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2024 Industrial Supply Association Conference: The Amazon Perspective



We recently returned from the Industrial Supply Association’s (ISA) annual conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. In case you’re not familiar with this event, the ISA’s conference is where manufacturers and distributors in the industrial and MRO industries get together to do business. Attendees hail from companies that make, buy, and/or sell a wide range of products, including fasteners, welding supplies, safety equipment, pipes, valves and fittings, precision power tools, and a host of other supplies used in a wide variety of industries. 


Participants come together at ISA’s annual conference to press the flesh, develop new contacts, refresh and reinforce old relationships, and learn about core industry trends affecting their business. ISA is a leading industry association for this category of B2B products.


So what’s on the collective mind of the industrial supply industry? During our time at this year’s conference, we met with more than 30 manufacturers and distributors. The biggest takeaway is that they are seeing the industry completely change before their eyes. Let’s take a look at some of the things we heard from these industry players. 


The Changing Landscape of Distribution

The distribution landscape has been undergoing significant changes, with a noticeable consolidation among distributors. This trend is a clear sign of the shifts from traditional sales to digital channels that we’re currently witnessing across a wide variety of other industries, with consolidation among distributors through acquisition, and, in some cases, firms ceasing operations altogether.  


The industry is finally feeling the impact of the new, digital-first B2B buyer, who is prioritizing channels that deliver the highest value and that make it easy to do business with them. Most often, this means a shift to digital channels, particularly Amazon. We noticed a greater level of interest in discussing Amazon and other digital channels from both manufacturers and distributors, who wanted to better understand how they can better leverage these channels.


The Rise of Ecommerce and New Players

The emergence of Amazon and Ecommerce has been a game-changer for many in the industry. New players are emerging, such as pure-play internet distributors and companies focused solely on delivering an Ecommerce experience, such as Zoro.com and Global Industrial. These online-only distributors/resellers provide comprehensive B2B buying experiences on their websites. 


In terms of sales channels like Amazon, we talked with a number of industry players who are now–for the first time–interested in selling on the marketplace.


However, many companies still maintain reservations about selling directly, mainly due to channel conflict concerns. Also many of the manufacturers we spoke with either have unknown resellers offering their products on Amazon or are selling wholesale to Amazon and are unhappy with the arrangement. We heard many of the complaints about Amazon that we’ve heard in other industries: namely price erosion is causing channel conflict with traditional distributors. 


Despite the challenges, most companies have recognized the opportunity that Amazon presents but are unsure how to capture it. The good news is that some categories are still nascent with opportunities ripe for the taking, and channel conflict can be mitigated with the right approach to selling on Amazon. 


For instance, high-end precision cutting tools is an all new category for Amazon, which means there is less competition. B2B buyers, however, are using Amazon Business at an increasing rate, indicating opportunity for this category. And by leveraging the 3P Seller Central selling approach, B2B firms can control the retail price that is listed on Amazon. Many of the companies we talked to in these emerging sectors are looking at launching a program, but are approaching the channel with caution.


The Continued Need for a Paradigm Shift

Looking back 20 years, it’s clear today that the companies that started selling on Amazon early benefited immensely. That said, the industrial supply industry continues to be conservative.  In our conversations, we continue to hear comments that reflect “old-school” thinking and a palpable apprehension with digital in general. 


From our perspective, these companies are at risk of taking action only when it’s too late due to their fears around channel conflict. It’s going to take a change in business over time, or a change of the guard (e.g. ownership or executive leadership), for these companies to fully embrace the digital age. However, those that act now–and we spoke with quite a few who are ready–will be at an advantage. Staying in front of the new B2B buyer in their preferred digital channels requires proactive action and forward thinking. 


All in all, we were encouraged by what we heard from B2B firms in 2024 versus what we have at previous ISA events. 


Are you a B2B manufacturer or distributor looking to break into Amazon but you’re not sure where to start? Enceiba has you covered! We’ve helped hundreds of companies just like yours go from zero to multi-million dollars in revenue on the world’s largest marketplace. Schedule a call with our team to discuss how your business can fully realize your Amazon opportunity.

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