ASA looks to have a winner with its 3-D Schematic.

Our industry’s distributors have to wrestle with a thorny dilemma when it comes to employee recruitment. Most jobs in any PHCP supply house can be performed well only by individuals with extensive knowledge of the products sold and their applications. Yet few of the people with the requisite skills to do those jobs start out with extensive product knowledge.

This wasn’t a big concern in the old days when the industry was dominated by small family-owned firms. Back then almost everyone who worked for a supply house grew up in the business or had a background in the trades - plus, the products carried were fewer in number and less complex. But today even privately held distributors tend to be large entities and can’t staff hundreds of multi-branch positions solely with family members, relatives and close business associates. They have to reach out to strangers, many with specialized talent in areas such as computer technology, logistics, marketing and business management. By and large these are smart people but only a savant could instantly grasp all the permutations of tens of thousands of skus. Typically it takes years of on-the-job experience even for intelligent people to get fully up to speed.

Several training aids have come out over the years to accelerate the process. This magazine launched its iconic College of Product Knowledge (CPK) series in the early 1980s, which was recently updated and is now available on CD During an era when CPK was out of print, the American Supply Association Education Foundation (ASAEF) filled the gap with its Product Pro series of instructional manuals and CDs. Many of you reading this no doubt cut your teeth on one or both of these outstanding training aids and can testify to their usefulness.

Yet in today’s fast-paced world you can’t rely entirely on yesterday’s techniques for progress. Reading will only take a person so far. People entering today’s job market have grown up in an era of video games and computer interaction. They will feel right at home with ASAEF’s new 3-D Residential Schematic, unveiled last month.

The first in a series of what is billed as “Product Pro Schematic Solutions,” the residential version I previewed is a tool that shows how a plumbing system works in a typical home. It illustrates with simple and colorful graphics how fixtures, pumps and other products are laid out and installed, and enables users to visualize the rough-ins of supply and DWV systems. The program also addresses joining methods for copper and CPVC. Visitwww.asa.netfor a link to more information, including pricing. ASA member rates are significantly lower than non-members’, but safe to say no distributor ought to find this program unaffordable. A lot of expertise went into the Schematic development and it is filled with plenty of drill-down menus to provide different layers of information. Navigation is simple for anyone who knows how to operate a computer and mouse.

Soon the program will be updated to incorporate HVAC systems as well as other aspects of the plumbing system. Down the road ASAEF plans to produce similar Schematic Solutions for commercial and industrial applications.

It’s only partially accurate to refer tothe 3-D Residential Schematicas a training tool. That function is certainly in mind but in the long run Schematic Solutions may prove even more valuable on the marketing side. Showroom sales staff in particular will find it helpful in explaining to customers how remodeled baths and kitchens will need to be plumbed by professionals, and for demonstrating the differences in various fixtures and plumbing systems. The first showroom operators to incorporate 3-D Residential Schematic into their sales repertoire will enjoy a competitive edge to be sure.

The Schematic may also prove helpful to counter sales staff to enhance add-ons and upgrades and for self-service areas. ASAEF may eventually market the Schematic to contractors though they’re not actively pursuing them yet. Meantime, individual distributors can gain an edge by making it available to contractor customers via showroom appointments and so on.

Like everyone else, ASAEF is feeling the effects of our lousy economy and has had to slow down further development of the Schematic Solutions program. Let’s hope the funds start flowing again soon, because this looks to be one of the most promising educational and marketing tools to come out of ASA.