With NetworkASA 2013 being held in Washington, D.C., one of the main attractions of the convention was the opportunity for ASA members to meet with their members of Congress.

Some 150 of those meetings were held on Capitol Hill on a summer-like afternoon that turned chaotic after a shooting incident between a woman and local police unfolded near the Hart Senate Office Building. The shooting, which triggered a temporary lockdown of Capitol Hill, was witnessed by numerous ASA members making their way to various congressional meetings in the area (for more on the lockdown, read Editor Mike Miazga’s column.

Despite the harrowing mid-afternoon scene, a majority of the congressional meetings still occurred and several ASA members reported being able to meet for longer periods of time with their local politicians during the lockdown.

ASA members were on Capitol Hill to discuss such hot-button issues as comprehensive tax reform, energy production, marketplace fairness and metal theft. One of the early appointments featured representatives of Lebanon, Pa.-based distributor APR Supply and Ambler, Pa.-based manufacturer Bradford White meeting with a member of Pennsylvania Representative Jim Gerlach’s staff. One of the key topics of discussion during that meeting at the Rayburn House Building was the Department of Energy’s new energy efficiency regulations for water heaters that take effect in 2015. APR President and CEO Scott Weaver and Bradford White Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing R. Bruce Carnevale led the well-presented discussion.

The Capitol Hill visits were one of many highlights at the well-received three-day conference held at the Renaissance DC Downtown Hotel. NetworkASA 2013 attracted more than 100 distributor member companies and more than 80 vendor companies from all parts of the nation. ASA reported nearly 100 individuals were attending the convention for the first time. This continues an upward trend in NetworkASA attendance. ASA once again reported net membership growth for the year.

“Last year we had net membership growth for the first time in 20 years and we’ve already reached net membership growth this year with our distributors and manufacturers,” ASA Executive Vice President Mike Adelizzi told Supply House Times in a video interview available in our video section. “That growth has translated to the success here (at NetworkASA). We’re very pleased with the growth and participation of our members. Washington is a huge plus. Our members had the opportunity to network, hear good speakers and go up on the Hill.”


Education in abundance

The conference’s first day featured no shortage of educational opportunities sponsored by ASA’s Education Foundation. Dr. Michael Mercer spoke about hiring practices in his “Hire the Best & Avoid the Rest” presentation.

Mercer combined statistical data with hands-on exercises to stress the importance of having the proper tools in place to hire the best person for a job. Mercer noted that relying on interviews in the hiring process is akin to flipping a coin, while relying on reference checks is “similar to flipping a coin while rubbing a rabbit’s foot,” he said.

Mercer suggested also incorporating testing tools such as mental ability and behavioral tests in the hiring process and to conduct in-depth interviews. During the interview, he noted, employers should ask open-ended questions and allow the interview subject to do the majority of the speaking.

“If you are speaking more than 10% of the time, you’re giving away the answer,” he said.

In addition to Mercer, Tom O’Connor spoke about strategic planning for distributors, while Dr. Barry Lawrence’s presentation dealt with sales and marketing optimization.

Economist Alan Beaulieu once again was a major hit with his 2014 industry forecast. His talk, which drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Grand Ballroom South, painted a bright future for the industry in the near-term.

“There are a lot of things going right,” said Beaulieu in a video interview available in our video section. “Things that are going right have to do with businesses investing in themselves, investing in energy resources and the global economy. The growing energy independence and the growing use of natural gas in this country are paying huge dividends. That’s creating jobs and creating a positive environment. Businesses from around the world are moving to the U.S. because of a low-cost and stable energy base. People are moving here for cost reasons and those cost reasons aren’t going away quickly. It becomes a virtuous cycle and that will be good news for us for years to come.”

Beaulieu’s short-term advice for companies? Invest and train.

“Invest in yourself and invest in systems that will allow you to be more efficient as you go forward,” he said. “Efficiency is the key word because of inflationary pressures that are coming caused by the central banks around the world, some future wage inflation and a shortage of skilled labor. Inflation demands efficiencies and efficiencies take investment and planning and time to fold into the operation.”

Beaulieu suggests putting the pedal to the floor when it comes to employee training. “Make sure there is an unrelenting thought about training the people who work for you so you can get the most benefits you can from the folks you have,” he said. “Educate them and improve their skill sets and take people with no skill sets, but the right aptitude and train them. Training is going to be absolutely mandatory as we go forward.”

The heavy hitters

As usual, NetworkASA 2013 was not lacking for star power in the guest speaker department. Fox News contributor Bill O’Reilly spoke at the always anticipated Weldbend IPD breakfast. O’Reilly, the host of the long-running top-rated “O’Reilly Factor,” delivered a personable message that played off the building of his personal media brand.

“Customers have to feel their life is going to be better in some way by doing business with you,” he told the audience. “Your employees have to feel like dealing with you makes their life better. It’s tough to accomplish that.”

O’Reilly said building a brand and knowing who to reach with that brand are critical keys to success. “I know who I am and I knew who I wanted to reach,” he said. “I took the brand and circled around it. Who is your customer? Know your audience and know yourself and merge the two.”

He added taking chances also can be part of the road to success. O’Reilly noted he took a chance by returning to school at Harvard in the middle of his career.

“You know what you do well and you know who you are,” he said. “Sometimes you have to take chances.”

Author and columnist George Will gave his take on the current state of politics in Washington sprinkled in with his usual dose of baseball anecdotes. “Things will get better,” he said. “Things can get better by change and to get better by change we need better policies and better policy-makers.”

The conference closed with an interesting presentation by political power couple James Carville and Mary Matalin. They too touched on a variety of politically-related issues during their presentation with Carville providing some pointed advice on the topic of leadership.

“You can have the greatest strategy, but if you are not executing on it, you aren’t winning,” he said.

The winners are…

ASA’s Plumbing and IPD units both presented awards of excellence this year. La Crosse, Wis.-based First Supply President Joe Poehling was the recipient of the Plumbing Division Award of Excellence for his many years of dedicated service to the industry in a variety of roles.

“If one looks at a snapshot of the leadership roles Joe has had in the industry, one will see in each organization a period of incredible progress,” award presenter Gary Jones (Eastern Penn Supply Co.) said.

In his acceptance speech, Poehling stressed the importance of family. “It’s all about family at the end of the day,” he said. “Many different families have allowed us to be part of their lives. Back home at First Supply, there are nearly 600 people that have made it possible for us to do what we do. With the bigger ASA family, I’ve enjoyed getting to know all of you more than anything.”

Kansas City, Mo.-based MKS Pipe and Valve’s Pat Adams was honored with the IPD’s Award of Excellence. Adams is the former IPD chairman and like Poehling has held many leadership positions with various industry organizations. “I do what I love to do and I am empowered by the support I have,” Adams said.

In other ASA-related news, in a move that further strengthens the involvement of manufacturers reps in ASA, the association revealed rep companies that have membership in ASA regional affiliates also will be given national ASA membership.

Poehling’s daughter, Katie, and NIBCO’s Ashley Martin announced the formation of Women In Industry, an ASA-sanctioned PHCP/PVF women’s group that plans on holding its first meeting this coming April in Chicago. Katie Poehling and Martin are both part of ASA’s Young Executives.

NetworkASA 2014 will be held Sept. 9-11 at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.