Manufacturers should evaluate whether their money is better spent at trade shows or in developing new programs.

Trade shows frequently serve the purpose of bringing together different segments of the distribution channel. Last month's NEX show in Chicago drew wholesalers, reps, contractors and manufacturers to the same city at the same time, but a certain amount of distance among the groups was obvious.

Besides the aisles of the NEX show itself, the gaps were especially apparent in two programs promoted during the show by wholesaler and contractor associations. The initiatives have absolutely nothing in common other than their success depends on the joint participation of manufacturers, wholesalers and contractors.

The American Supply Association's Source ASA+ is an electronic database of product information that ASA leaders believe will make wholesalers more efficient and pave the way to e-commerce with contractors. We've supported this program in this space before. As he did at the ASA convention, Jack Hester of F.W. Webb Co. states the case for Source ASA+ in the Forum section of this month's issue.

Hester and other ASA leaders say that not enough manufacturers provide data to Source ASA+ to make it viable. For their part, manufacturers claim that too few wholesalers demand that they participate in the program.

The other program is the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors' three-year-old Pro Product Line. The pro line was intended to help contractors -- and wholesalers -- differentiate themselves from big-box home centers, where brand-name products are readily available.

PHCC leaders today admit that the pro line is not as successful as they had hoped it would be. They say that not enough manufacturers and wholesalers support PPL, so contractors have a hard time finding these products. Again, manufacturers and wholesalers say that too few contractors demand their participation.

Manufacturers who complained about the small attendance at NEX should look at these types of initiatives as ways to reinvigorate their relationships with wholesalers and contractors. Even further, manufacturers should evaluate whether their money is better spent at trade shows or in developing innovative new programs to strengthen old bonds. It's not inconceivable that renewed ties among contractors, wholesalers and manufacturers resulting from such programs could help breathe new life into the trade-show format.

But wholesalers and contractors must not leave their fate solely in the hands of vendors. They have to give more than lip-service to programs that serve their own best interests and carry the whole industry forward.