Nissco picNISSCO gives its members a stronger presence in the jan/san distribution market than they would have otherwise.

By Chris Petersen

There may be no better representation of the phrase “strength in numbers” than a group purchasing organization like NISSCO. The Virginia-based group provides group purchasing services to more than 230 distributors in the janitorial/sanitary and safety industry, the vast majority of which are small, family owned and operated companies. President Keen Umbehr says NISSCO understands the importance that group purchasing has for these smaller operators, and the group concentrates on serving their distinct needs in a way that’s responsive and based on relationships.

With its footprint across the United States and Canada, NISSCO is the leading maintenance and sanitary supply group purchasing and marketing organization in the United States. The group offers national purchasing programs with dozens of leading manufacturers of such janitorial/sanitary and safety products as chemicals, maintenance equipment, safety supplies, foodservice supplies, housekeeping items and packaging supplies.

Thanks to the group’s presence in those spaces, NISSCO creates more than $2 billion in purchasing power each year. “We provide independent jan/san distributors value through purchasing programs that deliver ‘buy-side’ programs and incentives,” the group says. “NISSCO is the only JanSan buying group fully committed to the supplier-distributor-end user distribution model, and we improve efficiencies and grow businesses through access to affordable technologies and e-commerce tools.” nissco box

Umbehr describes NISSCO as “a family of family owned businesses,” and he says the group offers its members significant advantages over other purchasing organizations. As its members face increasing pressures from the market, Umbehr says NISSCO continues to strive to provide them with the best opportunities and the strongest advantages to help them keep pace with their larger competitors.

Complete Services

One of the biggest differentiators between NISSCO and other group purchasing organizations is that NISSCO is highly selective when it comes to forming relationships with suppliers. “The biggest advantage I would say we have is, unlike some other groups, we have the smallest supplier portfolio of any group,” Umbehr says.

Unlike many of the group purchasing organizations it competes with, NISSCO doesn’t bring in new suppliers just to pad out its portfolio. Instead, Umbehr says, the group works with suppliers only when it knows its can provide better impact for them, rather than simply recreating the existing marketplace for them. “Instead, we’ve chosen to keep a smaller supplier portfolio so we can really drive impact,” Umbehr says.

When it comes to working with its members, Umbehr says, NISSCO looks for distributors that fit well with its culture above all else. He says the group wants to work with distributors that will support the culture within NISSCO and work well with other distributors. NISSCO strives to promote a positive and family-oriented environment within the organization, and to that end NISSCO does not require its members to sign contracts, preferring to build relationships based on trust and mutual benefit. “We really try to look for a culture fit with our distributors,” Umbehr says.

Another significant factor for NISSCO and its members is that the group doesn’t have its own private brand in the marketplace, unlike many of its competitors. “NISSCO knows that the cornerstone of the JanSan business is the relationship between our suppliers and distributors,” the group says. “Our programs are based on driving supplier products through distribution to the end-user, and we never compete with our members for end-user dollars. Instead, we find ways to enhance margin at the end-user.”

Among the services NISSCO provides to help distributors enhance their margins is group marketing through sister company AXIS Group Marketing Organization. “NISSCO's alliance with AXIS GMO delivers the most innovative marketing tools at the most affordable prices,” the group says. “At a price point achieved through group leverage, members gain the marketing advice of seasoned industry professionals and customized marketing strategies that include SEO and social media, E-marketing [and] website design.”

Changing the Process

Umbehr says the future is bringing some big changes to NISSCO and its members. “The way we do business is changing,” he says, specifically in the way that the group helps its members access national supplier accounts. At first, it didn’t make much financial sense for NISSCO because the return would be minimal, but Umbehr says NISSCO worked closely with five other group purchasing organizations to develop a process that would allow them to help facilitate distributors to work with suppliers without necessarily being a member. “It served our members better to say, ‘Let’s get NISSCO out of the equation,’” according to Umbehr.

In the near future, Umbehr says, NISSCO anticipates that new services like this in addition to its existing services will create some exciting new opportunities for NISSCO and its members. He says the group expects to deliver even greater strength in numbers for its members in the coming years.


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