After the DPA Safety products show has concluded, DPA holds the conference for its Janitorial/Sanitary market segment back to back, in the same location. (DPA Buying Group photo)

Family Ties

"DPA's Safety Division is the fastest growing of the group's four market segments. We are getting so many requests from suppliers and distributors to join that we unfortunately have to turn many companies away."

Editor's note: DPA Buying Group's suppliers and distributors say participating feels like being part of a "Family," which is the culture the organization strives to create, Executive Director Zac Haines said in this interview (conducted via e-mail in August 2011). In the following discussion, Haines discusses DPA's recent growth and trends that are affecting its members.

OH&S: Tell me about DPA Buying Group: when and how it originated, and how it has evolved thus far.

Zac Haines: Distributor Partners of America (DPA) is a member-driven marketing and procurement organization of over 400+ independent distributors and approximately 150 national suppliers in the Safety Equipment & Clothing, Janitorial/Sanitary, Industrial-Packaging, and Specialty Cleaning & Restoration industries. DPA distributor members work with the group's preferred supplier partners for mutual sales and growth opportunities.

DPA was founded in September 2000 by 67 distributors in the Janitorial industry. It was quickly decided that in order to help distributors gain a competitive advantage in an ever-evolving marketplace, it was necessary for the group to expand into new market segments and product industries. In 2005, a DPA Safety distributor, Miller Safety & First Aid (New Kensington, Pa.) recommended that I reach out to Kellie Hoffmeister of Panda Communications, a catalog and marketing services company. That year, DPA and Panda formed a strategic marketing alliance whereby Panda’s preferred network of safety customers would gain exclusive access to DPA's vendor discount programs and membership benefits. Since then, DPA's Safety Division has grown to over 120 independent safety distributors and over 70+ preferred supplier contracts. Kellie now serves as DPA's Safety Products Director and helps facilitate the group’s new vendor relationships and marketing programs. DPA's Safety Division is the fastest growing of the group's four divisions.

At first we were holding an annual buying and networking conference for janitorial supply companies, but now DPA has added a separate networking show exclusively for companies in our Safety Products Division!

Mission Statement: The DPA Buying Group is dedicated to increasing the sales and profits of our member distributors and suppliers. Our member-driven marketing and networking organization connects independent distributors and national suppliers within the Janitorial/Sanitary, Safety Equipment & Clothing, Industrial Packaging, and Cleaning & Restoration industries. DPA membership enables profitable business relationships, industry awareness and lifelong friendships.

OH&S: What distinguishes DPA from other buying and marketing groups that bring together distributors and suppliers?


  • There is not any charge or fees for distributors or manufacturers to be a part of the group. Distributor membership is free, and manufacturers only pay a small rebate (quarterly) back to the group on the sales that DPA distributors do with them. We do not charge suppliers a "technology" fee or marketing fee. Instead, we will gladly work with them to do e-mail "blasts" and member mailings as they desire. Unlike some other groups, DPA tries to make it very easy to do business. We respect the distributor's individuality and independence, while making it really hard for them not to want to do business with our preferred suppliers. We are about carrots and not sticks at DPA. It makes for a much friendlier atmosphere and business environment while still having the expectation that distributors support DPA's suppliers.
  • DPA members have access to special negotiated programs and discounts in four different market segments, as opposed to just one.
  • We have heard from many suppliers and distributors that being in DPA is like being a part of a "Family." That is the kind of culture that we strive to create and we love it when friendships are made and renewed each year at our annual conference. We are all here to learn from one another and to grow business together.

OH&S: The DPA Safety arm of your group is only five years old, with a weak economy challenging many companies during much of that time. Is it still growing? How are these safety distributors and suppliers doing, and how does DPA membership benefit them?

Haines: DPA's Safety Division is the fastest growing of the group's four market segments. We are getting so many requests from suppliers and distributors to join that we unfortunately have to turn many companies away. I believe this is because in a challenging economy, the DPA Buying Group becomes more important than ever. Every percentage point of savings matters, and distributors who are members of DPA will benefit from lower prepaid freight minimums, extended terms, last column/best bracket pricing, lower minimum order requirements, and of course their quarterly (CJD) rebates, which range from 1 percent to over 5 percent, depending upon the supplier. DPA distributors turn to DPA preferred manufacturers to take advantage of these benefits versus buying from suppliers outside the group.

OH&S: How and why was DPA Restoration started? It's closely related to safety, isn't it?

Haines: Absolutely! We identified the Specialty Cleaning & Restoration industry as a growing market. Think of this industry in terms of products that deal with damages caused by fire and floods, which includes mold mitigation, remediation, and abatement. DPA has partnered with companies such as Abatement Technologies, B-Air Blowers, and CRW Supply/Hydro-Force to provide distributors with a vast array of product options in this arena. This industry also includes cleaning and stain removal products for carpet, tile, stone, upholstery, and drapes. Air duct and ventilation cleaning tools are also on the rise. Ultimately, I believe that a clean environment is a safe environment!

OH&S: Do some distributors and some suppliers participate in all four of your units?

Haines: Yes, when you join DPA, you have automatically have access to all product divisions. I call the companies that do business in more than one industry "hybrids." Many products such as gloves and matting are obvious crossovers, but when you think about it ... every industrial factory or plant has a bathroom that needs toilet paper, paper towels, trash can liners, and hand soap. If a Safety distributor is not getting that business, then some other distributor is. An end user will likely want to turn to the distributor that can offer them the full range of products to satisfy all of their procurement needs. We are seeing that a lot of municipal bids are now requiring safety products, jansan products, and even packaging items. DPA’s goal is to help our distributors and suppliers get that business. Our members are able to compete for business in "non-traditional" channels.

OH&S: How do you identify and attract new members?

Haines: We are very selective with who we partner with. DPA looks for distributors in cities/metropolitans that we do not currently have representation in. Many of our leads come from suppliers that are in the group. They want their customers to join DPA so they can "protect" that business from their competitors who are not in the group. For a supplier, joining DPA acts as a "security blanket" and energizer for their existing DPA customers, and it is also an opportunity for the supplier to get new distribution.

DPA only partners with a select number of vendors in each product category -– normally three, depending upon the size of the category. The Speakman Company and Bradley Corporation are our only emergency eyewash and shower suppliers. National Safety Apparel (NSA), Oberon Company, and Stanco are DPA's arc flash providers. National Market Company (NMC) is our only direct supplier of signage products. When it comes to gloves and hand protection, we might have a few more such as West Chester Holdings, Inc., The Safety-Zone, Boss Manufacturing, and Majestic Glove. Some suppliers are more regional, while others have a specialized product, such as Impacto's anti-vibration gloves. Tingley Rubber and Radians both do an excellent job in high-vis, as well as their core product areas of boots and safety glasses, respectively. In the spill control and containment category we have Justrite, SpillTech, and Ultra Tech. Sqwincher is our only direct supplier of electrolyte beverages. For a list of all DPA preferred suppliers, companies can contact DPA at 800-652-7826 or e-mail [email protected].

OH&S: Please fill me in about your April 2012 Janitorial Show and Safety Show taking place back to back in San Antonio.

Haines: The DPA Annual Buying & Networking Conference: DPA puts on an annual buying and networking conference each year that allows distributors and suppliers to meet with one another for 15 minutes each. The supplier exhibitors each have a 8’ x 10’ booth and are able to share new products and special show promotions with each distributor. Once the 15 minutes has expired, a DPA staff member rings the buzzer and all of the distributor companies "rotate" to the next booth. It's like "speed dating" and allows every supplier attendee to meet with every distributor attendee during the duration of the conference. Our show moves around the country, and last year distributors and suppliers convened at the brand-new J.W. Marriott in downtown Indianapolis. Our welcome reception was held at the NCAA Hall of Champions, and distributors had the opportunity to network and socialize with one another.

After the DPA Safety products show has concluded, DPAs hold the conference for its Janitorial/Sanitary market segment (back to back, same location). Safety companies that wish to also attend the Janitorial show are welcome to do so. Not many groups, if any, can claim to offer their members access to separate buying conferences for each product industry. At the Janitorial Show, DPA members partied at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500. Special guest and professional Indy car driver Ed Carpenter, driver of the #67 Dollar General, was on hand to answer questions and sign autographs. Next year, the group will hold its annual buying and networking conference in San Antonio at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort (April 22-27, 2012).

An important part of our show is that DPA distributors bring orders for the preferred suppliers. DPA gives out $500 prizes for the distributors who place the most orders and largest volume of orders. The group also gives $250 prizes for first and second runners-up in each category. Distributors who attend the show and do place orders also take advantage the suppliers' "Show Special" promotions, which will save them money and freight only during the DPA show dates.

OH&S: You represent DPA when it exhibits at industry events such as this month's National Safety Congress in Philadelphia and the ISSA/INTERCLEAN show taking place about two weeks earlier in Las Vegas. What do you accomplish at those events?

Haines: For the past five years, DPA has exhibited at the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress & Expo; we hope to meet with interested distributors and manufacturers who want to take advantage of what The DPA Buying Group has to offer. We also have marketing meetings with companies already in DPA to see how we can better serve them. I believe we are the only buying and marketing group that exhibits at the National Safety Council (NSC). We want our presence to be known, and not just be one of the industry's "best kept secrets." Having a booth also provides a place for DPA distributors to stop by and mingle with one another.

OH&S: What trends are your member companies seeing today -– the impact of new technologies, distributor and supplier consolidation, etc. -- that are having a big impact on their businesses?

Haines: We are definitely seeing consolidation in the industrial safety markets. With acquisitions by companies like 3M, Honeywell, Kimberly-Clark, etc., the distributors are having fewer choices buy direct from. Some manufacturers are only focusing on their largest companies and have thus raised minimum order requirements in an effort to "push" smaller distributors to redistributors (master-wholesalers) like R3 Safety, Logistics Supply, and ORS Nasco. One trend I see is that in a down economy, distributors want to keep their inventory low and turn to "ReD's" for lower minimums, quicker turns, mix-and-match, and the ease of drop shipments to their customers. In good times, where there is more certainty, distributors make more of their purchases direct with the manufacturers.

The other important thing to note is that many of the largest distributor chains, such as Grainger, have a very diverse product offering. If you look in their catalog, you will find safety products, janitorial items, packaging supplies, tools, etc. In order to compete today, the end users want to work with a company that can provide them with everything they need –- a "one stop shop." It's the ease of doing business, and DPA is helping its members to be more competitive in safety, but also with other non-traditional products.

OH&S: What’s ahead for DPA? How will it look when you celebrate the 20th anniversary in 2020?

Haines: Our success is in our simplicity. I believe we have a good formula for doing business, however, we will always explore ways that we can better serve our members, both distributors and suppliers. One thing that DPA Safety is developing is a National Accounts Program. We are still working through things, but the overall structure was launched at this past year’s annual conference, and it was well received. Since DPA distributor members are located all over the country and North America, we will be able to leverage collective strength and service multi-location accounts. We even had a DPA distributor from Puerto Rico at this last conference who is ready and willing to be DPA's distribution hub for Puerto Rico and the islands.

A wise man once told me that in business, "You need to be like a Willow in the Wind." The industry is always changing, and you have to bend and adapt, or else you might be uprooted or have your branches break off. DPA is always trying to stay flexible and adapt to changing business conditions and an ever-evolving market place.

That man was my father....

For a list of distributor and supplier benefits, please visit and click "Suppliers" or "Distributors" up top.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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