An audible was called at the recent American Supply Association Winter Leadership Meeting held at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla. And the results were more than positive.

After a morning of strategic planning and small-group brainstorming, it was decided the usual afternoon session would be shelved in favor of a comprehensive evaluation of the association’s core pillars of networking, education, advocacy and benchmarking (business intelligence). The 70-some volunteer leaders in attendance on Florida’s Gulf Coast again broke into small groups (that featured representatives from each of ASA’s specialty divisions) to dive deeper into the pillar topic.

What emerged from the impromptu two-plus-hour session was a productive discussion that in the long-term will add even greater depth to the core principles that have taken the association to new heights in recent years.

One common topic broached was the current need to continue to attract quality individuals into the industry and provide those new employees with the training necessary to enjoy a productive PHCP-PVF career.

“It’s people and education,” said Stephanie Ewing, vice president marketing programs and strategy, PHCP divisions for the AD buying group, and one of the small-group presenters. “The main thing to focus on is ASA being a vehicle to enhance careers at ASA-member companies. How do we make this an option? How do we get the next generation to come into the workforce and consider a career path in our industry?”

Bradford White Executive Vice President and COO Bruce Carnevale is hearing a common refrain in his business dealings. “No matter who you talk to the common complaint is, ‘We can’t get people,’” he said. “There are not a lot of plumbers coming into the industry to keep up with the attrition and retirement. We need to get more people in the industry and ASA can be that vehicle to solve that problem. We’re going through a generational change right now. We need to make this industry cool.”

Ewing added the continued marketing of the industry through various platforms will help in solving the current labor dilemma. “ASA can do this and show the benefits of our industry and make it cool so we can attract the next generation and get some buzz out there about the great career paths that are available,” she says.

American Standard Vice President of U.S. Trade Sales Chris Capone echoed Ewing’s same sentiments on careers in the industry when he presented his small-group’s thoughts.

“We have to strive for operational excellence — to become the company of choice within our individual markets,” he said. “We need to identify unique recruiting opportunities that will attract young and determined talent. We also have to define and articulate a career path for an applicant coming into our industry. Show these potential employees what will take place in the first year, the third year and the fifth year, and then match it up against other industries to show qualified candidates the opportunities that are available in our industry.”

Business intelligence was another frequent discussion topic during the session with ASA leaders not only craving more relevant data but also demonstrating how participation in the data-collection process can help not only a member company but the entire membership in general.

“There are performance numbers that are not currently collected,” Robertson Heating Supply’s Scott Robertson said. “Someone might want to know what the average picks per man hour is. By further developing business-intelligence tools we can help members become more profitable and more successful.”

Robertson, who delivered his group’s ideas, suggested investigating what types of business-intelligence data other similar associations track and also advocated having a dedicated ASA staff member assigned to the benchmarking pillar, similar to what ASA has with its advocacy pillar and Director of Governmental Affairs Dan Hilton.

Chris Reynolds, of Plumbers and Factory Supplies and speaking on behalf of his small group that also included Michael Werner (Gerber-Danze), Don Maloney (Coburn Supply), John Mills (WHCI Plumbing Supply), Jay Bazemore (JABO Supply) and Gary Bosley (Erb Co.), would like to see business intelligence data available to compete with larger more Internet-based companies such as Amazon, HD Supply and Grainger. “High-level business intelligence can help us to better compete with these companies in that marketplace on a more level playing field,” he said.

Reynolds and his group proposed introducing standardized product databases, best-in-class logistics and distribution data, a network supply chain and the identification and evaluation of waste in the supply chain with the end goal of capitalizing on lean business practices.

Keeney Manufacturing National Sales Manager-Commercial Karen Fox and her group focused on the advocacy pillar. “ASA will become the unified voice at the federal, state and local government levels,” she said. “We need to keep increasing the number of members that go on legislative visits. We have the voice so let’s use it and continue to advocate and educate.”


Moving the dial forward

ASA continued to build on its recent momentum, sharing with its membership numerous key metrics from 2015. For a fourth year in a row ASA enjoyed net membership growth, rising from 307 members to 324 (doing business out of 3,943 locations). ASA President Tim Milford (Milford Supply) announced during the ASA Executive Committee meeting that association growth to begin 2016 is off to a strong start with two new distributors and six new manufacturers already added to the fold in January alone.

The 324 member total is ASA’s highest since 2009, while the number of locations is a high-water mark that hasn’t been reached since 2006.

ASA Treasurer Steve Cook (Northeastern Supply) revealed profitability for fiscal 2015 was robust with the association finishing well above budgeted projections. “We had a strong year,” Cook said. “We are firing on all cylinders. We are making successful connections with supplier partners and membership renewals. We finished 2015 well above what we had forecasted. The entire ASA staff and management team have this organization headed in the right direction. It’s exciting to be part of it.”

The news for 2015 was equally good for the ASA Education Foundation. Mills, current ASEF president, reported the educational arm of the association also finished 2015 well ahead of projected sales figures — to the tune of a 31% increase above original budget projections.

Mills added ASAEF is seeing great results from member companies purchasing educational courses online as well as huge traction from the ASA University Advisory Service. “Our goal is to make ASA University the one-stop shop for training in the industry,” he said.

Other items of note from the three-day event:

  • ASA is looking to add a full-time staff member who will concentrate on industry codes and standards, which will provide membership another key advocate in a continuously changing regulatory marketplace.
  • Back to the careers topic, ASA is continuing to ramp up its efforts on this front with a recent communication to some 28,000 high-school principals and guidance counselors as well as the establishment of a career day kit that will be available to any member company and has materials that can be used at local career days and job fairs.
  • On the legislative front, ASA is helping AD facilitate Capitol Hill visits during the buying group’s spring network meeting in April. Hilton said in the neighborhood of 180 meetings with elected officials are already on the books. Hilton also is spearheading a June fly-in event in Sacramento, Calif., for members with interests in the Golden State.
  • On the heels of a successful event in 2014, ASA’s Industrial Piping Division will host another open house in Houston on Wednesday, May 18, the day after the spring PVF Roundtable meeting.
  • ASA’s goal for Network 2016 at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan is to attract 150 member distributor companies. Last year’s event in Chicago drew 124 member distributor companies. Network 2017 will take place in Nashville at the Omni Nashville Hotel.

“ASA is in a good place and has been moving forward in so many directions,” Milford said in a video interview available at “Membership is increasing. Right now all systems are go. It’s a great time to be a member of ASA.”

This article was originally titled “Changing course” in the March 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.