The Distributors, a cooperative of independent, local P&C focused transport and logistics companies, came together in Port Douglas last week for the National ‘Thrive’ Conference, where distributors were joined by product and service suppliers, key retailers and industry experts to learn, focus, plan and celebrate.

The pandemic bought the role of all supply chain participants into sharp relief for many Australian consumers, however in petrol and convenience, where deep product offerings are combined with ever evolving new product lines and local delivery pressures, the importance of the ‘into store’ element of the supply chain has never been far from operators minds.  This often hidden (at least from the customer) element of the supply chain is absolutely vital to the success of independent P&C operators.  The Distributors have proven themselves over and again to be more than a supplier to be a partner in success, delivering the local, customised and exceptional service that retailers demand.

This core commitment to service is a fundamental tenant of The Distributors as a group, a commitment that was woven throughout the conference.

“Retailer, Supplier and Distributors need to work together to focus on having the right product in the right location at the right time at the right price, so that our consumers continue to shop, support and seek local”  says George Tsapoutas, CEO of The Distributors.

“For us as Distributors, it is all about SERVICE!  We are known for our service and we have to ensure that we continue to focus and deliver that exceptional service every day for our customers.  This is critical to our long term success”, continued George.

This message was heard loud and clear by the cooperative members in the Member Only Session on Day 1, where Mr Tsapoutas provided members with an update on the results of the previous year and the projects planned for the coming year.

Members then heard from Richard Forbes, CEO of the Independent Food Distributors Association on the advocacy and activity the Association had been engaging in.

The Members Only Session concluded with an in-depth presentation from industry expert Elisha Radwanowski of ACAPMA.  Elisha provided Members with detailed information on the changes to the employment landscape including a deep dive into multi employer bargaining before reviewing the proposed changes that are in consultation phase now.  Following the presentation a lively and lengthy Q & A session on the practical implication of the changes in members businesses was only brought to a close so that Members could hurry over to the official Conference Opening and Welcome to Country with the other delegates.

Delegates were then invited to the Welcome Function, presented by Mondelez International (Australia), where suppliers, distributors and retailers caught up with colleagues.

The sound of 200 people refreshing existing relationships and building new ones was halted when Gus Balbontin, firecracker human, investor and adventurer provided delegates with an intimate view of the places living Without Limits can take you.

Gus’ key message was to hold onto the difference between having resources and being resourceful…the bigger a business gets the more dependent on resources, but the most successful businesses and people are focused on being resourceful. Resourcefulness and adaptability are all that’s needed to be successful in the future…armed with these lived values you don’t need to know what the future holds you will be able to thrive!

As businesses we need to be careful to ensure when we are solving problems we are solving the customers problem not our own problems…because momentum can quickly become inertia and inertia will kill success almost as fast as a lack of flexibility (or a pile of nice comfy concrete).

Building adaptability needs to be done incrementally…and today! Change needs to be; simple, small and NOW!!!

Day 2 kicked off with suppliers, distributors, retailers and experts in The Glade where George Tsapoutas, CEO of The Distributors opened the day with a review of the year past, including an open assessment of the successes and the areas where the service missed the mark due to stock outages or supply inconsistencies.  Highlighting the members role in driving growth across all categories in all geographical areas George also addressed that while the remnants of COVID supply chain disruptions are still seen in the outage reports, as markets and supply has stabilised the coming year will see cleaner stock lines and fewer outages.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of AACS then presented the delegates with an overview of the AACS 2022 State of the Industry Report.  Theo highlighted the importance and steady growth of the convenience channel and the shifting focus towards food service.

Karen Campbell from MyBrandz Software (home of WidgetWorld) gave the delegates a pre launch look into customisable catalogue and e-commerce facilitating MyBrandz X app that has been designed to allow distributor and even client level customisation to drive personal, local and efficient catalogue and buying comms.

Mark McKenzie, CEO of ACAPMA then provided an expert perspective on the current state and future challenges for the EV market and the impact that will have on the distributors as freight fleet operators, but also to the changing needs and focus of the distributors key customer channel; the petrol and convenience retailers.  Mark highlighted that while EVs are nothing new the physical, geographical, economical and political realities are such that they are likely to only provide a part of the future fuel mix out to 2050 and that the emerging low carbon and synthetic diesel technologies are going to play an important and growing part in the mission to decarbonise the transport sector.  Mark outlined that while the transition is not going to happen overnight, it is going to have an impact on retailers and that they are preparing now with three distinct strategic approaches evident in P&C in Australia, each with its own impacts on supply chain partners like The Distributors as the industry moves towards a Mobility Convenience focus that encompasses the suite of transport energies.

Jacqui Cooper, International Superstar, World Champion Aerial Skier and all round fabulous madwoman treated delegates to her story.  Inspirational and insightful Jacqui’s presentation left the delegates buzzing with her infectious energy and relentless drive to succeed.

The “speedating” style Pitch Deck Sessions were back in 2023, again seeing suppliers sitting down together explore offerings in a tight 20 minutes per meeting.

Day 2 finished up with the Thrive & Refresh Dinner at the Hemingway Brewery presented by Frucor Suntory where loud shirts and loud laughs were the order of the day.

Day 3 the Pitch Deck Sessions continued for the morning.  After lunch the Deep Dive Gold Business Updates and Silver Activities added further context to the existing learnings and engagements.

The conference wrapped up with the Cane Cutters Ball in the breathtaking setting of the cane fields as the sun set and the stars twinkled.

The annual Excellence Awards were presented as part of the Ball.  The party kicked on late into the evening at the Daintree Bar courtesy of Red Bull.

The Distributors Excellence Award Winners 2023

  • Supplier of the Year – Better for You: Bounce
  • E-commerce: Accredited Distributors Geelong
  • Most Outstanding Sales Result: Nestle
  • Best Supplier DIFOT Award: Bundaberg Brewed Drinks
  • Supplier of the Year up to $5m: Sanitarium
  • Supplier of the Year up to $10m: AIT
  • Best Product Launch Beverage: Red Bull The Purple Edition
  • Best Product Launch Snack: Burger Man Saucee Original
  • Best Product Launch Confectionery: Lifesavers
  • Best Product Launch Novelty: Chupa Chups – Chupa Surprise
  • Supplier of the Year over $20m: Snackbrands Australia
  • Supplier of the Year Over $50m: Smith’s
  • Sales Representative of the Year: Renee Creasey

It was not all work.  There was time to meditate, explore the beautiful Port Douglas region and just chill out, with the Shine+ Mind and Movement morning activity sessions of the Tonik and Halo Food Co walking tours, the Nestle Kit Kat massage sessions or just a cuppa at the Sanitarium coffee cart.

Photo Galleries

ACAPMA congratulates to The Distributors on a fabulous event and acknowledges the critical role they play in the healthy operation of the industry.

“It is often underestimated the special relationship The Distributors have with retailers, but I am always reminded of a great story from one of my members” explains ACAPMAs Elisha Radwanowski.

The Distributors:  Going the extra mile

“We are committed to delivering for our customers.  We are competitive on price, we offer a deep and wide range, but you absolutely cant go past our service” adds George.

“The story I often tell is of one of our customers who was doing a community event on a Sunday and found that they forgot to order a box of a particular chocolate bar.  They called their Distributor, who, being a small business, took the call, popped into the warehouse and grabbed the box, put it into the back of his car and drove it over to the event.  That is the kind of service you don’t get from the average product delivery service.  Our Distributors are local, family business operators and they live and work in these communities too, they go the extra mile for their customers” continues George.

One of The Distributors network, JB Metropolitan Distributors, was highlighted recently for displaying this commitment to going above and beyond for their customers.  Local fuel retailer Eddy Nader (Urbanista) was gearing up for the Christmas crazy time when his ice supplier called with devastating news.  “Four of his drivers had caught COVID, while the other warehouse staff had been placed in isolation as close contacts.  I was not going to get any ice for Christmas because he couldn’t get it to me.  This is our busiest time for ice all year.  I put in a call to our local confectionery and frozen supplier, Steven Hochbaum from JB Metro, and let him know I was in trouble and could I please borrow one of his freezer trucks for a couple of days to get my ice.  Steve didn’t blink.  He didn’t even hesitate.  He said ‘come pick it up and keep it with you until the New Year’” explains Eddy.

“I really feel for our ice supplier, Lidcombe Ice, they have supplied us for over 30 years and I know they did not ask for COVID shortages to impact my deliveries.  But thanks to the amazing support of JB Metro, and the cooperation of Lidcombe Ice, I was able to keep the stores stocked and selling ice.  That kind of loyalty and support is something you never forget.  That is service you never walk away from.  I can’t thank JB Metro, Steven and the whole Spiteri family enough.  Us small businesses need to support each other and stick together” adds Eddy.

Going the extra mile is part of The Distributors DNA, it is inherent in their model.  “The foundation of what we do is maintain relationships and service.  We care.  These customers are our friends, they are part of our communities and we will always bend over backwards to get them what they need to keep them moving, selling and successful” adds George.

Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)