An eventful trip

It is never a good sign when you check the local forecast on your phone and get this message: “This is a tornado emergency for the city of Dallas! Seek shelter now to save your life!”

I took the phone’s advice in the middle of theWIT 2012 Distributor/Vendor ConferenceApril 3 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. In the early afternoon at the height of the severe weather that spawned multiple tornadoes, we were all evacuated into a centrally located hotel ballroom for approximately 20 minutes. That’s where I heard a hotel staffer tell guests one tornado was a scant two miles from the 27-story hotel. Luckily, the area where the hotel is located (not far from Love Field airport) endured only heavy rain and wind later in the day.

The weather caused some travel headaches for manufacturers heading to WIT that day, but those travel misfortunes pale in comparison to some of the damage I saw on television (many people reference the footage of a twister sucking up truck trailers like Matchbox cars). Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured.

After the weather cleared out, vendors and wholesalers enjoyed a busy, but fruitful two days of workshops, guest speaker sessions and meetings. The 2012 conference featured nearly 700 attendees and WIT officials estimated more than 6,000 individual wholesaler-vendor meetings would take place during the two-day time frame.

In addition to a talk on health care fromGallagher Benefit ServicesKeith A. Friede, a good number of WIT owners sat in on a presentation on vendor-managed inventory technology fromDataalliance’sTom Hoar.

Hoar kicked off his presentation with an insightful YouTube video that demonstrated just how far technology has advanced in a short amount of time. A few tidbits: The number of text messages sent and read every day now exceeds the total population of the planet; and the number of Internet devices has grown from 1,000 in 1984 to 1 billion in 2008.

That tied in with the growing presence of VMI technology, which is the process where a manufacturer generates orders based on mutually agreed objectives and demand information sent by the customer. This session generated a lot of good discussion between Hoar and the assembled group of wholesalers.

WIT’s Distributor General Session featured a keynote address by economist and authorTodd Buchholz, who spoke to WIT owners about the current economy and political landscape in the United States.

While Buchholz, a former director of economic policy at the White House, interspersed well-timed humor into his talk, some of the statistics he shared provided insight into modern times, especially for the business executives seated in front of him.

When talking about President Obama’s health-care plan, Buchholz asked if a company had 49 employees, would it hire a 50th full-time worker which would then trigger that plan? “Smaller businesses are reluctant to bring on full-time work,” he said. “Part-time work is up and consultant work is up. That health-care plan retards job formation.”

While health care is on the minds of many, so are retirement benefits. Buchholz noted in 1945 there were 42 workers per retiree. That number plummeted to 2.9 in 2011 and is expected to fall even further by 2027, which is cause for concern in terms of Social Security. In the “learn something new every day category,” Buchholz explained the retirement age was originally set at 65 in 1935 because life expectancy back then was much lower.

Buchholz said the Federal Reserve, oil prices and the price of the Euro will be key economic indicators going forward. He used the sentence “We can beat our F.O.E.’s” to demonstrate that. “The ‘F’ and the ‘E’ are keeping the economy afloat. The ‘O’ is the drain,” he said. Gas station price marquees back that up.

Still, Buchholz sees the potential for brighter days ahead. “The U.S. economy is gradually recovering,” he said. “In this maelstrom made up of tornadoes, floods, political infighting and crazy pilots (in reference to a recent commercial pilot meltdown on a plane), there is still an opportunity for prosperity and innovation.”

And based on the vibe around the wholesale industry in the first quarter of 2012, that certainly seems to be the case.