In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Supply Association made the leap to a 100% virtual setting for its annual NETWORK conference. Originally slated to be held Oct. 7-9 at the Fairmont Millennium Park in Chicago, NETWORK was instead a two-day virtual event Oct. 7-8.

Earlier this year, the ASA Executive Committee made the call to design a virtual event and ASA staff worked diligently to execute the plan, bringing in more than 1,600 registrants from more than 250 ASA member companies. 

After ASA President Bill Glockner (Hirsch Pipe & Supply) kicked off the event’s virtual live stream, attendees heard from marketing consultant and author Ron Karr and keynote speaker David Kohler, president and CEO of Kohler Co. Day two included the 2021 industry economic forecast from ASA Chief Economist Dr. Chris Kuehl, and another live education session from writer, consultant and workplace expert Alexandra Levit. More educational sessions were available on-demand throughout the event and until Oct. 23, via the event virtual platform. 

In addition to hearing important industry insights from Kohler and Kuehl, attendees learned about ASA’s new PROJECT TALENT initiative and all that is available to ASA members in this important platform. PROJECT TALENT is one of three major initiatives in the association’s Building One Future platform, and aims to solve the ongoing labor shortage the industry faces. The project includes a detailed media campaign designed to drive targeted traffic through the ASA website to its members’ websites. ASA members can benefit from a Career Portal, providing education, tools for recruiting and help securing new hires. Learn more about the PROJECT TALENT initiative at

NETWORK2020 Virtual featured other conference staples such as wholesaler-distributor/vendor conference booth appointment sessions, as well as the presentation of several coveted awards; The IPD Award of Excellence, the Alice A. Martin Women of the Year Award, ASA Safety Awards and the chairman’s recognition. All of these expected elements were built into the virtual format, along with an industry first — a virtual trade show, plus virtual happy hours that provided networking opportunities for attendees across numerous regional and specialty divisions within ASA. 


A big project: Virtual trade show

During day-one of NETWORK2020 Virtual, 37 brands had booths at the virtual trade show, bringing in great attendance and participation; 98% of distributor companies registered for NETWORK Virtual attended the trade show where 2,532 booth visits were made, 4,684 messages were sent, 2,096 documents were downloaded and 2,083 videos were viewed.

Stephanie Ewing, an industry veteran and president of RockStar Business Services, a new sales and marketing augmentation services firm, spearheaded the virtual trade show for ASA.

 “When hosting a virtual trade show, the most important part of the planning process is understanding what my client, their exhibitors and the audience hopes to accomplish,” she explained. “ASA’s most important goal was delighting both supplier partners and distributor attendees, and communicating valuable information that will help partnerships grow. 

“It was vital for ASA to provide an experience that prompted high attendance, engagement, after-show data analytics, concise messaging between attendees and manufacturers, easy access and convenient show hours.” 

Ewing’s greatest challenge was to help exhibitors present themselves in the virtual setting, and she used her coaching expertise to do so. “When I saw a manufacturer struggling, I audited their tools and provided recommendations. If they were weak on content, I worked with them to create or find it,” she said.

“ASA did a wonderful job of driving awareness. It’s always a challenge to get time with your desired audience; offering a flexible time period certainly helps. That’s why ASA continued to promote attendance of the virtual trade show from any device, anywhere and anytime after the trade show concluded.”

For over two decades, Ewing has helped businesses achieve greater success, and that devotion is why she founded RockStar Business Services. “My company is focused on augmenting sales and marketing efforts,” she said. “Virtual programs are in high demand, and I anticipate more to come. I have become a virtual positioning expert; therefore, RockStar is now offering additional virtual design services. It is a great asset to multiple industries in terms of driving new product awareness with key stakeholders globally. The InnovateMMXXI program (Ewing’s original virtual trade show platform aimed at the kitchen and bath industry) will go live February 2021.” 

Ewing said NETWORK Virtual trade show attendees reported the unique virtual setting as being beneficial. “I have worked with more than 100 manufacturers and received direct feedback from over 1,000 attendees this year, who consistently say, ‘Although I miss the physical experience of trade shows, I learned more at the virtual trade show than I typically do at a physical trade show.’” 


Member support and takeaway 

Social media aided in rallying around NETWORK 2020 Virtual as members and speakers alike posted in excitement prior to the event. Bradley Corp., Texas Plumbing Supply and Rich Tomkins Co. posted team images in their ASA-branded masks. 

Kim Betts of Betts Plumbing Supply in Massachusetts was a first-time NETWORK attendee and notes the virtual format worked to her advantage, as other staff members were able to benefit from hearing the educational session.

“As a small, independent supply house, I found the virtual experience to be very positive overall,” she said. “It was nice that with the virtual sessions, my staff could easily be involved. I attended the event for a specific class, but found that all of the speakers and training had takeaways I could apply to my business. My biggest takeaway is that working with ASA more closely can truly help grow my business.”

Chief People Officer at ASA distributor member, The Granite Group, Tracie Sponenberg, SHRM-SCP, SPHR said ASA NETWORK Virtual offered up several key benefits. 

“I was so incredibly impressed with all of the forward-thinking work that ASA is doing for our industry, especially with PROJECT TALENT. While we have not had trouble attracting industry veterans to our company, attracting people from outside the industry is often a challenge. I feel that with PROJECT TALENT, we’ll be well on our way to solving some of our biggest talent problems.”