Industry Outlook

For the wholesale business in its entirety, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment will decline 0.2 percent annually through 2028, with 98,500 jobs being lost in that time frame. The outlook also varies for occupations within the wholesale industry. For sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, the BLS projects 4–6 percent growth for those selling technical and scientific goods and 2–3 percent for all others. Wholesale and manufacturing sales occupations involve face-to-face contact and a personal touch that cannot be delivered by an overseas worker or by a computer. Best opportunities are expected to be at deal-making agencies that do not handle merchandise.

For those workers engaged in transportation and in moving materials in the wholesale industry, there will be average growth through 2028. Employment opportunities for most occupations in this sector are expected to grow at between 4 and 6 percent, including heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, light truck or delivery service drivers and workers who move freight and stock by hand.

Growth projections for some administrative support occupations in the wholesale industry are not as optimistic. Order clerks will show little or no change through 2028, while stock clerks and order fillers will experience slower than average growth of 2–3 percent.

Wholesale trade is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. When consumers and businesses cut back on their spending, the retailers and producers who buy from wholesalers follow suit a year or so later, when their current orders have been filled. The result is that when a recession hits, although wholesalers reduce hiring at once, it is not until about a year later, when their sales take a plunge, that they lay off workers. This pattern held during the recession that occurred when the housing bubble burst in late 2007. The industry reached peak employment in November 2007, just before this downturn, but the most intense flurry of layoffs happened during the first quarter of 2009.

By the late 2010s, economic conditions had improved significantly. However, the global economy was in a state of uncertainty in early 2020 as the world contended with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which significantly impacted production and supply chains in many industry sectors. For example, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and Ford all temporarily shuttered North American automotive manufacturing in March. Many began producing personal protective equipment and parts for medical devices such as ventilators. The accelerated distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 will strengthen the economy and the wholesale trade industry in the U.S. is projected to rebound in the coming years. The growth of the domestic economy and recovery of commodity prices will increase the demand for goods, according to market research group IBISWorld. In addition, the wholesale trade industry will benefit from the the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed by Congress in 2020. This act is expected to help support state and city governments experiencing rising expenses and declining tax bases. It will also help fund the health care system in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, and provide loan assistance to industries and small businesses affected by the pandemic. In early 2021, things were already starting to look brighter, with sales of merchant wholesalers (except manufacturers' sales branches and offices) at $531.7 billion, up 5.9 percent from the January 2020 level.