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Top Market Reports on the Largest Wholesalers Worldwide

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Global Wholesaling Industry

As a part of the wider retail industry and the business services market, the global wholesaling market refers to the management and transfer of goods in a distribution chain from manufacturer to retailer. Wholesale distributors sell or orchestrate sale or purchase of goods between wholesalers or the sale of goods by wholesalers to retailers, and non-consumer goods in the form of material used in production. Other industry actors include logistics, warehousing and transportation organizations.

The wholesaling industry thrives due to manufacturers or customers superior supply chain functions performance compared with that of manufacturers or customers. Wholesaler-distributors facilitate service consistency, the meeting of customer demands and are necessary for local presence and flexibility. Wholesale distribution represents the largest channel to market for manufacturers and the most valuable supply chain for customers, especially in the case of multiple smaller customers and an array of manufacturers.


Wholesale distributers are obliged to stay up to date on customs regulations in countries where they distribute goods. Customer services and port authorities demand earlier and earlier briefing regarding container contents to be able to spot potential security breaches or illegal goods imports. A SAP (Systems, Application, and Products in Data Processing) wholesale distribution report points out that product handling and safety is of increasing importance. Distributing outfits can be held accountable for damaged or unsafe products regardless of the fact that they may not have had any involvement in manufacturing those products.

Key Categories

Merchant wholesalers are the leading type of wholesale firm, and represent the main distribution channel for most goods apart from motor vehicles and parts. Merchant wholesalers, who take ownership of products prior to distribution, are divided into subcategories, including importer and exporters, co-operative buying associations, industrial distributors, and farm products marketing cooperatives. Other merchant wholesaler types include voluntary group wholesalers, assemblers, industrial distributors, terminal elevators, retailer cooperative warehouses, cash-and-carry wholesalers and drop shippers.

Wholesale agents and brokers sell general goods, farm products, petroleum products, and apparel. They include food brokers, import and export agents, auction companies, and manufacturing agents. They can be divided into two main categories: full service merchant wholesalers and limited service merchant wholesalers. The former encompass two subcategories; wholesalers selling mainly to retailers, and industrial distributors selling to manufacturers. Limited service merchant wholesalers provide a narrower range of services, and can be divided into different categories including truck wholesalers and cash and carry wholesalers.

Brokers and agents, on the other hand, perform a narrower range of functions and do not take ownership of products. The role of brokers is to facilitate negotiation and to act as an interface between buyers and sellers.

Regional Market Share

There are around 300,000 companies operating within the US wholesale distribution sector, according to Hoovers, and these generate around $5 trillion a year combined. Larger distribution outfits include: McKesson serving the pharmaceutical sector, SYSCO in the food industry, and Avnet specializing in electronics. The industry is characterized by fragmentation, with the 50 leading distributors accounting for around 25% of the overall market in terms of revenue.

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Parent industry: Retail
Related industries: Specialty Store, Non-Store Retail, In-Store Retail, General Dealer

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