Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Wholesale Trade

(NAICS 4111-4191)

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in wholesaling merchandise, and providing related logistic, marketing and support services. The wholesaling process is generally an intermediate step in the distribution of merchandise in large quantities to retailers, businesses and institutions. Machinery, equipment and supplies are the most important segment within the industry, accounting for 29% of production and 30% of employment in 2018. Other key segments include building material and supplies (16% of production and 12% of employment), personal and household goods (14%,16%), food and beverages (11%, 14%), and motor vehicles and parts (10%, 7%). The industry employed 656,300 workers in 2018, mostly concentrated in Ontario (40%), Quebec (24%), British Columbia (13%) and Alberta (13%), with a workforce primarily composed of men (69%). Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:

  • Sales and account representatives - wholesale trade (non-technical) (6411)
  • Technical sales specialists - wholesale trade (6221)
  • Retail and wholesale trade managers (0621)
  • Material handlers (7452)
  • Transport truck divers (7511)
  • Shippers and receivers (1521)
  • Supervisors, supply chain, tracking and scheduling co-ordination occupations (1215)
  • Heavy-duty equipment mechanics (7312)
  • Accounting and related clerks (1431)
  • Retail and wholesale buyers (6222)
  • Store shelf stockers, clerks and order fillers (6622)
  • Purchasing and inventory control workers (1524)
  • Storekeepers and partspersons (1522)

Wholesale trade primarily relies on household consumption and business investment, making the industry highly sensitive to fluctuations in domestic and foreign economic conditions. As a result, the industry’s output was severely affected by the recession of 2008-2009 due to anemic growth in consumer spending in Canada and a sizeable drop in business investment, particularly in non-residential structures and machinery and equipment. The decline in exports is an additional factor that contributed to the contraction in output, since many wholesalers are involved in international trade. While the negative impact of the recession was more severe than in any other services industries, wholesalers’ deep integration in supply chains across multiple sectors of the economy also augmented the industry’s recovery from the recession. Indeed, after falling markedly in 2009, real GDP quickly recovered in 2010 and continued to grow at a solid pace during the following eight years, with the exception of a temporary decline in 2015, which coincided with slower economic growth in Canada resulting from the sharp fall in crude oil prices. Employment reached a peak in 2016, before declining somewhat in 2017-2018, mainly reflecting job losses in the machinery, equipment and supplies segment. On average, real GDP in the industry grew at an annual rate of 2.4% over the period 2009-2018, compared to 0.5% for employment. This means that a significant share of growth in output was achieved through productivity gains as new technologies, such as radio frequency identification devices, have allowed wholesalers to track their inventory more accurately with fewer workers. Increased competition from e-commerce have also helped consumers compare prices across wholesalers, putting downward pressures on profit margins and keeping hiring subdued.

Over the projection period, output growth in wholesale trade is expected to weaken relative to the period 2009-2018, reflecting the slower pace of growth anticipated in consumer spending and residential investment. More specifically, the gradual slowdown of the working-age population in Canada and massive retirements of baby-boomers from the labour market are expected to restrain growth in disposable income, while the decline anticipated in household formation is expected to limit investment in new housing. High household debt levels and any potential increases in interest and mortgage rates over the longer term horizon (in response to inflationary pressures resulting from a tighter labour market) could also constrain growth in consumer spending and residential investment. On the positive side, the industry is expected to benefit from renewed growth in business investment related to machinery and equipment and faster growth in the construction of commercial, industrial and institutional buildings, alleviating some of the weakness anticipated in business investment related to engineering structures, notably from the oil and gas extraction industries. Those factors are expected to support the purchases of machinery and equipment and building materials and supplies, which account for the largest segments of the industry. The low value of the Canadian dollar is expected to have a mixed impact for wholesalers, increasing price competitiveness for exporters, but lowering price competitiveness for importers. That said, the signing of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) represents positive developments for wholesalers involved in international transactions of merchandises.

On average, real GDP in the industry is expected to increase by 1.4% annually over the period 2019-2028, compared to 0.6% for employment. Productivity-enhancing technologies related to inventory management and other logistical services are expected to continue to restrain employment growth in the industry (especially for jobs involving repetitive tasks), while sensor-enhanced robotics threaten on-the-floor jobs (such as fork-lift drivers). Increased competition from e-commerce, on-demand production and other direct-to-customer operations by manufacturers that bypass intermediates will also have many implications for supply chains and for storage, pressuring wholesalers to restructure their operations by lowering labour costs and adopting automation enhancing machinery.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Wholesale Trade

Figure showing the annual average growth rates of real GDP and employment over the periods 2009-2018 and 2019-2028 for the industry of wholesale trade. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Wholesale Trade (%, annual average)
  Real GDP Employment
2009-2018 2.4 0.5
2019-2028 1.4 0.6

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.


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