WIT & Co. certainly knows how to throw a party.

The buying group recently celebrated its 40th anniversary at The Nines hotel in downtown Portland, Ore., where networking and educational opportunities were augmented with plenty of good times.

In addition to the group’s regular fall program, WIT owners went on sightseeing tours of Portland, enjoyed special group dinners at a winery and brew pub and topped things off with a major 40th anniversary bash on the Portland Spirit cruise boat.

Prior to the grand finale on the Portland Spirit, WIT owners and invited guests gathered for a pre-party celebration in The Nines ballroom, which included a well-produced video on the history of the buying group, as well as testimonials from various WIT owners.

“We bleed WIT,” VAMAC’s Chris Perry said. “WIT is our family. With WIT, this is more than just about the financial aspect. When you come to these meetings, it’s like a family reunion.”

Mid-City Supply’s Dan New added: “WIT has allowed Mid-City to survive. Family is the most important thing in the world to everyone and the importance of that word means a lot to me here. We’ve developed friendships and can go to anyone in the room here to get business advice.”

New also took time to look into the WIT crystal ball. “I can’t say for certain what will happen in the future, but what I can say is we’ve built an incredible company and foundation. With the minds in this room anything is possible. I’m supremely confident in 30 or 40 years my kids will be up here talking about WIT and the future.”

Richard Laurens, president and CEO of Dealers Supply, recalled how his company ended up in a buying group.

“We started asking around and the name WIT kept coming up,” he said. “We joined in 2004. We were excited about the rebates early on, but we soon found other very real values. We found friends old and new, advisors, brothers and sisters, and mentors. We found we could network with other owners about things such as best practices and marketing and get honest answers in the process. WIT has tremendously broadened our scope. It’s a transparent group. You see where your money comes and goes. It’s turned out to be so much more for us. We’re proud to be here.”

WIT has grown from five owners in 1974 to 86 owners in 2014 with combined purchases of $1.1 billion. WIT owners purchase an average of 57% of their products through the group.

The meeting also featured the popular WIT Works breakout sessions where owners are broken into 12 groups to share best practices and talk about various industry issues.

Modern Distribution Management’s Tom Gale spoke about maximizing technological resources to improve strategies as part of the first WIT MARKET-IT Summit, while Change Labs’ Peter Sheahan was the meeting’s keynote speaker and talked about innovation and change in distribution.

Sheahan outlined four strategies to use in going from “what” to “how” in a business.

• Question assumptions: In particular Sheahan stressed paying attention to what might be lurking on the outer edges of today. “If you want to know what this industry will look like 10 years from now, look at things currently on the periphery,” he said. “What will define that are the assumptions you make on the periphery. The No. 1 job as an executive is to question assumptions on things that are on the periphery. What challenges, threats and opportunities currently exist on the fringe of this industry that are worth analyzing in a more objective and future-focused way?”

• Have clarity and alignment: “Success is a matter of execution not intent,” Sheahan said. “Be clear on how you are going to win. Take a look at the future and be willing to put a line in the sand and say this is how we are going to win.”

• Take intelligent risks: “Start small and test,” Sheahan said. “Take controlled risks and then scale. What intelligent risks are you willing to take in the next 90 days to begin learning about new opportunities for your business in these change areas?”

Sheahan cited an example of a carpet replacement company that won market share by specializing in replacing the most high-trafficked parts of a commercial space’s carpeting (by the doorways). That led to the statistic of the meeting with Sheahan noting it takes carpet 20,000 years to break down in landfills.

• Embrace collaboration and intimacy: “The function of intimacy happens in collaboration,” Sheahan said. “The more you reach out and establish relationships with your customers, the better it will be. The next 40 years will not be defined by buying power, but the ability to collaborate, be disruptive in the marketplace and leverage collective power.”

To view an exclusive video interview with Sheahan, see below.

Additionally, WIT announced the winners of its annual WHAM! marketing awards. This year’s recipients include:

Advertising and Brand Awareness: Dakota Supply Group (no-lead initiative);

E-Marketing and Web Campaigns: May Supply (website redevelopment);

Business Development and Marketing Research: Dakota Supply Group (the DSG Budget Shaper);

Promotional Events: Schumacher & Seiler (football season promotion);

Public Relations: Plumbing Distributors Inc. (prostate cancer awareness campaign);

Showroom and Merchandising: Snow & Jones (Snow & Go concept); and

Overall WHAM! winner: C&L Supply (C&L Supply’s vendor expo).

The meeting also featured the changing of the WIT presidency from outgoing President Greg Skagerberg (Goodin Co.; 2012-2014) to Bruce Tucker (General Plumbing Supply). Skagerberg’s father, John, was WIT president from 1981-1983.

WIT’s 2015 Distributor/Vendor Conference takes place March 9-13 in Dallas, while the 2015 Fall Networking Meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8-10 in Washington, D.C




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