After last month’s NETWORK2020 Virtual conference, ASA members expressed excitement over the progress on ASA’s initiatives D. NEXT and PROJECT TALENT. This month, I wanted to share more about these exciting initiatives that ASA has invested in to make sure members remain viable in the future.  

At the ASA Winter Leadership meetings in 2018 and 2019, more than 75 industry volunteers worked together to develop a strategy to address two areas where they saw the greatest future challenges — adapting to new technologies and finding more great people. ASA then formed issue strategic action teams (ISATs) to determine how to move forward, resulting in the development of D.NEXT and PROJECT TALENT.

D.NEXT ISAT members set lofty goals from the beginning. “D.NEXT was born out of the need for a modern distributor to identify, vet and roll out potential solutions that will enable us to dovetail with the technologies available to both our clients, and those technologies that are dominant in other industries, but underutilized by ASA member companies,” says Charles D. Sheehy CEO Jeff Camuso, part of the technology ISAT. 

Bill Condron, CEO of The Granite Group and another technology ISAT member, adds: “The D.NEXT initiative is all about being in a position to ask the right questions in this rapidly evolving world. Before we can even get to the right answers, we as an industry need to be able to ask the right questions in a creative and innovative environment.”

As the group held its meetings, the concept of establishing a research lab in conjunction with a major university became the leading candidate to pursue. “Our belief is that leveraging the research center concept where ideas can be explored, tested and validated is the best approach for this problem,” says Steve Edwards, senior vice president of marketing at Winsupply, and another technology ISAT member.

As a result, earlier this year ASA opened its D.NEXT Technology Innovation Lab at Research Park at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Beth Ladd, ASA’s vice president of innovation, assembled a cross-functional team of extremely bright graduate and undergraduate students to begin work on a series of projects to help our members. 

“To be able to tackle such forward-thinking challenges in an innovation lab staffed by creative young minds is exciting,” Condron says. “And to share the costs of this exploration and potentially game-changing applications across the entire membership makes it all possible.” 

First Supply President Katie Poehling Seymour further explains: “The D.NEXT lab is a unique opportunity that we have to change the narrative around our industry to become one of innovation that is an exciting place to be.”

During NETWORK2020 Virtual, Ladd shared some of the initial research about customer behavior patterns and how that might influence our innovation choices. The presentation received a lot of positive feedback. “It’s clear to see from some of their initial research findings they shared at NETWORK that the foundation is in place for D.NEXT to be a very valuable resource for ASA members in the future,” Edwards says.

One of the side benefits of this effort is that ASA is creating excitement about the PHCP-PVF industry in a college setting. “The D.NEXT lab shaped my understanding of the plumbing distribution/manufacturing industry,” University of Illinois graduate student and D.NEXT team member Grace Nie says.

“Before my experience here, I had never thought of the complexity of the supply chain in the industry. All those complications make the industry fascinating, and challenge me to think further and deeper into the business problems we are solving at D.NEXT.”

Katherine Wurtz, a 2021 MBA candidate at Illinois, adds: “In a fast-paced world based in technological advancements and self-service options, it was refreshing to learn that there are industries that still put personal relationships and consumer interactions first. There is a value to this business model that I believe should remain unchanged but transform with the current tech climate to enhance and produce better results in terms of the bottom line.”
Poehling Seymour says the lab brings the ability to drive innovation with the projects, “and the ability to attract, recruit and retain talent into the industry with presence on a college campus.” 


Careers platform

Which brings us to PROJECT TALENT, aimed at recruiting the talent we need for the future. This game-changing platform also was introduced at NETWORK2020 Virtual. “Our industry has long suffered from an inferiority complex or identify crisis as we have attempted to define who we are,” says Dakota Supply Group CEO Paul Kennedy, part of the talent ISAT. “We sell toilets, not cutting-edge enough — or so we thought. PROJECT TALENT is helping to recast that perspective with the collateral and tools we need to attract, train and retain our future employees.”

ASA recognized we need to help members tell our industry’s story, because it is a compelling one filled with growth and opportunity. “PROJECT TALENT should be used as a tool to attract individuals who will continue to add value to our industry as well as leadership succession,” says Christy Maloney, vice president at Coburn Supply and also part of the talent ISAT. “For this to be successful, we should provide them with a career path that illustrates all the fulfilling career opportunities our industry has to offer.”

Kennedy adds: “With technology and innovation driving our industry forward, there are exciting careers in IT, system design, social media, supply chain, finance, operations, HR, sales and technical advisement to name just a few. All these challenging careers are available in an industry that is doing good work in promoting and protecting the health and safety of our country.”

After an extensive search late last year, ASA partnered with Harger Howe, a Boston-headquartered advertising agency with expertise in talent acquisition, to launch PROJECT TALENT by building an exciting career recruitment platform to help our members find top-quality talent for their companies. A multimedia careers portal is filled with tools to help ASA members find the next wave of difference-makers.

“A big part of PROJECT TALENT is providing useful, easy-to-access tools and resources for member recruiters,” Harger Howe President Mike Walsh tells me. “Any ASA member can take advantage of these tools through the MyASA portal where they can find many helpful assets.”

Turn to Page 66 in the ASA News section of this issue for all that PROJECT TALENT has to offer ASA members.

Kennedy explains PROJECT TALENT is aggregating the resources of all members to provide a unified message about the PHCP-PVF industry. 

 “This is just the start,” Walsh emphasizes. “We encourage ASA members to become active participants and check their MyASA portal frequently as we add new material.” 

There is lots more to come from these ASA initiatives, but I think it is already safe to say that thanks to D.NEXT and PROJECT TALENT, ASA members can Get in the Game and Win the Future Together!