A record crowd of more than 700 wholesalers and vendors attended the working meeting, which offered networking and education opportunities. Nearly 11,000 scheduled meetings between distributors and vendors were held during the last three days of the conference, according to WIT.
“This meeting is a great value for WIT vendors,” said Jeff Smalley, WIT’s director of business development. “They can meet with so many distributors over a few days at the conference, when it would take months to travel and visit face-to-face with everyone otherwise.”
Networking And EducationThis year’s purchasing agent workshop took on a slightly different format to provide the attendees networking opportunities mixed with an educational workshop.
“Using Andy Ray from the Grant W. Howard Co., an industry consultant, we looked at the ways our distributors could achieve profit, growth and service at the same time,” noted Charlie Moorhead, WIT’s executive vice president. “It was great to see the interaction between the different companies, large and small. The sharing of information and best practices is one of the greatest values of WIT.”
WIT will offer a full-day marketing workshop at its annual Fall Networking Meeting.
Management And OfficersColin Perry, president, Rampart Plumbing & Heating Supply, Colorado Springs, CO, serves as the vice president of WIT. He joined the buying group in 1996. He credits WIT with helping his company drive its marketing efforts beyond the “infancy” stage of ball caps and tee shirts into something “far beyond.”
“Everybody goes into the group looking at the rebates to begin with, but once you get in and start establishing relationships with fellow distributors, the dollars are still important but the networking opportunities are huge,” he said.
Chris Perry, an owner since 1986 and current WIT president, said that beyond the monetary benefits, ownership in WIT has brought networking and business sharing opportunities that were of even greater value. He has gained lifetime friends and mentors, he added. Perry also is the president/CEO of VAMAC, Richmond, VA.
The WIT board of directors has seven members. Chris Perry is serving a two-year term as president, which ends in September 2008. Chris Lute of Lute Supply is current past president. Colin Perry, currently vice president, will become the next president.
Early this year Charlie Moorhead was hired as the new executive vice president.
“WIT has very sound and strong leadership in our officers, directors, and committees. We have an efficient headquarters team in Decatur, IL. Over 60% of our ownership is actively engaged in managing WIT,” he replied. “When anyone or any company leaves WIT, we lose a friend, a business family member. It was the same when we lost Castle Supply and Cal-Steam. However, WIT is not standing still. We have brought in 14 new owners in the last 15 months.
“Charlie Moorhead joining WIT brings us energy, experience and skill sets to take us to the next level,” Perry continued. “He has a distributor background, a love for distribution and he knows most of our vendors. What we found through the interview process was that people look at WIT as a business opportunity. We interviewed 17 applicants before we chose him. WIT is positioned to grow by design, not by accident.”
RecruitmentThree years ago the group had 74 owners; today it has 88 owners. To be accepted as an owner of WIT, a wholesaler has to be a quality operation with a business plan and the potential to contribute to the growth of the buying group. Each WIT owner owns an equal part of the organization. WIT provides full disclosure of its finances to members and every member has a voice.
“WIT is a business family,” said Chris Perry. “We are strong-willed, determined and care very much about our businesses. WIT puts us on a level playing field competing with large box stores and national organizations. We still compete regionally in our markets, but buying collectively puts us in a one-voice connection with our vendors.”
“We want to grow, but we want to do it right,” Charlie Moorhead commented. “Obviously, we will recruit where we don’t have distribution or need market penetration. Jeff Smalley, our director of business development, is responsible for this function at WIT.”
The Future“To say that the market is changing is an understatement,” Moorhead said. “We have some very visionary owners within WIT. They understand that our market is changing and that we must embrace technology and look at new products and new manufacturers. I believe that independents today are as viable as ever, maybe even more so. Our WIT owners remain close to their customers and have made use of technology to improve processes and become more efficient. We are moving into new markets and expanding product offerings and we’re flexible enough to react quickly to the rapidly changing needs of the customer.”
Colin Perry said that when he takes over as president of WIT & Co. in 2009, the industry will be going through a transition. “We have to take a hard look at ourselves and see what we want to be when we grow up,” he commented. “WIT’s strategic plan will help us become more focused and provide top value to our owners and vendors.”