Why Distributors?

Belden, as you know, is a manufacturer. We make stuff. For the first 100 years, it was wire and cable. Then we started to buy other companies, first other wire and cable manufacturers. Then we bought connector manufacturers. Then we bought Ethernet switch manufacturers. Now we’re into broadcast and audio-video equipment. But, you will note, these are all manufacturers. They all make stuff. Some of it is fancy stuff. Some not so fancy. And then we have to sell it to you, our customers.



Way back at the beginning, Belden chose to use a distribution model. Others sell stuff by going direct to the customer. Some have a mix of both direct and distribution. To be honest, Belden sells about 10% of its wire and cable direct. We don’t like it, but sometimes those giant customers give us no choice. Let me tell you outright, there is NO perfect model, NO perfect way of getting anything to the consumer or end-user. The one inescapable fact is that we’ve become a billion-dollar company through the distribution model. We could not possiby get that kind of business through selling direct, we just don’t have the staff or resources. We have 700 distributors (or branches of distributors) listed on our website in the USA. But way back when, we used to have a lot more. We had thousands, many thousands, of distributors. Every mom & pop distributor could sign up with Belden and sell our stuff. Many of those disappeared as the market changed. Some of those grew and lasted a long time. I worked for one that became a Belden distributor in the 1930’s. When I worked for them in the 1980’s they were the largest Belden distributor in the San Francisco Bay Area. When they downsized and let me go, I segued into being a Belden salesguy. That was 23 years ago.

And I’ve told the story before of a customer I called on early in my Belden career. He was buying wire and cable direct from another manufacturer. When he said “I go direct!”, you could fell the pride, the ego in the room. He was special! Since he would never consider buying through some lowly distribution, he freely told me what he was paying for his most common products. I was back in a week, with prices through his local Belden distributor cheaper than his direct price. He was bowled over! Belden quality, which he admitted was the best, at a competitive price, and from a distributor with a warehouse, so he wouldn’t have to stock anything. He told the distributor what to stock, and to what level, and in what colors. He then had a half a warehouse to fill with all the other stuff he bought and this company took off like a rocket with growth. So his “deal” was no deal at all. His other manufacturer was just keeping all the money instead of sharing it with a distributor.

And, as I arrived at Belden, we were beginning to do computer studies of our thousands of distributors, some big, some small. And it became very apparent that the small mom & pop places cost us more to handle the paperwork than they were buying in products. Around this time, we bought Alpha, so we “encouraged” these small distributors to go to Alpha. Today, if you come up to me and say “I want to go direct with Belden,” well, we’ll have a little discussion. I used to say “$250,000 in inventory”. Now, I think we’re getting close to seven figures in inventory. And that’s just to start. Do you have that kind of money? I don’t.

Of course, there are those other companies that would sell direct to you. They call themselves “manufacturers”, but it would be a good idea to ask them, “Where is your factory? Can I tour your factory?” You’ll find out pretty quickly that they are not manufacturers, no matter what they say. They buy products from others and sell them to you. We call that a “distributor”. Hey, you’re back where you started. Now if you really do find a manufacturer that will sell you direct, there are other things to consider. First is, a factory works on a schedule. So that factory will put your order on a schedule. Your cable will be available in two months, or maybe one month if you’re lucky. You want it tomorrow? Sorry about that. You should go talk to a distributor. That’s where the inventory is, on their shelves. Oh, that’s right, you want to “go direct”.

The truth is, with the inventory tax laws we now have, we are penalized for having any inventory. Sure, we have some, but not like we used to have! In the old days, that mom & pop distributor would order the cable you wanted from Belden and then sell it to you. We call that a “broker” not a “distributor”. The distributor should have what you want sitting on his/her shelf. If he doesn’t, talk to him/her about their inventory. If they won’t carry what you need, find another distributor. (Remember, we have 700 listed on our website.)

There’s also a secret way to find the perfect distributor for you. Pick the cable that you have the hardest time finding. Then call our Customer Service (1-800-235-3361, that spells 1-800-BELDEN-1). Push the buttons on your phone and ask “Can you tell me which distributors have bought this particular Belden cable?” Then look them up on our website and go talk to them!


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