Former American Supply Association Rick Fantham has told the story before about how national distributor Hajoca, of which Fantham is its president and CEO, had submitted its membership resignation to the national association about a decade ago.
“We seriously questioned ASA’s value,” he says.
A decade later, Fantham’s opinion about ASA is a tad different. “What a transformation,” he says.
Fantham uses the word adrenaline in describing what has led to ASA’s growth and increased value proposition for its members. “There is a level of engagement and energy about ASA today like I have not seen before,” he continues. “They take a 360-degree approach to our business, and today we have horizontal and vertical linkages with the ASA team.”
Fantham is not alone in his opinion of ASA and its recent growth and value-driven upward trajectory as it celebrates its 50th anniversary later this month with its NETWORK2019 blowout at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C.
“ASA is THE association for our entire industry,” Merit Brass COO Alan Lipp says. “Leadership and staff have listened to the feedback from the membership at large over the years and have made the necessary adjustments to not only remain relevant but essential. Our long-term involvement has made it possible for many Merit Brass associates to enhance relationships with so many great people while gleaning knowledge and information that has benefitted the entire company.”
“As other industry associations have been shrinking, ASA has been able to expand its value proposition to its membership,” The Granite Group President and CEO Bill Condron says. “It is a thriving organization with a bright future.”
So why has ASA kicked things into high gear over the last decade? Multiple members credit the arrival of current CEO Mike Adelizzi and the momentum he has steadily shepherded since taking the post.
“I had just finished my term as ASA president and we had just hired a ‘ball of fire’ exec by the name of Mike Adelizzi,” Mid-City Supply President Jeff New says. “Mike had a lot of crazy ideas with enough fire in his belly that just might actually bring them to reality. In the years that have followed, we have seen increased membership, bigger and better conventions with more participation, more participation from our vendor and manufacturers rep members, more educational programs, and the creation of more and better member benefits. The rebirth of ASA has been a tremendous success thanks to Mike, his dedicated staff and the many volunteers committed to the organization and our industry. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, our future looks bright.”
“The hiring of Mike Adelizzi was the key to turning around ASA,” former ASA President Brian Tuohey (The Collins Companies) says. “Mike brought ideas and energy, and over the last 10 years has attracted and assembled a very talented and dedicated staff that has made our association the shining star of industry associations nationwide.”
Benefitting from many resources
ASA’s membership is varied in responses to the specific value it receives from the association’s many offerings that range from its burgeoning ASA University education platform, to a growing business intelligence dashboard of data and analytics to an increased and focused presence on the advocacy front in Washington, D.C.
Milwaukee Valve Vice President of Sales and Marketing Tom LaGuardia is a big proponent of ASA’s advocacy efforts. “The organization has direct access to key influencers on a variety of legislative committees,” he says. “Our voices are being heard in Washington on a number of issues, including the lead issue, taxes and the impact of tariffs.”
“All members benefit from ASA’s advocacy outreach,” Ferguson CEO Kevin Murphy adds. “Thank-you for acting as a united and focused voice for the distributor and manufacturer members on important issues vital to our industry.”
Murphy says the industry’s largest PHCP-PVF distributor also benefits from the business-intelligence data it receives as an ASA member. “We find ASA’s research and business intelligence very valuable,” he says. “It provides a well-rounded, industry-wide perspective that helps shape our decision-making.”
NIBCO Vice President of Sales Ashley Martin cites the establishment of the wildly successful Women in Industry group (which she co-founded), plus the evolution of the Young Executives division into what is now known as Emerging Leaders, as two more examples of key resources ASA members can take full advantage of. “ASA has taken a proactive approach in listening to its members to understand changing industry trends and relevant issues,” she says. “For instance, Women in Industry has been the fastest-growing special interest division since its inception in 2013, recognizing the important role women play and the value of networking. The former Young Executives division has evolved into Emerging Leaders, appealing to the next generation of leaders.”
Martin adds NIBCO ranks the vast amount of networking opportunities ASA provides as another prime benefit for the Indiana-based manufacturer. “Strengthening relationships with our supply chain partners through participation in the annual convention, Connect events, Emerging Leaders and Women in Industry help build successful businesses.
“ASA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year due to the foresight and willingness to change, keeping itself relevant to its membership.”
The education component
Perhaps the strongest sentiment from the many ASA members who connected with Supply House Times for this story is the how beneficial ASA’s education platform, specifically its ASA University, has been to their companies.
“The educational programs and resources offered by the Education Foundation are not only relevant to today’s workforce, but build a foundation for tomorrow as well,” says InSinkErator Vice President of Wholesale Sales Joe Maiale, a former ASA Education Foundation chairman. “The breadth and depth of ASA University provides a greater understanding for all levels of wholesale distribution. ASA University benefits InSinkErator by partnering with a more up-to-date, educated workforce that is proficient in distribution, technology and merchandising, as some examples.”
Milwaukee Valve’s LaGuardia calls ASA’s education component “absolutely essential” to the long-term viability of the association. “No single tier of a multi-step distribution network can afford to be isolated from the others,” he explains. “These relationships are what constitute ‘partnerships’ each tier has with the other. And no one tier will prosper — for long — unless it understands the issues of all the other tiers/partners.
“ASA University affords us the opportunity to be in touch with our distributor partners, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of many of them. It allows us to help fashion content to address the needs of each partner in terms of product training, application information, technology and requirements.”
Southern Pipe & Supply Director of Human Resources Ron Black doesn’t mince words when talking about ASA’s education offerings. “The launching of ASA University is the single-most important event ASA has invested in related to the development of people in the industry,” he says. “Not only does it make training available 24/7, the quality and depth of the training is incredible.”
American Pipe and Supply CEO John Howe says the Birmingham, Alabama-based distributor gleans plenty of value from ASA University. “Almost every employee in our company will take at least one class from ASA University this year,” he says.
First Supply Chairman and CEO Joe Poehling, a former ASA president, notes his company’s laser-focused mission revolves around making sure its customers’ experience with the upper-Midwest distributor is the best First Supply can possibly make it. “The education component with ASA University is fundamental in the education of our teams to delivering that experience,” he says. “The incredible and unique industry knowledge which ASA University has developed and is being shared is getting our team on a common-knowledge base which to grow upon.
“Our customers depend on our teams to be well-trained and knowledgeable to be able to solve their problems, and get them the right product at the right time. By utilizing courses already developed by ASA University, we’ve been able to implement them more quickly and more broadly across our company. Our employees have greater satisfaction in their performance and our customers are more loyal to us.”
Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Rampart Supply’s Bridget Van Alstine notes Rampart is facing two key problems as the distributor has rapidly grown. “One, we are steadily hiring new employees, which causes a drain on our operational efforts as we train them; and second, the majority of our workforce, and therefore, a majority of our employee base’s knowledge and experience, will be approaching retirement age in the next decade,” she says. “ASA is helping us train our new employees to be contributing members of our team faster through their positional training tracks, and helping us start bridging the knowledge gap through easily accessible manufacturers’ product training on a platform employees are comfortable using.”
Mueller Industries VP of Marketing Communications Roscoe Bufkin adds: “The ASA Education Foundation has been illustrating to its members the importance of human development, and its measurable impact on attracting, refining and retaining talent in their industries.”
Former ASA President Frank Finkel says the Education Foundation’s courses became a requirement for all Davis & Warshow associates (the distributor was acquired by Ferguson in 2012). “The ASA Education Foundation has revamped its offering to reflect the current demographic of industry associates,” he says. “This enables ASA members to have a one-stop shop to find a curriculum to train an associate regardless of job description. This training enabled us to become a world-class company.”
“ASA University has done most of the heavy lifting for us, which has allowed our staff to grow without sacrificing product knowledge, business acumen or customer service,” says Central States Group President and CEO Todd Ford, the current ASAEF chairman.
Tim Morales, principal of manufacturers rep firm Tim Morales & Associates, calls ASA University “a crown jewel.” “Regardless of the role each of us plays in this industry, we all have one thing in common in that people are our biggest expense,” he says. “That said, whether we are onboarding new employees or working toward personal development goals, ASA University delivers the shortest path to success.”
And members see no letup in sight from their national association. “We’re encouraged to see the association is currently putting a lot of effort into addressing the challenges suppliers are facing today, and that they’re concerned with the issues that matter most to their members, Winsupply Senior Vice President of Marketing Steve Edwards says.
“Over the past decade ASA has assumed what I believe is its proper role in serving the common interests of distribution, manufacturing and sales representation, ‘Building One Future,’” Morales says.