Our organizations will work hand-in-hand to capitalize on opportunities in a rapidly changing business environment.

Last month the ASA Executive Committee voted to continue the association's partnership with SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES. For another five years we will function as the “Official Publication of the American Supply Association.”

The decision was not a slam dunk. Our main competitor made an aggressive push to replace us as ASA's publishing partner. We owe them a debt of gratitude. That's because we believe in free enterprise and the power of competition to propel organizations toward improvement and innovation. Without someone else contending for this honor, it would have been easy for both ASA's and our staff to get complacent about our partnership. Given that we've had a relatively trouble-free first five-year term, we could've routinely signed a renewal agreement, shaken hands, and gone back to business as usual. Instead, an ardent suitor forced both of us to examine the nature of our relationship, what we both expect to get out of it, and search for ways to strengthen the bond to mutual benefit.

The past five years have been challenging times for both ASA and for trade publishers. Consolidation among wholesalers in particular but also throughout the supply chain has taken a toll on ASA's ability to sustain and grow membership. Buying groups have usurped some of the social and networking functions that used to be one of the main attractions of participating in a trade association. Moreover, the Internet has taken away some of the information exclusivity that trade groups used to enjoy. We in the publishing industry also must cope with the challenges presented by the exponential growth of the Internet as a communications medium. Both of us are faced with the Darwinian task of either adapting to the new realities or going extinct.

And both of us have concluded that we can better face these challenges as a team rather than alone.

I cannot speak for ASA, but I can share some insights as a very interested observer of their affairs, and I think the ASA leadership has done about as good a job as could be done to keep the ship headed on the right course in terribly stormy seas. Throughout the past five years, ASA has taken numerous steps to enhance its value to the membership and remain an indispensable player in industry affairs.

One of the first of those positive steps was folding its own unprofitable magazine and allying with us. Give their executive and staff decision makers credit for a move that has benefited them financially and with no loss of prestige and exposure.

They also exhibited good sense in partnering with Messe Frankfurt to produce the ISH North America trade show - and then responding to the clamor from exhibitors to abide by an every other year schedule. At last report, booth sales for the 2006 show in Chicago are far ahead of where they were at a comparable time preceding the 2004 event, which seems to vindicate this decision.

ASA also has strengthened itself by opening up participation from vendors and thereby benefiting from their best practices wisdom as well as financial support. ASA's Education Foundation has successfully developed and marketed important new educational aids and programs, most notably “Essentials of Profitable PHCP Distribution” and expansion of the “Product Pro” product knowledge series. Industry-specific education remains something a trade association can do better than buying groups or anyone else, and ASA has been moving full speed ahead to capitalize on this competitive edge.

ASA executives and staff also have worked tirelessly to strengthen - and sometimes repair - relationships with regional affiliates and other natural allies throughout the industry. Petty squabbles are almost entirely a thing of the past.

For our part, SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES has met the challenges facing our business by stepping forcefully into the future. When it first acquired SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES five years ago this month, our parent company was called Business News Publishing Co. Two years ago it changed to BNP Media Co. in recognition of a new strategic vision. That is, we are no longer in the magazine publishing business. We are in the information delivery business.

The owners of our company understand that much of our future growth will come from electronic media and other ways of distributing information. That's why we have invested considerable time and money to developing first-class Web sites and Internet communications capabilities. It's why we will be developing conference programs, the first edition being “Innovative Thinking 2006: Hiring-Retention-Training,” to be held next June at a resort near Atlanta. (See story in Industry News)

ASA will be a participant in many of these endeavors - a partner in deeds as well as words. We're happy to be associated with such a competent and dedicated group of people, and will do everything in our power to fulfill our mutual goal of helping to make this a better and more prosperous industry.