Capital Group, a plumbing supplies distributor, and are taking several steps to adjust their operations to the coronavirus.

For distributors with an ecommerce site, the coronavirus has brought on a wave of crisis management issues.

Our warehousing staff works in six-hour shifts, though we are paying them for eight hours.
Ernie Cox, vice president of IT
Capital Group Inc.


Those issues cover the gamut of digital business challenges, from dealing with disrupted supply chains and finding new product sources to finding new ways to generate web sales as orders fall off from manufacturers with shuttered factories. “We are seeing ecommerce sites with a higher than normal demand slow down or almost stop,” says Karie Daudt, senior commerce consultant with digital transformation consulting firm Perficient Digital. “Everyone is doing the best they can and adapting to meet the challenges of the current situation.”

Many distributors are making adjustments to their digital and branch operations to keep orders going out on time to customers.

Adjusting warehouse operations

Capitol Group Inc., a wholesaler and distributor of hydronic plumbing and heating equipment and supplies, is adjusting its workforce maintain safe operations and keep ecommerce orders fulfilled and delivered, says vice president of information technology and supply Ernie Cox. “Our warehousing staff works in six-hour shifts, though we are paying them for eight hours,” Cox says. “The first shift is to be gone promptly before the second shift arrives to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination.”


Capitol Group, based in Springfield, Illinois, also is using email and electronic messaging services in different ways to keep order-related information and paperwork flowing. “We divided up tasks between in-office and home-office workers where possible,” Cox says. “As an example, the scanning of packing lists are completed by someone in-office but then emailed to someone working from home for the attachment process. Previously, we didn’t scan packing lists—we simply forwarded them to our corporate payables department for reconciliation and filing.”

Other online sellers say they’ve lost significant amounts of orders but have been able to replace at least some of them with new products and customers.

Selling more to hospitals and consumers, a web-only distributor of food and foodservice equipment and supplies, relies in large part on sales to restaurants that have closed their dining rooms during the pandemic. As a result, it has seen its B2B sales shrink from 75% to about half of its total sales. But it has seen an uptick in sales to hospitals and to consumers to help pick up the slack, says Adeel Murtaza, head of ecommerce technology.

Before the coronavirus took hold, ecommerce was growing but at a slower pace for many distributors. And as this year unfolds with the virus pandemic, companies are dealing with ongoing market changes.


“The reality is that distributors and wholesalers with ecommerce in place are managing better than ones without,” Daudt says. “The high demand is making it challenging for companies that underinvested in the digital channel in the past. Even digitally mature companies are having to make changes to adapt to demand.”

(This article is part of a longer report that Digital Commerce 360 will soon publish on how online companies are dealing with the coronavirus.)

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