As distributors have navigated the past two years full of new challenges and unprecedented circumstances, the power and importance of learning from peers and engaging in educational resources has become more important than ever before. The American Supply Association has long provided networking and educational opportunities for its members, and its partnership with the Association Education Alliance (AEA) and involvement with the annual University of Innovative Distribution (UID) conference is one example.

Sponsored by the Association Education Alliance, UID is a multi-day concentrated educational program focused on the specific needs of wholesaler-distributors. Participants can take courses in distribution strategy, leadership/professional development, management, marketing, operations and sales. This year, UID takes place March 21-24 at the JW Marriot in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“UID is, by far, one of the most impactful educational experiences I have had. Throughout the many classes I attended over the past two years, not once was a philosophy or style proclaimed as the answer. It was refreshing to see the instructors present multiple solutions and talk about the pros and cons of each. To me, the seemingly open style of learning and thinking really helps a business such as ours better increase our efficiencies and make our processes more effective." Chris Wolff, AVP- Business Development, Wolff Bros. Supply

To gain perspective on the specific benefits of UID and why ASA is passionate about this program, Supply House Times chatted with ASA Senior Manager of Learning and Development Diana Bautz. Below, Bautz explains ASA’s partnership with AEA, what distributors can expect when attending UID, continuing education opportunities, future plans for the program, how UID factors into ASA University’s Master of Distribution Management program and more. 

SHT: Tell us about ASA’s relationship with UID. How/when did it begin and how has it grown since that time?

DB: ASA has brought access to the UID to our members for years. We have increased our involvement in helping shape UID curriculum by giving input into the program planning process, educational opportunities and partnerships to further our mission of educating our members. 

We use direct feedback from ASA members to offer topic suggestions to both meet their needs, and to continuously improve the program. I personally represent ASA and our members while serving on the UID Planning Committee, and as UID chair, which works to bring greater relevant topics and speakers to the event. ASA uses our influence in UID to help create learning opportunities for our members where they need it most. 

SHT: What are the goals and objectives of the Association Education Alliance? How do these goals align with the ASA Education Foundation?

DB: AEA is a group of associations in distribution industries that work together to pool resources for educating our various member populations. There’s power in those numbers, and since our members don’t compete, we can help address strictly the unique needs of distribution. AEA association members all distribute different goods, but because we serve the same foundational supply chain industry, we’re able to work together to bring resources to all our members that we likely couldn’t completely do on our own. 

The ASA Education Foundation’s main goal is to attract, develop and retain a labor force that will become the best educated, best trained and most professional in the industry. With the combined resources of AEA’s member organizations, we broaden our reach and scope of programming in support of this goal.

”UID was a phenomenal conference. From the accommodations to the educators, everything was well put together and informative. I would highly recommend this conference to anyone in the distribution world. I really enjoyed the diversity that was displayed in the topics. Four days of learning can sometimes be mentally exhausting, but this conference was enjoyable and upbeat.” Bill Kraemer, Customer Service Supervisor, ETNA Supply

SHT: What can members expect from the UID event in March?

DB: ASA members can expect a four-day educational experience uniquely designed just for our industry. You’ll hear from expert speakers and professionals in distribution strategy, leadership/professional development, management (including HR), marketing, operations and sales. You customize your own schedule while onsite at the meeting and choose the level of difficulty in your courses based on where you are at in your career. 

You will have many networking opportunities, and you will leave with a lot of information and actions to take when you return to work. Ultimately, this is about empowering you with knowledge so you can take action to propel your career and improve processes and strategies at your company. 

SHT: What are the main benefits ASA members gain from being involved with UID and attending the annual event?

DB: ASA members who attend UID gain a competitive advantage in distribution strategies, as well as in their careers. You can go to all kinds of professional development learning events, but what makes UID unique and meaningful to our industry is the experience, knowledge and perspective of distribution in these courses. That relevance and industry insight means you’ll never sit in a lecture thinking, “Well, that won’t work in my business.” You’re gaining knowledge from people who have been there and know the business. 

ASA members also save money on registration hereRegister UID

And of course, because Purdue University works with us on this curriculum, if you attend UID three times, you earn a Certificate in Innovative Distribution from Purdue. It’s a pretty illustrious feather in your cap. 

SHT: Describe the continuing education aspect of UID.

DB: UID is great for continuing education and lifelong learners because it’s an accredited program, which adds even more value. Each time you attend UID, you earn three CEUs (continuing education units). These CEUs can be used as earned college credits if you wanted to get an advanced degree. If you go for the Certificate of Innovative Distribution, you not only earn that certificate, but nine CEUs as well. Those four days of learning could mean less tuition cost and graduating months earlier than expected. 

UID is also a phase of ASA-U’s Master of Distribution Management program. MDM is ASA’s premiere leadership program with a distribution twist, offered to our members as a standalone experience outside of day-to-day training. By attending UID, you not only get a step closer to graduation from MDM, but a lot of students find their required MDM capstone project inspiration and know-how from UID. It really helps with the hands-on application needed in MDM and transforms knowledge to ability. The combination of the two help businesses and careers grow exponentially. 

SHT: Why is it so important — especially in current times — that distributors participate in organizations and events like this?

DB: With razor-thin margins and peak efficiency to impact the bottom line already part of the challenges distributors face, we know that the pandemic exacerbated this strain on our members with a drastically changed landscape of supply chain challenges. By attending UID, you’ll learn strategies for streamlining processes, enhancing employee performance, and how to make smart decisions that are efficient in time and money. You’ll also hear from businesses and individuals who face these same challenges every day. By sharing best-practices, learning from each other's successes (and mistakes), you have a unique opportunity to crowdsource solutions to some of your toughest challenges.

Ultimately, your takeaway is going back to work, teaching others, and implementing changes that relieve the pressure everyone is feeling. Stress, turnover, errors, injuries caused by fatigue and short staff, double-work, financial and operational inefficiencies, and more can all be reduced by what you learn and apply upon your return. It really creates a ripple effect of continuous improvement. 

“I highly recommend UID and will be attending at a minimum of two more years to receive a certificate from Purdue University. The topics and instructors exceeded my expectations and I left truly inspired. It was nice to be able to tailor my training to what was going to fit my needs the best. I have several pages of takeaways and tools to take back to my company and teams. I strongly encourage any company to send its leaders to this conference, and if you are a decision-maker, you should also attend if you have not already. UID is nothing less than excellent.” Eric Lope, Assistant Director of Logistics, Williams Distributing

SHT: Who within an organization does ASA recommend attend UID? 

DB: Because they have courses at different levels, I think UID is great for anyone who is looking for growth, is a current leader or shows potential for leadership. Your decision-makers and managers should attend, branch managers, warehouse managers, showroom managers, HR, marketing, operations, sales, purchasing, anyone in your succession plan, and anyone who helps your business should all attend.

Think about bringing multiple people to UID. Everyone can create their own schedules in different areas of expertise: distribution strategy, leadership/professional development, management, HR, marketing, operations and sales. By taking different courses, everyone can come back with strategies and plans for improvement in multiple areas. 

SHT: What are the future goals and plans of ASA as it relates to AEA and UID? 

DB: Our relationship with AEA will continue to grow, and our involvement with helping to influence and improve UID will get stronger with time, especially with our insight as part of the planning committee. At UID, you’re asked for feedback on courses, speakers, and have a direct line to the decision-makers. Since I am on the UID planning committee, I always ask our members for feedback directly upon our return from the event. That feedback helps ASA know exactly what our members need. It helps shape the education ASA provides, as well as shaping UID curriculum. 

Our members love attending UID, and we will continue to bring that value to them. We’ll keep being champions for our members.