I recently attended a conference devoted to e-commerce in the supply chain, which actually was much more interesting than it probably sounds. The hardware and software on display weren't only for distributors, but for everyone in the supply chain from manufacturers to wholesalers to retailers.

But it wasn't the technology that got my attention. I know as much about computers as most wholesalers do, maybe less. I still have a teenager at home and younger members on my staff, so I manage to get by.

A highlight of the meeting for me was a conversation I had with a software vendor about wholesalers. Like the other exhibitors there, he sold his programs up and down the supply chain. His favorite group of customers? Wholesalers. In his own words, "Wholesalers are a kick!"

His answer was startling, as well as refreshing. After all, I've heard for 10 years from wholesalers that the business isn't as fun as it used to be. And, manufacturers have told me what wholesalers should do, and don't do, to add value to their products.

When I asked, this vendor said that he enjoys doing business with wholesalers so much because they are still the most entrepreneurial group in the supply chain. Much more so than manufacturers certainly, and many retailers as well.

Related to that is the fact that when he calls on a wholesaler, he stands a good chance of talking to the head guy. With manufacturers, he most likely will be talking to someone much farther down the corporate ladder.

Also, most wholesalers don't have a technology department and don't want to get into the computer business. They want to spend their time on their business, not their computers.

I mentioned to him that many of these wholesalers are concerned that e-commerce will destroy the type of one-on-one relationships that he enjoys so much. In fact, one big advantage that wholesalers have over dot.com companies is their personal relationships with their customers and vendors.

The vendor's response was twofold: First, technology can relieve a wholesaler's employees of a lot of menial tasks and enable them to focus more sharply on helping customers solve their real problems. So, used right, technology can improve these relationships not kill them. The other part is that wholesalers may have the advantage now of their long-term relationships, but that edge won't last forever.

So, you may have more going for you than you realize. The trick is to find a way to use technology to leverage your built-in advantages and keep your edge.