How did wholesale end up as the enemy? It’s a question I frequently ponder when looking back at the last five years of the digitally-native gold rush, which has created a new crop of brands—Warby Parker, Bonobos, Outdoor Voices, Glossier, Away and hundreds of others—that sought to redefine retail. These upstarts would throw out many of the old norms—and the business models that came with them—in order to build a better future that delivered more value to customers, founders and investors than anyone could dream of.

At least that was the theory.

Wholesale undeniably raises prices for shoppers, which made it Enemy No. 1 for digitally-native brands. But the wholesale markup is often justified. Retailers need margin to correctly operate, just like any business does. However, many modern brands felt that owning the entire relationship with the customer, from design to delivery, would allow them to get rid of the wholesale relationship and lower prices for shoppers. This theory assumed that the internet significantly minimized the barriers for brands to both launch and scale, which would seriously diminish—and possible eliminate—the need for retail and wholesale.

While the latter part of that theory has been disproven—digitally-native brands have opened hundreds of stores in the past few years—it’s increasingly clear that the former part of the theory is also falling apart. Bonobos, GREATS, MIZZEN + MAIN and Tommy John are selling in Nordstrom; Bevel and Harry’s in Target; Raden in Bloomingdales, and so forth. This is only the beginning, as many other digitally-native brands will take a similar path in the coming years.

The reason this is happening is quite simple: acquiring customers online is a rapidly rising expense—a cost center—that requires very specific expertise. Wholesale, conversely, gives brands access to massive, existing audiences that big retailers have spent years building. Therefore, wholesale is a profit center: retailers pay brands, who get access to new customers, and brands create coveted assortments that gets shoppers into stores. Both parties still can—and should—work together to make each other better.

To reap the benefits of a reprised relationship, brands need to understand that mastering physical retail is expensive and challenging. Different players in the value chain earn their part of the markup because of the services they provide. Margin is not a gift or entitlement, but rather something one earns based on the amount of work it takes to deliver the end result. Retailers such as Nordstrom, Barney’s and Dover Street Market take their margin and use it to pay for real estate, sales associates, photography, customer service and a whole list of other essential needs.

The traditional brand-retailer relationship has allowed hundreds of brands to build profitable, long lasting businesses by giving them the space to focus on design and production, while retailers take care of the inventory, merchandising, selling, customer service, and retail—all crucial aspects of building a thriving business that shoppers covet.

For digitally-native brands, the optimal scaling strategy is increasingly a mix of selling online, in their own retail and via specific wholesale relationships. We’ll call this Direct Wholesale, since digitally-native brands are building direct relationships with retailers across the world. While the general relationship remains mutually beneficial, some members of the old value chain, such as showrooms, are no longer involved. Payment terms, inventory allotments and other concession and shop-in-shop arrangements are also changing.

If brands want to take advantage of this massive opportunity, which likely provides a more attractive cost-structure than selling purely online, they need to figure out how to transform the wholesale relationship, and by extension retailers, from a problem into a solution. Rhetoric doesn’t make a lasting business—results do, and wholesale is a time-tested way to get them.