How to Become a Distribution Manager

It is increasingly easy to purchase products online or in-store. However, the work that goes into delivering those products on time to the correct location is becoming more demanding. There is typically a complex distribution network that items travel through to turn raw materials into finished goods and then get those finished goods to the consumer. These networks are forced to operate consistently and accurately due to the speed at which consumers expect products to be delivered.

An organization’s distribution manager is typically responsible for the day-to-day operations of facilities that ensure raw materials and finished goods are moving through these networks as planned to fulfill orders of all types. This role has become much more complex and technology-dependent with the rise in e-commerce, and a variety of blended sales channels for consumers to make purchases have emerged.

What Is a Distribution Manager?

Distribution managers are generally responsible for all activities that occur on a day-to-day basis within a warehouse or distribution center. Their ultimate objective is to ensure accurate tracking and handling of goods from initial receipt through timely order fulfillment and shipping to the customer. The core activities are typically broken down into three areas – receiving, storage and inventory control, and order fulfillment and shipping. The distribution manager will typically lead independent teams that focus on executing the critical tasks for each area.

What Does a Distribution Manager Do?

A distribution manager has a broad set of responsibilities that require a diverse set of skills. These responsibilities tend to fall into the following categories:

  1. Strategy Development – The distribution manager will work closely with other supply chain leaders within the supply chain and business. Their goal is to build a strategy for their department that will help to deliver against the overall business needs while working smoothly with other departments (production, sales, customer service, etc.). This will include everything from team structure to equipment or systems needed to processes and metrics utilized.
  2. People Leadership – Leading a team of diverse individuals to deliver the end objectives within the facility is the most important task for a distribution manager. They must be able to set clear expectations, coach, and motivate employees to work together following the established processes. Ensuring a safe work environment and behaviors exist within the facility is also at the core of this leadership.
  3. Process Optimization The distribution manager is constantly monitoring the key performance indicators that show the overall effectiveness of their operations. This also involves optimizing the processes and procedures the team follows to address any deficiencies in their performance. This can also include identifying and implementing new systems or equipment to aid in the team’s ability to efficiently and accurately execute the processes.

Key Responsibilities of a Distribution Manager

The distribution manager’s responsibilities follow the flow of products within their distribution facility. This can be categorized into receiving, storage and inventory control, and order fulfillment and shipping.

  1. Receiving
    • Ensure accurate receipt and documentation of materials and goods into the facility. It is critical to log key information such as quantity, production lot numbers, supplier, production date, etc.
    • Note that if the warehouse is connected to a production facility, these receipts could be for raw materials used by production as well as finished goods to be sold to customers.
    • Inspect receipts for quality compliance before the acceptance and moving of inventory.
    • Move accepted materials into storage locations while ensuring system data accurately reflects the physical reality.
  2. Storage and Inventory Control
    • Ensure proper tracking and traceability of product movements across locations within the warehouse.
    • Implement cycle counting processes to continually validate system inventory accuracy.
  3. Order Fulfillment and Shipping
    • Ensure timely order fulfillment based on customer expectations. If filling e-commerce orders, this process will include picking individual products, packing in shipping boxes, and shipping out parcels.
    • If selling to wholesale or retailers, then shipping in full cases and oftentimes full pallets.
    • Coordinate shipping of orders with appropriate carriers.
    • Establish relationships and agreements with transportation partners.

How to Become a Distribution Manager

Educational Requirements

Building a path to become a distribution manager can take many different shapes. From an education standpoint, many companies require managers to have a four-year degree. However, the exact degree required is typically very flexible. The most common ones have a business or operations focus but are not typically limited to these. This could be a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (with or without supply chain management specialization), Bachelor’s in Operational Management, or similar degrees.

Professional Experience

Work experience and past performance are typically the most important criteria in becoming a distribution manager. It is important to have past experience within a supply chain or operational role, although it does not necessarily have to be within a warehouse setting. It is also important to have shown the ability to effectively manage a team. This can happen as a supervisor within the warehouse or as a manager in another operations department. Strong performance within these experiences combined with a four-year degree will typically open the door for a distribution manager opportunity.

Professional Certifications

Distribution manager positions do not usually require specific certifications, but they can help you build your resume and stand out to hiring professionals. A few of the best professional certifications to have when applying for a distribution manager position include the following:

  • Certification in Distribution Professional Management (CDPM)
  • Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP)
  • Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM)
  • Six Sigma Yellow/Green/Black Belt (LSS)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)

Not only can these certifications help you stand out amongst the crowd, but they will help you develop your skills and gain knowledge of the industry.

Skill Sets of a Distribution Manager

The role of a distribution manager is becoming more diverse and complex as technology, distribution networks, and customer expectations continue to evolve. The skills needed to be successful are also growing and becoming more diverse as a result. Those who can blend strong people leadership skills with an analytical and technology forward approach will be well suited for success. Typical skills that are found in successful distribution managers include:

  • Strong people leadership and communication
  • Data-driven and analytical
  • Process-oriented
  • Continuous improvement mindset
  • Detail-oriented
  • Ability to merge strategy and tactical

The Career Path of a Distribution Manager

Once you have made it to a distribution manager position and have shown success in the role, you will likely have the opportunity to continue growing your career in any number of areas. The most common moves following a successful stay as a distribution manager are to either expand your leadership role within the distribution department – for example, becoming a director overseeing multiple facilities – or take a lateral move into another supply chain department to manage a team.

Career Outlook for Distribution Managers

Given the increasing attention to e-commerce, the number of distribution and fulfillment centers is increasing at a very high rate. Short delivery speeds require inventory to be held near the consumer, which favors having many moderately sized warehouses nationwide versus a few larger ones that serve a greater regional area. The result is a growing need for strong distribution managers to lead all of these facilities. It is unlikely that trend will reverse, so the opportunities should continue to increase over time.

According to, the outlook for distribution managers has been growing, with an annual average growth rate of 3.13%. Vacancies for this profession have increased by 50.07% since 2004, and the demand for this role is continuing to grow.

How Much Do Distribution Managers Make?

Compensation is highly variable based on company size, industry, and location. Smaller facilities may allow for first-time managers, while larger operations may require experienced leaders. The compensation will follow accordingly, likely ranging from $75,000 to $150,000 based on the various factors. You’re encouraged to review your specific market for more updated estimates.