IDI Independent Distributors Inc.
As Canada’s largest industrial supply distribution network, IDI Independent Distributors consists of more than 100 member companies across the country. Combined, this network of industrial distributors has more than 200 locations and combined sales of more than $1 billion. This makes the cooperative an economic force to be reckoned with, but the benefits IDI provides to its members make it greater than the sum of its parts.
President Scott Bebenek says IDI began as an informal association of four distributors who came together because they were concerned about accessing product lines that they didn’t have the volume to access on their own. The distributors combined their buying power in early 1981, and by the end of that year they formally established IDI with the help of its first executive director, Don Knowles.
Today, IDI consists of more than 100 distributors specializing in industrial supplies from leading vendors. These product lines include bearings, fluid power products, power transmission products, safety supplies and janitorial supplies. By combining the presence of these distributors into one nationwide network, IDI helps its members stand on their own against large, multinational competitors while still remaining independent.
Members of the IDI network agree to sell products to each other at a set rate, giving them access to product lines they may not have access to on their own. Bebenek says sales among the various members of IDI total approximately $10 million a year.
Bebenek says IDI also provides its members with a centralized electronic database that gives them a single source for data on available products. The cooperative also produces a professional-looking print catalog every five years that Bebenek says “is certainly a head-turner in the industry.” IDI also helps members establish private labels and create ecommerce networks to streamline the links between IDI’s shareholders and vendors. “The one competitive advantage that IDI has in terms of what we do as a co-op is the breadth of services that we offer,” Bebenek says.
In addition to the tangible benefits of membership in the IDI network, members report that there are intangible benefits as well. The collective experience and knowledge that IDI’s members bring to the fold give members more than just added buying power, and being able to share in that collective knowledge can be just as important. All of these things taken together make IDI a valuable resource for its members and a smash success story among other co-ops throughout North America.
Bebenek says IDI holds regular conferences for its members where they can get together and share information about the marketplace. He says members do a lot of networking at these events that often leads to new partnerships and new business for members. This is made much easier by the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie that pervades IDI. “The reason our conferences are so successful is because of our shareholders,” Bebenek says. “It’s a family reunion of sorts.”
Rob Inglis, branch manager for IDI member Charles Jones Industrial and a past IDI chairman of the board, says the interactions he and his company have with other members at IDI conferences have been a big help. “I think personally the biggest asset is the networking,” he says. “You find out what everybody in the industry is doing.”
Current Chairman of the Board Mark Levac of Levac Supply Ltd. says although his company was attracted to joining IDI at first because of the rebate opportunities it offered, the opportunity to share best practices with other companies in the same field made it a worthwhile commitment. “For us, the single-greatest value is the networking, and that’s an intangible that’s hard to put a value on,” Levac says. “It’s wonderful to be able to pick up the phone and call a guy like [Inglis].
“There is some level of competitiveness that goes on among members, but it’s not the driving force,” Levac adds.
Driving More Value
Bebenek says IDI continues to look for new opportunities to drive business to its shareholders. He says the co-op is doing more than ever to help its members on the back-end, helping them with marketing and creating e-commerce sites. Levac says this is even more important today because of the rampant consolidation throughout the industry. As more industrial supply distributors consolidate and become larger entities, independent distributors like those that make up IDI face increasing pressure. Levac says IDI helps keep the smaller independents from being forced to consolidate to survive, ultimately resulting in a strong industry with more choices for end-customers. “Our industry is still very much driven by the independents,” he says.
IDI also provides benefits to suppliers, Levac says. By giving certain vendors a national customer base virtually overnight, IDI makes it easier for vendors to be introduced to its members. Vice President of Supplier Relations John Morrison says IDI has proven to be a valuable partner for major vendors including Superior Glove. “We help them grow their business,” he says. “That’s one of the major things and that’s the value we bring.”
Bebenek says vendors also appreciate the fact that IDI monitors the financial health of its members, and Inglis adds that the co-op’s regular conferences give shareholders the opportunity to meet vendors who operate outside of their geographic footprint. “It allows them to meet in a one-on-one situation,” he says.
Above all else, however, the primary value IDI has is that its members all share ownership in the co-op and therefore are personally invested in its success. That will prove to be extremely important for IDI and its shareholders going forward into the future, Inglis says. “If you look at other buying organizations, they don’t have that,” he says.