For the past six months, three association issue strategic action teams (ISATs) met to think deep about solutions that the association can deploy to support ASA membership in finding labor solutions to future technology challenges, and strategic support and direction needed to compete 10 years from now. Seeking to support the membership as it faces growing competition from competitors such as Amazon, the association’s leadership, at its Winter Leadership Meeting, heard how each team will help members remain competitive far into the future. Three creative and comprehensive solutions were presented that will enable members to win in the future. They are D-Next, Project TALENT and VILTALITY.



D-NEXT, an innovative solution that will guide ASA members to better understand, embrace, prepare, as well as execute technology and the growing role it will play in growth-oriented businesses, was hailed as out-of-the-box thinking and was applauded by meeting attendees. This solution will support members as they define the technologies that are considered today’s table stakes, provide specific expertise regarding “tomorrow’s” technologies that customers and suppliers will value, and will also provide a longer horizon view of the technologies of the future that have a degree of probability of making their way into the industry and growth-oriented businesses.

D-NEXT seeks to provide a comprehensive set of resources to insure ASA members invest in technologies that deliver solutions their customers will value. Wherever the member is along its technology journey, through this new program, they will find solutions to develop the mindset, clarity and strategies to profitably transform their business. Central to the D-NEXT platform is the new D-NEXT Innovation Lab that will open at Research Park in partnership with the University of Illinois. With the D-NEXT Innovation Lab, ASA will locate its technology incubator alongside some of the country’s most innovative businesses, including Abbott Laboratories, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Brunswick, Caterpillar, Foxxconn, John Deere, NVIDIA and Fortune 500 distributors Grainger and Graybar. Research Park has a thriving innovative community that provides a significant bridge between research at the university and the commercialization of technology. For ASA members, this means they will have unprecedented access to technologists, data scientists, engineers and others focused on viable technology solutions for their businesses.   At this facility, ASA will collaborate with University of Illinois students and faculty to develop industry-leading digital capabilities that strengthen its member’s position in the supply chain. The ASA Innovation Lab will be a hub of industry, supplier, distributor and technology company alliances that fund prioritized digital innovations that will be available exclusively to ASA members. In addition to the Innovation Lab, The D-NEXT platform of services also provides ASA members with needed resources to guide them along their technology transformation journey.



As member companies are also faced with the retirement of a significant number of their leadership and employees over the next five years and challenged to fill these positions at a time America is facing significant labor shortages, Project TALENT was introduced as a significant long-term solution to provide members with talent capable to drive success. Project TALENT will be a three-fold effort to craft an industry narrative that resonates with potential hires, to help ASA member companies prepare their organizations to effectively attract, recruit, and retain the needed labor force, and to orchestrate local and national outreach efforts that drive awareness about long-term career opportunities.

Recognizing that ASA members are facing a convergence of forces that impede their ability to recruit and retain the needed number of qualified employees and the complexity and scope of this human capital challenge is beyond the ability of any one company that requires a unified industry effort to attract a diverse group of candidates into the industry, the ASA Board of Directors approved taking the steps necessary to launch a comprehensive effort to brand a narrative about the exciting things happening in our industry and delivering the narrative initially via a social media blitz. A more comprehensive effort will follow that will broaden and deepen the effort to build a more robust effort that will include providing tools for industry professionals to intelligently talk about career opportunities.



The third mission-critical area that ASA leaders focused on was the recognition that disruptive technologies, changing demographics, market uncertainties, changing customer demands, non-traditional competitors and alternative channels are colliding to change the definition of success for distributors within the next decade. VITALITY, the third critical solution presented, was conceived from the realization that business leaders become mired in the day-to-day functions of the business while simultaneously being bombarded with disruptive market, competitive, technological and customer pressures. ASA members have reported that it is time to think and act strategically in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Looking critically at their business, culture and strategic direction beyond today, was imperative to the future success and competitive ability
of ASA members. 

VITALITY’s future suite of tools that will be delivered will allow members to address the urgent need of preparing their businesses for success in today’s dynamic market. Much like ASA successful tools such as the Operating Performance Report that allows members to benchmark their company’s performance, VITALITY will provide the tools to allow members to privately and objectively assess their business, set meaningful goals for the future and enhance their ability to execute successfully wherever the member wishes to take their company.


Next steps

The association board approved plans
to create and fund a mega ISAT that
will meet over the next few months to flush out further details and budget needs to engage these far-reaching
and bold initiatives.