One of the major highlights of the 2023 ASA Emerging Leaders EMERGE conference in Savannah, Georgia was the annual best practices roundtable sessions where attendees gathered to share best practices and generate solutions to common problems seen within their businesses.

EMERGE2023, held at the Hyatt Regency Savannah, set a new attendance record for a second year in a row and enjoyed record sponsorship support. In addition to the roundtable session, attendees heard from a robust lineup of speakers, a state of the industry panel (that included a plumbing contractor, a builder, a designer and an engineer from the Savannah region), plus took part in ample networking opportunities, including a night-out closing event at the popular Savannah Bananas baseball game.

Attendees of the 105-minute roundtable session were grouped by distributor, manufacturer or manufacturers rep designation.

While one table noted the supply chain is getting back to a more normal, consistent state, labor continues to be a major concern.

“We are still seeing labor shortages in the larger metro markets,” a table captain noted. “Projects continue to get pushed out because of this.”

Another table captain explained one manufacturer in his group lost 75 percent of new hires in less than 90 days. However, this person noted the use of a job fair at the factory (food and tour) resulted in a good retention rate from this practice.

Looking at the overall construction environment, that same table captain said residential is down, while commercial is still above normal and industrial is still very strong and will continue to be that way through the first quarter of 2024.

Another table captain of a manufacturer-focused table also agreed the supply chain is better and appears to be leveled out, but added keys here include carrying heavy inventory, implementing better forecasting and trying to prevent customers from buying too much and cleaning out inventory.

In terms of combatting/embracing online sales, one table talked about hiring someone to specifically handle online sales. Other suggestions included monitoring MAPP pricing, creating an app for online sales and participating in vendor-managed inventory.

Still on the eCommerce subject, another manufacturer-focused table noted independent distributors need to “beef up websites to handle folks looking for product,” and that manufacturers “need to know what the wholesaler has in stock, like Walmart — tells you how many and where.”

One manufacturer added preferred vendors to its website to direct customers in certain markets toward those distributors.

“It’s a hefty investment from the wholesaler to get that level. You need inventory,” one table attendee said.

On the subject of house-branded items, one table captain noted a company has to own the contractor relationship to overcome price-focused private-label products. Also, factory tours “help seal the deal to get the focus off price,” he said.

The topic of shipping and lead times was discussed at one table where a debate occurred on the definition of when lead time starts. Is it when the manufacturer receives the purchase order, when order acknowledgement is sent to the customer or when the order is released to shipping? One person explained lead time does not factor in transit/shipping time, just focuses on time to get out the door. Another person added heavy inventory allows for faster lead time.

Employee training was another conversation that elicited plenty of responses. One rep noted cross-training in the building, training at the factory, ride-alongs and working in the field for a contractor are strategies his firm employs, while one manufacturer noted a training track involves working at a wholesale store for three or four weeks to hear what is happening, followed by several-weeks at an internal training center before being sent into the field for nearly a half-year, then back to the training center “to know what questions to ask, issues they see in the field,” he said.

On the manufacturers rep front, one table captain noted rep warehouses are housing more material. That same person said one obstacle they are encountering is private-label products by wholesalers.

From a marketing standpoint, multiple tables brought up the current-day importance of having a consistent social media presence.

EMERGE2023 attendees will receive a complete report from all the roundtable discussions in the next few weeks.

EMERGE2024 heads to Boston, May 22-24, 2024 at the Westin Copley Place.