Three and a half decades is a long time, especially in an industry that reinvents itself as fluidly as retail CE. But I’m seeing now that it’s a lot easier to predict the future when you’ve got this much history behind you.
My first observation: The only constant in this market has been change. Call it an ongoing revolution. This is one thing that D&H has learned by doing; otherwise, we’d still be re-treading tires in rural Pennsylvania. Instead, the company has been through years of supporting a community of retailers and dealers whose businesses were often in flux.
The most significant transformation has been from a super-regionalized economy to a national one, with tier-one retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy dominating a landscape that once consisted of regionalized chains, independent storefronts and mom-and-pop operations. D&H recognized the shift and went national back in the late 1980s, but the change wasn’t limited to distribution. D&H moved into electronics, appliances, and eventually computer and digital technologies. Those who didn’t change either began their disappearing act, or were bought out.
Consolidation is still having a huge impact on the industry. Retail is showing a parallel to what D&H saw in the IT industry: 10 years back, there were more than 100 IT distributors. Similarly, CE retail distributors once numbered in the hundreds, but have diminished to dozens, with continued mergers in the works.
One more recent trend — that we’ve been proud to help lead — is that retailers and dealers have come to recognize the value of distribution once again. This harkens back to the era of regionalized vendor territories and small shops that needed consultative support in order to capture local sales. This kind of service is in our blood.
The contemporary version of a distribution partnership allows retailers and dealers to focus on their core competencies, while their distributor takes on national logistics and fosters vendor relationships, generating new opportunities. This helps the retailer stay agile enough to amend their business models when necessary to accommodate a changing market.
Even in a stressed economy, there will always be emerging technologies to invigorate sales. Entertainment and digital media products are breaking records despite some of the media’s fixation with recession. New products will always be waiting to break out, and new methods of delivering those technologies are never far behind. After all, we’ve gone from serving mom-and-pop shops to big-box retailers, wholesale clubs and e-tailers, and we’re still hustling.
The big lesson of all this upheaval: successful companies evolve. This is the retailer’s greatest challenge, but it’s also the most exciting part of the business, and one I’ll keep watching. It’s hard to take your eyes off new technologies and trends. Fortunately, that’s just as true for consumers as it is for industry veterans.
Finally, I’d like to thank the dealers and retailers who have been, and continue to be, loyal D&H customers over the years. It’s been a privilege. Enjoy the amazing decades to come.