What Is Wholesale Distribution?

what is Wholesale distribution - B2BWoo

It would be a logistical nightmare for every store to buy directly from every manufacturer! Thankfully, we have wholesale distribution, a system that acts as the middleman between manufacturers who make products and retailers who sell them to you.

Imagine the last time you walked through your local store, amazed by the many products available. Each item likely went through different paths before landing in your hands, and wholesale distribution played a significant, though often unnoticed, role in this journey.

This vital industry acts as the unsung hero of the economy, connecting manufacturers with retailers and ultimately, bringing the products you love to your local store shelves. This wholesale distribution industry makes a vital connection in the global supply chain by facilitating the distribution of a significant portion of products among business partners globally.

According to a report, in 2022, the market size of the wholesale industry in the United States was $12.2 trillion, and it’s growing faster than the economy overall.

What is Wholesale Distribution?

Think of it like this: imagine you’re having a birthday party and need lots of balloons. Instead of buying them one by one at the store, you could go to a wholesaler who sells them in bulk at a cheaper price. That’s basically what wholesale distributors do!

Definition: “Wholesale distribution is known as the process that involves selling large quantities of products or goods to retailers or other businesses, who can then resell to end consumers.”

Wholesale businesses play a vital role in connecting manufacturers with the retailers who sell their end products directly to consumers. Historically, only a few manufacturers have directly sold their products to retailers or consumers. Wholesale distributors serve as intermediaries by purchasing large quantities of products from manufacturers, storing them, and then supplying them to retailers and other businesses. This arrangement allows manufacturers to concentrate on designing, producing, and promoting their products without needing to invest extensively in sales efforts or manage relationships with numerous small retailers.

Wholesalers typically carry a wide array of products, simplifying retailers’ operations as they can access a diverse range of goods without the added complexity of dealing with multiple suppliers.

In some industries, distribution involves multiple tiers, with larger wholesale distributors specializing in supplying smaller, regional, or niche distributors. Additionally, some wholesalers also function as suppliers of raw materials to manufacturers.

Here’s how it works:

  • Manufacturers: These are the companies that create the products you see in stores, like toys, clothes, or food.
  • Wholesale distributors: These are businesses that buy large quantities of products from manufacturers at discounted prices. They then store these products in warehouses and sell them in smaller quantities to retailers.
  • Retailers: These are the stores you visit to buy products, like grocery stores, clothing shops, or online retailers.

Common Names Used for Wholesale Distributors

The specific term that is used will depend on the industry, the type of products that are being sold, and the business model of the company. So, here are some other common names for wholesale distributors:

  • Wholesaler
  • Distributor
  • Supply House
  • Importer/exporter
  • Master distributor
  • Dealer
  • Jobber
  • Buying/selling group
  • Trading companies

What Is the Role a Wholesale Distributor performs?

  • Ensuring Product Availability: Wholesale distributors play a significant role in ensuring the availability of various products in the market by distributing them from manufacturers to retailers.
  • Maintaining Large Inventories: Distributors maintain extensive stock in warehouses, providing retailers access to a wide range of products without dealing directly with multiple manufacturers.
  • Streamlining the Purchasing process: Distributors consolidate products, simplifying the purchasing process for retailers and enabling them to source various products from different suppliers through a single distributor.

Benefits of Wholesale Distribution

  • Saves manufacturers time and money: Manufacturers save time and money by avoiding the need to sell to individual stores, allowing them to focus on production.
  • Increased Market Reach: Manufacturers working with wholesale distributors can expand their market with less investment, as distributors handle distribution to various retailers.
  • Better prices: By buying in bulk, distributors get discounts from manufacturers, which they then pass on to retailers, who can offer lower prices to you.
  • Wider product selection: Wholesalers often carry a variety of products from different manufacturers, giving retailers a wider selection to choose from.
  • Simplified Operations: Wholesalers simplify operations for both manufacturers and retailers by consolidating large orders and streamlining ordering processes.
  • Supply Chain Stability: Wholesalers maintain inventory, ensuring a stable supply of products and mitigating the risk of shortages for companies throughout the supply chain.
  • Storage Capacity: Wholesalers provide extensive warehouse space for storing inventory, relieving manufacturers and retailers from the burden and cost of maintaining large stocks.

Types of Wholesale Distributors

General Merchandise Distributors

These are the jack-of-all-trades, offering a wide variety of products across different industries such as apparel, home decor, beauty, toys, gifting, and more. They’re extremely convenient distributors for boutiques or big-box stores that prefer sourcing products from a single supplier instead of buying in bulk from various sources. However, they typically lack the specialized industry knowledge and relationships of more focused distributors. They are like a one-stop shop for retailers seeking diverse inventory.

Specialized Distributors

Unlike their general counterparts, these distributors focus on specific product categories, like electronics, clothing, or food. They offer in-depth knowledge and expertise within their niche, catering to specialized retailers.

Regional Distributors

Regional distributors focus on serving wholesale distribution needs within a specific geographic area. They possess extensive knowledge of the local market, including key trends, consumer demand, and effective sales strategies. Retailers partnering with regional distributors not only purchase products but also gain valuable insights into their local customer base, leading to increased sales.

Manufacturer-owned Distributors

These are essentially extensions of the manufacturer, directly selling and distributing their own products to retailers. They maintain tight control over brand image and product availability.

Wholesale Importers/Distributors

Wholesale importers/distributors specialize in sourcing products from overseas suppliers or manufacturers, particularly for items that may be challenging for retailers to find domestically due to limited raw materials or manufacturing expertise. They play a vital role in connecting businesses with individual manufacturers or suppliers for ethnic, unique, or specialized products.


Dropshipping is a kind of wholesale distribution. Dropshippers typically operate within the realm of wholesale distribution, facilitating sales between businesses and end customers without physically storing inventory. Instead, they oversee order processing and customer communication, while the supplier handles order fulfillment and shipping directly to the end customer.

Reading Suggestion: What Is The Difference Between Wholesalers And Distributors

Challenges of Wholesale Distribution

Wholesale distribution has historically been the primary method of connecting manufacturers and retailers since the beginning of the industrial age. However, wholesale distributors are currently facing challenges on multiple fronts:

  • Fluctuating demand: Predicting customer needs can be tricky, leading to overstocking or stockouts, and impacting profitability.
  • Competition: The market is crowded, with distributors vying for business from retailers. Offering competitive pricing and value-added services is crucial for standing out.
  • Margin pressures: Maintaining profit margins can be challenging, especially with rising costs and competition. Efficient operations and strategic pricing are essential.
  • Technological advancements: E-commerce and changing consumer preferences necessitate continuous adaptation and investment in technology to stay relevant.

Examples of Wholesale Distribution

Wholesale distribution has specific applications that differ across various industries. Here’s a glimpse into how this vital system operates in four major subsegments:

1 – Healthcare

Pharmaceutical distributors: Giants like McKesson and Cardinal Health act as intermediaries between drug manufacturers and hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies. They ensure the timely delivery of critical medications and medical supplies.

Medical equipment distributors: Companies like Medline and Henry Schein distribute a wide range of medical equipment, from bandages and syringes to diagnostic tools and surgical instruments, to healthcare providers.

2 – High-Tech

IT distributors: Ingram Micro and Tech Data are prominent names in the tech world, supplying computer hardware, software, and other IT components to retailers, system integrators, and businesses.

Mobile distributors: Companies like Brightstar and SYNNEX work with smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung to distribute phones and mobile accessories to retailers and carriers.

3 – Food & Beverage

    Foodservice distributors: Sysco and US Foods play a leading role in the restaurant industry, delivering a vast array of food and beverage products to restaurants, hotels, and other food service businesses.

    Grocery distributors: McLane and Supervalu distribute packaged food, beverages, and other grocery items to supermarkets, convenience stores, and other retail outlets.

    4 – Industrial

    Industrial supply distributors: Grainger and MSC Industrial supply a wide range of industrial tools, equipment, and MRO (maintenance, repair, and operations) supplies to manufacturing facilities, construction sites, and other industrial enterprises.

    Specialty distributors: Companies like Fastenal and Ferguson specialize in specific industrial segments, such as fasteners, electrical supplies, or plumbing equipment, offering deep product knowledge and targeted services.

    Wrapping up Wholesale Distribution

    Wholesale distribution is a process where goods are bought in large quantities from manufacturers or suppliers and then sold in smaller quantities to retailers or other businesses. The wholesaler acts as an intermediary between the manufacturer and the retailer, facilitating the movement of goods through the supply chain.

    This wholesale distribution industry acts like a behind-the-scenes conductor, making sure goods move efficiently from manufacturers to retailers globally.

    Wholesale distribution offers convenience to retailers and saves money for manufacturers. This model allows manufacturers to focus on production while providing retailers with access to a wide variety of products without having to deal directly with multiple suppliers.

    So, the next time you grab a product, think about the unseen work of wholesale distribution, ensuring it travels smoothly from the factory to your hands.

    Ready to streamline your wholesale operations? Explore B2BWoo, the ultimate WooCommerce B2B solution designed for seamless, affordable, and quick setup of your wholesale eCommerce portal. Book your demo today and start transforming your wholesale business!

    Khizra Khan is an experienced SEO and technical writer, specializing in e-commerce. Passionate about startups and technology, aiming to make complex technical concepts accessible to all. Her engaging writing style and deep research skills make her a go-to expert in digital innovation.