good and the bad. And at Wolff Bros., we think we're one of the good ones."

We obviously think so, too. Wolff Bros.' proficiency in moving product from manufacturer to customer is a first-class example of the valuable function that distributors serve.