The rich get richer because those most in need of knowledge are never there to get it.

Go into education sessions at any industry convention and you'll witness a curious phenomenon. Look around the room and you'll see some of the industry's brightest minds in attendance. Some of them know more than the instructors and could teach the class.

Nonetheless, they make it a point to be there for two basic reasons. One is intellectual curiosity. They want to see what other knowledgeable people have to say and how it compares with their insights. The other is more practical. They just might pick up a tidbit or two of information they didn't know before, which will help them run a better business.

Perhaps the number one trait of smart people is understanding how much they don't know. I'm paying myself a compliment here, because there's a world of stuff I know I don't know. Industry events like ASA's recently concluded Network '06 convention and ISH North America trade show and conference provide great opportunities to fill in gaps of knowledge. Here are a few previously unknown things I picked up from various sources at Network '06/ISH NA.

  • For years, contractors have had trouble attracting new plumbers to the trade. Now I'm starting to hear a lot of chatter about contractor shortages cropping up. In some markets it's hard to find plumbing companies able or willing to do certain kinds of work.

  • Joe Poehling, president of the ASA Education Foundation, said: “About 70 million baby boomers are going to retire in the next 10-15 years. Only about 40 million new workers will enter the workforce. There's a tremendous need to become an attractive supplier (to work for).” First time I'd heard of that shortfall.

  • Said Al Levi ( in his ISH NA seminar on Recruiting, Hiring & Training - “If an applicant shows up late for the interview, don't grant the interview. You know all you need to know.” Common sense, I suppose, but I never thought of doing that in all the years I've been interviewing job applicants. From now on I will. (I'm inclined to cut some slack if the person calls from the road saying s/he'll be late due to unexpected traffic congestion. Levi takes a harsher approach, saying worthwhile job applicants will allow extra time.)

  • Legend Valve's Robert Vick gave a thoughtful presentation at a breakfast meeting of ASA's Vendor Member Division. (Excerpts of his remarks appear on page 36.) From him, I learned that the demise of exclusive/selective distribution came about not as commonly supposed from manufacturers greedy to gain more sales, but via wholesaler expansion into other markets. How can a vendor tell a good customer not to sell its line when they open a branch in Springfield?

  • In a panel presentation on immigration, a contractor from the Southwest admitted that 70% of his workforce is comprised of foreign Hispanic workers. Without them he couldn't stay in business. But he also admitted that the reduced skills of today's workforce means he has to factor in twice as much time to complete a project. That productivity drain was an eye-opener for me.

  • ASA's latest Operating Performance Report (OPR) shows net profit before taxes for reporting firms averaged 4.1% in 2005, on top of a 3.6% gain in 2004. Those are the highest percentages reported in decades. I knew the last couple of years have been good ones for the industry, but didn't realize how prosperous - and 2006 is shaping up as another great year for most PHCP wholesalers.

  • In his review of ASA's 2006 OPR, Tom Noon of Industry Insights observed that many distributors tend to borrow money only when they get into a jam. He advised that you have more leverage in dealing with bankers when business is booming. Now's the time to borrow money for long-term expansion, Noon advised. Keen insight.

  • Brent Glover's program on the “Acquisitive Distributor” taught me numerous things I did not know about acquisition finances.

  • First Supply's retired chairman Ed Felten just published a book, The Art of Supervising & Motivating People. My copy's autographed inscription reads: “People will forget what you do or say, but they never forget how you made them feel.” Never heard that before. Good words of wisdom to live by.

    I'm running out of room, but could go on for pages with bits of new information I picked up at this year's biggest industry event. I'm sure those of you who were there learned a thing or two as well.

    The bad news is that the people in our industry who need knowledge the most were absent. They can't attend because they're too busy putting out fires caused by their lack of knowledge.

    And thus, the rich get richer.