Let’s face it. Most of us haven’t seen business disruption—life disruption—like this before. It’s hard to find a news story or television ad that doesn’t mention the pandemic, even as some countries are beginning to reopen their economies. We are living in strange and uncertain times, but adversity can create opportunity. So, I went looking for some good news stories in the wholesale distribution industry—examples of companies finding opportunity in challenging times.

According to a recent survey of brand and marketing professionals, 94% said that COVID-19 is having an impact on their brand and content strategy. And Mark Dancer, founder of the Network for Business Innovation has commented: Distribution, relative to other industries, doesn’t spend a lot of time on sophisticated brand development…this is a really good chance to start building your brand and moving it in new directions. Even in cases where businesses may have seen dramatic disruption there is opportunity.

Sysco, a leading food service distributor, is a perfect example. Almost overnight, the majority of Sysco’s restaurant customers, and establishments offering dine in service were either closing their doors entirely, or only permitted to offer takeout and delivery. So, the company launched the Foodservice Doesn’t Brake for Adversity campaign, which uses both traditional and social media channels to highlight the resilience of foodservice workers and encourage Americans to support their local restaurants. Sysco hopes the campaign will help small foodservice businesses stay afloat.

In addition, the company is making monetary donations to No Kid Hungry by Share Our Strength, a non-profit organization working to solve problems of hunger and poverty, and donating millions of meals in the regions and communities in which it operates.

While Sysco was experiencing plummeting demand from its restaurant customers, The Kroger Co. was having trouble keeping its distribution centers staffed up for the increased demand from its grocery store customers. Sysco had to furlough employees, but they partnered with Kroger to provide temporary work opportunities for some of these associates. According to Kevin Hourican, President and CEO of Sysco: This agreement will benefit many of Sysco’s associates by creating good work opportunities with a respected company, while at the same time helping to alleviate strain in the food supply chain due to a surge in demand at retail stores. A win for Sysco. A win for Kroger. And a win for food supply.

Another example of a successful brand pivot is Classic Products Corp., a distributor to bowling centers. With practically all their customers currently shut down, there is little business to be done. And when the bowling alleys can reopen, there is widespread recognition that it will be a slow slog to fill the lanes.

On a recent MDM (Modern Distribution Management) webcast, Mike Eid, President of Classic Products Corp. described ways in which they are actively supporting their customers. The programs range from guidance on how to apply for relevant loans and funding, to a Competitive Clean initiative, which aims to promote and demonstrate how clean their customers’ locations are in order to regain public confidence.

By becoming the ‘go-to’ resource for information and assistance, Classic Products Corp. strengthened relationships with their existing customers. Perhaps more importantly, they are positioning themselves in a positive light for potential customers and building a confidence-enabling brand that will benefit when things take a turn for the better.

For both Sysco and Classic Products Corp., business conditions deteriorated rapidly. But they each demonstrated agility and ingenuity in the face of adversity. Moreover, they successfully demonstrated a commitment to their employees, customers, and society at large. This will be remembered—and rewarded—by their stakeholders long after life has returned to normal.

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