Russia is also a very large country both in population terms and physical size. As a result, there are very few businesses where a single wholesaler or distributor covers the whole country. In hte public sector, there are 40,000 county councils for example. Some in European Russia with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, comparable to a British county, others windswept tundra with a few thousand inhabitants.
Importers add value by maintaining your options to use more than one distributor by avoiding the costs of multiple import registrations or being locked in by an important registration. They also add value by allowing you to choose multiple channel partners with strengths in different parts of the country or in different industries.
In markets addressing the public sector, importers may not only deal with the importing formalities, but also hold stock and fulfil orders while the sales are made by independent agents specialising in close relations with the 10 Federal regions, 83 provincial governments or the 40,000 county councils. In such cases, the importer can deliver a complete route to market.
Wholesalers in Russia
Wholesalers are very important in many trades in Russia. When the Soviet Union collapsed, most Russian businesses were privatised by selling them to the staff. As a result, there is a very high proportion of small owner run businesses at the business to consumer part of the supply chain. Chain stores are very rare. They do exist but are small compared to the size of the Russian economy. Access to the Russian market in most retail businesses is through the wholesalers. These wholesalers can be large. A wholesaler with 500 outlets is not uncommon in the clothing trade.
Wholesalers are not necessarily importers. Russia is large. Cities are far apart. Russia covers 11 time zones, although 70% of business happens in two of them. There is a lot of added value simply in holding stock near to the point of demand. The wholesalers are not often multisite businesses for the same reasons as the retailers.
There are more than 20 agglomerations (the Russian for Conurbation) with more than 1 million people. All of these have a community of wholesalers.
Agents are most typically found working in public sector sales, where prior knowledge of a forthcoming tender may assist in the preparation of documents, particularly as Russian tenders are often open for short periods only. Such an agent will specialise in understanding the requirements of the Ministry in a provincial government or all the requirements a county council rather than a particular product set. The agent will have a contact list of the importers of a diverse range of goods and services in order to respond to a particular tender.
In the private sector, there is often a need to pull sales through the importers, wholesalers and distributors. Generally, it is very difficult to find a commission paid agent to do this. Engaging your own product manager is usually a better solution.
The discussion about wholesalers also applies to distributors.