Of the $6.0 trillion in sales that the wholesale industry generated in 2019, 48 percent came from durable goods and 52 percent from nondurable goods. Among durable goods, wholesalers generated the greatest sales from household appliances and electrical and electronic goods, accounting for more than $587 billion. This was followed by professional and commercial equipment and supplies (more than $528 billion) and motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts and supplies (nearly $475 billion).
Among nondurable goods, the sales leader was drugs and druggists' sundries (more than $716 billion), followed by petroleum and petroleum products (nearly $699 billion) and and grocery and related products (about $695 billion).
One measure of the efficiency of the various sectors within an industry is the ratio of sales dollars to payroll dollars. (Of course, efficiency also depends on minimizing other costs, such as warehousing and shipping, but payroll is usually the biggest cost factor.) By this measure, the most efficient sector of durable goods by far is motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts, followed by metals and minerals. Among the types of nondurable goods, petroleum and petroleum products is by far the most efficient sector, followed by farm product raw materials.
One difference between the various parts of this industry is the size of the firms and the concentration of businesses in the firms. Among durable and nondurable goods wholesalers, more than half of the firms that operate year-round have fewer than five employees. Among wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers, however, more than three-quarters of the firms are that small. A business that is purely about deal-making requires fewer employees than one involving warehousing and shipping. On the other hand, despite the presence of so many small firms, the deal-making sector of the industry is more top-heavy than the other two sectors.
As a whole, the wholesale industry employs approximately 5.9 million workers. This includes more than 1.0 million wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives, with 16 percent selling technical or scientific products. A portion of the industry workforce is also engaged in transportation and in moving materials. This includes nearly 443,000 workers in both durable and nondurable goods who move freight and stock by hand, and nearly 220,500 who drive heavy and tractor-trailer trucks and light trucks or delivery trucks. Another portion of the industry workforce holds office and administrative support occupations. Prominent among these are more than 170,000 financial clerks, approximately 206,000 customer service representatives, nearly 212,440 stock clerks and order fillers, nearly 177,000 general office clerks, more than 144,000 shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks, and more than 114,000 secretaries and administrative assistants.
Most of these occupations require no formal education beyond high school, and workers are mostly trained on the job or learn the skills from work experience elsewhere. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers need a commercial driver's license, and while on duty they are randomly tested for drug or alcohol abuse. Sales workers who deal in technical and scientific goods are often expected to have a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, although it is sometimes possible to acquire knowledge of a technical product line through work experience. Managers of sales workers usually have a bachelor's degree plus several years of work experience as a sales representative.
Unions have only a small presence in this industry. About 4.5 percent of the workers are union members, and about 5.0 percent are represented by unions.