Nashville, Tennessee — home of country music, hot chicken and Johnny Cash. Along with those prominent illustrations depicting the city at face-value, this year it was also the home of the ASA Emerging Leaders’ annual forum EMERGE.

With more than 150 industry-focused individuals in attendance, the city of Nashville housed a new bustling of chatter of its own, this time coming from the best practices roundtable sessions taking place within The Westin Nashville.

Within these roundtables, participants reported what they benefited from the most was being able to connect with manufacturers, rep agencies and wholesalers from different areas all at once — many of which they hadn’t met prior to the conference.

The Emerging Leaders were open and honest about their expectations, business relationships, challenges and the reasons why they are in the industry and employed by the company they represent. They sparked collaborative conversations about the future of our industry that challenged everyone at the tables.

During one of the roundtable sessions, a table composed of solely wholesale-distributors shared the challenges they faced with employees and retention. The solutions that the table shared to combat this never-ending problem were ideas that they’ve either seen, discussed amongst their team themselves or have implemented at their own companies. Solutions discussed at this table included: Removing experience requirements for warehouse workers, increasing wages of long-term employees, and more frequent bonuses instead of quarterly.

Generational management made the list of discussion topics, stemming from what keynote speaker Jeff Havens touched on with the “old school” vs. “new school” generation of employees. Working remotely is now something more common and discussed openly, an avenue some distributors are exploring frequently when possible.

Another table discussed “staying relevant” as wholesale distributors. What kind of value can be brought to the table? Many ideas were brought up; utilizing different technologies that are being applied to improve the customer experience through automation and integration along with adding value to the distributor’s role within the supply chain.

Ecommerce platforms were a hot topic, including which ones were being used. Barcoding bins in customer vans and a spin of different “going to market” strategies with certain product lines also contributed as new ways to stay relevant.

EMERGE2021 attendees
The EMERGE attendees are very passionate about what they do, and would love to see it continue to become more attractive to the up-and-coming generations.

Manufacturers reported it being reassuring to know that the challenges they faced during the pandemic were shared. Over the past year it is easy for people to feel like their individual companies were flying solo through these issues when, in reality, the obstacles faced are the same that every person and company is working through throughout the industry. They also shared that having different channels —manufacturers, reps and distributors was key. CRM integration amongst the channels and distributor selling technique trends were talking points overheard during the roundtable sessions.

Topics discussed throughout the roundtables also included retention bonuses, stay interviews, internal mentor programs, and virtual team bonding and building while working remote.

Overall, the resounding key takeaway from EMERGE2021 attendees is the plan to continue attending the annual EMERGE event. With the ability to constantly learn about the industry as a whole through the meaningful connections created during this annual forum, personal development and professional growth within the industry is bound to happen.

The EMERGE attendees are very passionate about what they do, and would love to see it continue to become more attractive to the up-and-coming generations.

EMERGE2022 returns to its regular May schedule with its May 16-18, 2022 program at the JW Marriott in New Orleans.

Vincenzo Dal Pozzo is the ASA Director of Membership. He can be reached at