Group pays tribute to retiring exec Dan Schlosser.

Contractor panelists at the 2010 NCWA Convention.

The 2010 convention of the North Central Wholesalers Association, held July 7-8 at the Sawmill Creek Resort in Huron, OH, realized increased attendance drawn by compelling educational programs and the opportunity to bid farewell to longtime Executive Director Dan Schlosser, who will be retiring at the end of the year.

The educational agenda was kicked off by an economic analysis/forecast by Todd Teter, Moen’s vice president and general manager - U.S. Wholesale. His was a detailed, studious examination of what promises to be a slow economic recovery, driven not only by events on these shores but by the impact of an increasingly global marketplace. Some key excerpts from Teter’s presentation:

Dan Schlosser

  • Faucet sales declined 30% industrywide during the “Great Recession.”

  • A positive sign for the construction economy is data Teter presented showing an increase in housing permit growth for five consecutive months on a rolling three-month basis. However, the increases were from an abysmal level and driven by tax credits. According to the Moen executive, June’s data will prove to be pivotal, as May begins the traditional home selling and by June we should get a clear picture as to the real effect of the tax incentives being withdrawn in April.

  • Likewise, housing starts ended its freefall in 2009 and showed broad-based substantial gains that began last Dec. on a three-month rolling average. March’s figures were up 42% from the same period a year ago.

  • The inventory of new homes for sale has finally started to drain off. According to Teter, a normal rate is 6-7 months supply, whereas we were up to 11 but on a downward trend. “We’re getting back to normalized rates. I’m encouraged by this,” said Teter. New home sales rose in March by 22.6% on a rolling three-month basis. “This is positive for the U.S. economy.”

  • The Moen executive took note of a pickup in business by many plumbing manufacturers, but said, “The real question is what’s real demand, and what’s a buildup of inventories? I don’t know.”

  • Using data from the Global Insights consulting firm, Teter predicted GDP growth of 3.5% in 2010, followed by gains of 2.9% in 2011 and 3.1% in 2012. This would constitute a slow but steady recovery.

Todd Teter

The highlight of the event, attended by 157 people (up from 133 in 2009), was a panel discussion, moderated by manufacturers rep Pete Lewnes (Preferred Sales Inc., Hermitage, PA),  in which four mechanical contractors discussed what goes into deciding who to buy from. Theirs was a collective tale of depressed construction markets ranging from housing to schools to industry and almost everything in between. “It’s a different world than it was five years ago,” said Scott Wallenstein of Cleveland’s Neptune Plumbing.

Amid relentless tales of low bidding and price squeezing, the contractors made a few observations that got to the heart of the distributor’s role in the marketplace. One issue dealt with the value provided by knowledgeable distributor personnel. Bruce McCartney (Lucas Plumbing & Heating, Lorain, OH) emphasized the importance of continuity in dealing with distributor employees. “It says something about a company when there’s a lot of turnover,” he observed. He placed great importance on reaching people who can help quickly and seamlessly. “I don’t want to deal with voice mail when I’ve got to have an answer now.”

A question arose whether the contractor panelists “buy from a salesman or from a distributor.” Opinion was divided. “The salesman is number one with me,” said Dave Metzger (Metzger-Gleisinger Mechanical, Mansfield, OH). “If I trust him, I really don’t care who he works for.”

That opinion was echoed by Rick Seifert (D&A Plumbing & Heating, Uniontown, PA): “A salesman’s knowledge is a big item with me,” he said.

Wallenstein took a different tack in noting, “A good wholesaler will not have a bad salesman.” McCartney chimed in that “I would lean toward the salesman, but in reality they become one.”

 (For more on the panel presentation and Teter’s remarks, seeJim Olsztynski’s “In Closing” column)

NCWA held its customary tabletop trade show, which is always well attended. The evening banquet featured a tribute to Dan and Joyce Schlosser. Dan thanked the group for the opportunity and said, “I was always proud to say that I represented wholesale distributors in the PHCP industry. I had the great privilege of working with some true pioneers and legends in this business and the life lessons that I learned were invaluable.”

Next year’s convention will be held June 13 - 14, 2011, at the Gillespie Conference Center next to the campus of Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN.