About 30 manufacturer executives took part in the first "VMD Hot Topics Roundtable" session on March 19th in Boca Raton, Fla. The Vendor Member Division of ASA sponsored the gathering, which was organized to engage members and prospective members in dialog about timely industry subjects.

"It was a good start to what we hope will be a series of these kinds of meetings in which the Vendor Members can network and develop ongoing dialog about industry issues," said Dennis Broderick of In-Sink-Erator, chairman of the VMD.

A summary of the discussions on the three basic topical areas that were discussed was distributed to members of the VMD earlier this month, and future Roundtable meetings are being planned. "We'll probably incorporate this format into a session during the ASA convention in September," said Broderick. "We have a lot of energy and interest among our members to get involved in the association, but only a limited number of outlets to employ them. This kind of participation allows manufacturers' opinions to be heard and can contribute in many ways to communicating our position and achieving consensus."

The "Hot Topics" featured at this session included: trade show consolidation, use of technology with wholesaler customers, and a general overview of some issues and trends influencing the channel.

Show Consolidation

Participants talked about the variety of objectives that vendors expect from trade show participation, and how attendance at these shows influences their sales. It was noted that while many exhibitors still look at "raw" numbers of attendees at trade shows, the focus should be directed at attracting a quality (vs. quantity) audience. This is particularly true for shows patronized by wholesalers, whose numbers have decreased significantly due to consolidation among their firms.

Some manufacturers expressed their desire for ISH North America to take an every-other-year rotation vs. its current annual schedule. Mark Simmering, an executive with Messe Frankfurt, Inc.'s Atlanta office, was on hand and explained in detail the strategy behind the ISH-NA frequency. He also provided insight into other aspects of the ISH-NA show, and reported on the efforts to recruit additional groups into the partnership.

Issues and Trends

Through these discussions and following a group session facilitated by Robert Vick of NIBCO, Inc., a number of "priority" issues were identified in terms of how they are affecting vendors' continuing profitability:
  • "Auction pricing" practices prevail throughout the industry
  • Declining product knowledge among wholesalers and end-users
  • Continued desire for trade show consolidation
  • Need for common industry standards (bar coding, pallet size, etc.)

A list of "secondary" issues was also developed, including a mix of internal, external and economic concerns.

When asked to identify major industry trends, the group discussed four priority areas, each affecting the businesses of participants to varying degrees:

  • Declining industrial base in the United States
  • Shrinking margins throughout the channel
  • Distributors developing brand-name product lines
  • Environmental threats, including asbestos, lead, mold and others

For a copy of the full "Hot Topics" report, contact Julianne Bendel at ASA, email: jbendel@asa.net.