How To Take Your Wholesale Business Into A Smarter World

Karen Lynch

Today’s wholesale value chain is undergoing dynamic change. New business models are changing how we do business on a daily basis. We’re now seeing smarter robots and the beginning of artificial intelligence. Smarter printing and products are giving consumers new options. We have new opportunities in service and maintenance models.

We’ve also heard a great deal about the push for technology adoption in the business to consumer (B2C) market. At the same time, the business-to-business (B2B) or wholesale market has been slower to respond. But with Internet of Things (IoT) integration and adoption, a wide range of effects are being felt in the B2B market. With disruption caused by new business models like Amazon or Alibaba, it’s much harder to compete compared to just a decade ago.

Today’s B2B customer is developing expectations similar to the B2C customer of just a few years ago. New technology such as 3D printing is creating new options in logistics and manufacturing. In turn, this is driving changes in service capabilities for customers. Wholesale companies that adopt smart technology are seeing strong returns on their investments.

But how do you take your business into this brave new world? Here’s a look at a few examples of how this is happening today.

Visualize inventory management in real time

One of the biggest concerns for wholesalers is inventory management. Digitization demands that companies be more agile and flexible to respond to changing market conditions. Wholesalers need to reduce inventory levels while lowering unsellable items by improving visibility. At the same time, they need to improve service performance and lower overhead. These two aspects are often in direct competition with each other. Digitization can help improve visibility throughout the value chain while providing better performance and reducing overhead.

When you incorporate IoT technology in your warehouse systems, you can more quickly determine needs and trends. When you’re getting ready to run out of a product or component, the system can automatically reorder the low parts. If there’s always some kind of a correlation between a major industry event and an increase in sales, the computer will catch the trend for you. All you have to do is monitor the situation for issues.

Imagine intelligent maintenance, repairs, and operations

When you’re selling a product in a B2B market, there are certain expectations you need to address. Your customers are demanding increased asset uptime. At the same time, they want reduced costs. How do you meet both of these demands? Using IoT technology, such as sensors, predictive maintenance can be suggested at an early warning sign that may otherwise be missed. This allows repairs to take place before the asset fails and costs you a customer. These sensors can be placed in an extensive range of machines, from plastic extruders to refrigerators. You can also reduce remote service and parts delivery costs when using 3D printing and similar aspects of technological advancement. By responding quickly to the issue, customer satisfaction improves. This, in turn, buys you customer loyalty.

Imagine a customer’s machinery has slightly overheated. Though it’s not enough to cause immediate problems, it can lead to more expensive repairs if left as it is. A sensor picks up the temperature variance and records the exception. The digital core analyzes it to determine whether it’s an isolated incident. If it’s part of a trend, it puts in an automatic request for maintenance. The part is quickly replaced before the customer even realizes there was a problem.

Building a smarter vending machine

What about when you have a client with a large number of your products? One of the strongest factors that impact customer satisfaction with a supplier is minimal downtime. If you could improve sales, gain better service performance, lower inventories, and reduce downtime for your customers, would it make a difference in your company? Absolutely! The impact these factors can have on your company’s bottom line can be huge.

Imagine a futuristic vending machine. Instead of having drinks and snacks, it has parts. The vending machine monitors inventory levels. When an item is used, the wholesaler receives a notice of that transaction. This allows them to deliver additional parts in a reasonable fashion.

Having this capability available would sharply limit the frequency and cost of major repairs. Vending machines such as these are currently being used in the aerospace industry. In the future, a vending machine containing only a 3D printer may take the place of smart inventory systems. When an item is requested, it’s printed right there, ready for installation in a very short period of time.

By adopting digitization, you can improve your company’s ability to respond to market shifts. You’ll also see higher profitability and lower overhead costs.

Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation; download The IoT Imperative for Consumer Industries. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today: Industry 4.0: What’s Next?

Karen Lynch

About Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch is the Vice President, Global Wholesale Distribution Industry Business Unit at SAP. She sets the vision and direction and execute the go to market plan to address the needs of Wholesale Distributors across the globe by using SAP solutions.