Anonymous Distributor

What defines a mass merchant? You must be thinking, “A.D. you have that wrong (again);” the question is, “What defines a dealer?” Nope, I, for the first time, know what I am asking. What defines a mass merchant? The reason I ask is because driving to __________ the other day from ___________, I heard a commercial for an orange handheld manufacturer named _______. They say they are only sold in dealers. I love that, if it is 100-percent accurate. May we analyze this statement for about 300 words?

Besides selling to independent dealers, this company, for whom I have great admiration, also sells to Ace and True Value dealers. They also sell to small regional, here it comes, wait for it, mass merchants. At least they look like mass merchants to me. Remember my original question? What defines a mass merchant? A.D. thinks a mass merchant is a store that might have multiple locations, they sell everything under the sun, and they don’t offer service. BINGO! Maybe that’s what the definition of a dealer is to this particular manufacturer – a store that provides service. Could it be that simple? Yes, it’s possible, but still not sure; so let’s keep examining this question. By the way, this is not an article to upset any manufacturer – just trying to get to the bottom of the question of what defines a mass merchant.

Independent hardware stores and hardware chains promote many products to their customers. They have hardware, lawn and garden tools, keys, candy, nuts, bolts, screws, grills, paint and more. So why aren’t they considered a mass merchant? It doesn’t matter what I think, but it probably matters to you. Are hardware stores your competition? If you say that you have two sides to your business – one side hardware and the other side equipment dealership – then you are immediately disqualified! Actually, it would be nice to know if you find yourself competing against yourself. (That is an attempt at humor. Mrs. A.D. says I need work on that area.) But seriously, do you consider the hardware store as competition?

I visited a couple dealers the other day. Two different product lines and yet the same things said without my prompting. The first said, “Down the street they are selling ________ at an Ace store for the same price as I sell it for. They also don’t have to buy the amount you make me buy.” The next dealer said that a particular line is sold at the hardware stores, and it hurts his business. I asked why, and he said because it is another place to buy the same product. As far as the first comment, I agree that the hardware store doesn’t have to buy the same amount as my dealer. They are nationwide, a part of a buying co-op, and the national volume allows for this. The hardware store, remember, does have to pay for its membership (franchise fee, I suppose) for the name and product availability. I’m pretty sure if you want to be a hardware store for that chain, I imagine they would talk to you.

I think the biggest problem with manufacturers selling to hardware stores is the amount of members they have and how that affects you. For example, there could be five hardware stores with the same products you carry within five miles of your business. When we, as a distributor, go out and find dealers for our product lines, we like to give them a good coverage area. We are the ones that can control that. When a small regional mass merchant or national hardware chain takes on a line, multiple “dealers” appear. You are competing with other “dealers,” but they are not a dealer like you. They are part of, or are, a mass merchant.

Let me know what you think about the subject. Even after all those words, I am not convinced what defines a dealer and what defines a mass merchant. Perhaps you can chime in and tell me I don’t know what I am talking about, or that I am a literal wizard! 

Remember to keep your blades and mind sharp. You can contact me via e-mail at or you can tweet me @OPEMAGAD.


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