In one of the most important meetings in its 50 years of existence, the American Supply Association took the next steps forward toward fortifying the industry’s long-term future as it relates to three mega goals.

The ASA Board of Directors voted to move forward on the three initiatives of technology, the labor force shortage and providing strategic support to distributors to ensure they can compete in the future. The vote occurred during the ASA board meeting on the second day of its Winter Leadership Meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, California.

On the first day of the meeting, many of the 17 ASA volunteer leaders who comprised the three issue strategic action teams (technology, human capital and the distributor spectrum) presented their plans and solutions to attendees in a well-received format moderated by longtime ASA contributor and Supply House Times columnist Dirk Beveridge. One attendee called this year’s Winter Leadership Meeting, “the best I’ve ever been to,” with similar refrains heard throughout the event.

The three presentations were the culmination of a process that started back at the 2018 Winter Leadership Meeting in The Bahamas where those three mega goals were identified. The three ISATs then met a total of three times each in Chicago (the technology ISAT held one of its meetings in Champaign, Illinois at the University of Illinois) where months of hard work produced the solutions and presentations ASA volunteer leaders heard in Dana Point.

“We have become indispensable,” ASA Chairman Brian Tuohey (The Collins Companies) said. “Today ASA stands here as a very solid organization that is doing its job of representing the entire industry.”

Moving forward, the board approved plans to create and fund a new mega ISAT that will meet over the next few months to flush out further details and budget needs related to these initiatives.


The solutions

First up on the Winter Leadership Meeting card was the technology ISAT, which presented its D.Next concept that is designed to guide ASA members to better understand, embrace, prepare, as well as execute technology and the increasing role it will play in growth-oriented businesses.

“Technology is the single biggest and scariest unknown for everybody in this room,” said technology ISAT member Bill Condron of The Granite Group. “The challenge we took is how can we leverage what we currently have and then use technology to take us to the next level and build motes around our businesses that can’t be crossed.”

Central to this platform is the new D.Next Innovation Lab that will open at Research Park in partnership with the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois. ASA will locate its technology incubator alongside some of the country’s most innovative businesses, giving ASA members unprecedented access to technologists, data scientists, engineers and others focused on technology solutions for businesses.

“We already have a lot of inherent advantages with the people in our companies,” Condron said. “The real trick is leveraging that through technology. If we get it right we will survive and thrive.”

The human capital ISAT team presented next and unveiled Project TALENT, a long-term solution to provide ASA members with talent capable to drive success. Project TALENT is a three-fold effort to craft an industry narrative that resonates with potential hires, to help ASA member companies prepare to effectively recruit, attract and retain hires, and to establish local and national outreach efforts that drive awareness about the many career opportunities available in the PHCP-PVF industry.

“Four years ago if you asked a 100 people in our industry what their biggest problem is, 99 would have told you the same thing, we can’t get good people,” said Bradford White President and CEO Bruce Carnevale, a member of the human capital ISAT. “Ask the same question now, and the answer is most likely, ‘We can’t get people, period.’  ASA has the unique opportunity to take the lead in solving this issue, and that will go a long way toward ASA’s goal of being indispensable to its membership. There is an urgency to this. This isn’t just about filling open positions for distributors. This is affecting the trades in general, and plumbing and HVAC, in particular. If we don’t have customers, we don’t exist. Think about the relationships you are building with your contractor customers if you can help them solve their biggest problem. I can’t think of a better way to become more valuable to our customers.”

The ASA board approved the initial launch of a narrative showing the benefits of working in the PHCP-PVF industry via a social media blitz. A more comprehensive effort will follow that will broaden and deepen the effort and will include providing tools for industry professionals to strategically talk about careers in the industry with prospective hires.

Finally, the spectrum ISAT presented its VITALITY program to membership that will provide a suite of tools that will allow members to address the urgent need of preparing their businesses for success in a constantly changing business environment. The tools will allow ASA members to privately and objectively access their businesses, set goals for the future and enhance the ability of ASA members to execute successfully wherever the member wishes to take his or her company.

This topic brought with it the most debate of the three, but ultimately was green-lighted by the board. “This process will help distributors take control of their businesses to the fullest extent possible because ASA will provide the tools to do that,” said Kohler’s Jim Lewis, a member of the spectrum ISAT.

Eastern Industrial Supplies’ Kip Miller, another spectrum ISAT member, added: “If we keep distributors viable, strong and thriving in their markets, that will be good for contractors, manufacturers and manufacturers reps as well.”

During a wrap-up session that featured many of the ISAT members on the stage together, Condron summed up the overall highly critical ASA initiative. “We are some of the worst self-promoters ever,” he said with a laugh. “This is a great industry with great people, great companies and great career opportunities. If we embrace these three programs on top of what we already are doing, we are going to be known as a very progressive industry and that will be a huge accomplishment and benefit to all of us.”