As I finish my year as ASA president, I hope my sharing stories here in these pages each month about the huge benefits that members are getting from ASA programs has encouraged you to get in the game with ASA. 

My final urging to you is that you don’t stop getting involved with ASA just there, and that you go beyond participating to volunteering to help with ASA programs either at the regional or national level. My parting words to our membership are, “Don’t just get in the game, go all in!”

People ask me why would you take time away from your business and family to get involved with ASA? I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the great members and staff of ASA, even during this pandemic, but I wondered if maybe my experience was an anomaly. To make sure I wasn’t crazy, I thought I would ask some of the past presidents of ASA why they got involved and what it meant to them. These are some of the busiest people I know, from some of the most successful firms in our industry, yet they found it important to devote volunteer time to ASA, and they even wrote back to me about why it was important to them.

First, I asked past presidents what motivated them to get involved with ASA. The road for a few of the past presidents was regional involvement. 

“As president of our regional association (old WDA), I was its representative on ASA’s board,” Don Maloney, president of Coburn Supply in Beaumont, Texas, says. “Interacting with the members of the board gave me a much better appreciation of ASA as our industry’s voice. I was witness to the commitment the leaders of ASA had to our industry. They did their best to represent all the members while staying in tune with their local/regional challenges. My positive experience on the board gave me the desire to continue to work with ASA.”

Elkhart, Indiana-based Mid-City Supply President Jeff New’s road was similar. 

“As president of NCWA, I attended a few ASA board meetings. Being able to ‘hang with’ the leaders of our industry inspired me to get more involved,” he says. “And, the persuasiveness of the late Dottie Ramsey (another former ASA president and ASA’s first woman president) helped a lot, too.”

Joe Poehling, chairman and CEO of Madison, Wisconsin-based First Supply, also started in his region. 

“I first served in MwDA leadership,” he explains. “Our business and the industry have changed dramatically since that time. Being engaged in ASA has taught our company and our leadership to look forward at what’s coming next, and how to stay ahead as an innovative business even after 124 years.”

Some, like me, were asked to get involved, as Bedford, Massachusetts-based F.W. Webb President Jeff Pope explains. 

“I was asked to volunteer and I did,” he says. “I wanted F.W. Webb to give something back to ASA since the association helped Webb many years ago. I also knew the experience would be something out of my comfort zone and I wanted to challenge myself.”

Others started by exploring one aspect of ASA, like Brian Tuohey, CEO of East Windsor, Connecticut-based The Collins Companies. 

“We initially joined ASA to establish a formal, ongoing educational program for our company, but our entire management staff is now actively involved in every program they offer, and we are a much better company because of it,” he says.

John Strong, president of Indianapolis, Indiana-based Economy Plumbing Supply, saw it as almost an inevitability. His late father, Herb, also served as ASA president. “ASA has always been important to our small independent company,” he says. “We have been involved since the early 1980s.” 

Tim Milford, CEO of St. Louis, Missouri-based Milford Supply, views it almost as a selfish choice. “I was motivated by pure self-interest,” he says. “I wanted to make my company as good as possible. I realized that getting involved with ASA was the best approach for Milford Supply Co.” 

Steve Cook, CEO of Baltimore, Maryland-based Northeastern Supply, saw it as his industry duty. “I love this industry, and ASA is clearly the voice of our industry, so why not help out?” he says.

However, not all past presidents were sold on ASA from the beginning: Case in point, Hajoca Corp. President and CEO Rick Fantham

“We put the ASA membership dues under a microscope during the 2009-2010 recession, and decided to either pull out or go all-in,” he says. “I am so pleased we chose the latter. It was close! We saw high ROI once we jumped into the deep end of the pool.”


Major benefits

Once involved, these past presidents saw the ASA benefits for their companies and themselves. 

“I believe I got more out of my year as president than I put in,” Poehling says. “I got more ideas, best practices and inspiration from seeing what our members were doing than I imagined. But you don’t have to be ASA president to get the same benefit. Belonging to ASA and attending any event or joining any discussion with another member can help you solve a challenge you’re facing, get a new idea or see an opportunity ahead.”
Milford says networking with his peers was another huge benefit. 

“I got to find out that we all have the same challenges and problems to deal with,” he says. “It was and still is very productive to find out how other companies approach the same problems.” 

New adds: “The relationships I formed from my ASA service led to us joining WIT (buying group), which enabled our company to survive and thrive.  Mid-City might not be here today if it were not for my involvement in the ASA leadership.”

On a personal note, Maloney explains he gained new friends and a better grasp of the industry and its importance. 

“Our company gained knowledge of the issues impacting our industry, not just our local concerns,” he says.

Tuohey echoes Maloney’s sentiment. “When you stay isolated in your business you know what you know, but when you join ASA you get to know what everybody else knows,” he says. “I can honestly say that I have received much more back from the knowledge I’ve received and the friendships I’ve made from my involvement with ASA than I have ever given.”

Fantham is in the same category, highlighting a number of ASA benefits, including improved relationships, access to information and lobbying. “I got a lot more from ASA than I gave — and the relationships are enduring,” he says.

Strong says being involved with the top leaders and performers in the industry “is a special opportunity,” he says. “The life-long relationships with fellow distributors and vendor partners are priceless.”


The future of ASA

So no doubt these past presidents enjoyed and benefited from their time at ASA, but do they believe that ASA still is relevant to our industry in the future? “ASA is in a good spot,” Maloney says. “The leadership, staff and volunteers have a good handle on the direction/programs/initiatives we will need to be relevant in the coming years.” 

Cook agrees. “The future is very bright thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication from both volunteers and staff,” he says. 

Poehling notes ASA leadership has made tremendous steps forward in defining the future of the organization with investments, such as the new D.NEXT lab at the University of Illinois, not to mention ASA’s advocacy efforts. 

“ASA’s advocacy work in Washington, D.C., is best-in-class, and leads any other organization in the industry,” Poehling says.

Tuohey adds, “Irreplaceable is the first word that comes to mind.”

At the same time, the past presidents acknowledge that ASA must keep innovating. 

“Like all organizations today, ASA faces many challenges,” New says. “With the leadership that we have, so many smart, dedicated people, I see no reason that ASA will not survive and continue to grow. We all need to reinvent ourselves every few years, and ASA will do that.”

Pope adds: “ASA will need to redefine itself and prove its necessity. ASA will have to figure out what services it can provide that the industry will find valuable in order to flourish.” 

Strong says it takes a community to compete and survive in today’s business environment. “And ASA combined with our buying group is the 1-2 punch we need to succeed,” he says.

Milford adds: “The future of ASA is very good. “The young people in the industry are innovative thinkers and active with growing the business. ASA needs to continue to bring in all the volunteers they can to make the organization as viable in the future as it is now.”

So, what would these past presidents say to these potential volunteers to encourage them to go all in?

 “Jump in,” Poehling says. “You will grow as a leader, a professional and as a business.” 

Cook uses similar language, “Jump in and give it a try — it’s very rewarding!”

Pope counsels, “I would tell the volunteer to be ready to put some years into serving on a committee, and that the volunteer will get more out of it than he/she will put into it.”

New says he owes a lot of his success to getting involved in ASA. “I’ve made great friends, learned a lot and enjoyed every minute of it,” he says. “I highly recommend it to anyone in this great industry.” 

Milford supports that idea. “By getting involved now as a volunteer, you will be working side by side with the best in the business,” he says. “Volunteering is a great investment of your time and talent.”

I heartily concur with all these past presidents about the personal and professional value of my involvement with ASA, and I want to express appreciation to the membership for the privilege of serving as ASA president this year. I will leave you with the words of my friend, Steve Cook, who sums it up nicely. 

“If you are not an ASA member, join. If you are already an ASA member, get involved!”