By Scott Costa, Publisher, tED magazine
One of the agenda items during this year’s 78th Annual Conference at the International League of Electrical Associations (ILEA) in Indianapolis, IN was a panel session entitled: Challenges Facing Electrical Distributors. After very short opening remarks by the panelists, moderator Brian Peters, Senior Region Manager at the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) opened with questions from the various Electrical League Association executives in attendance for the conference.
The panelists for this session included Greg Fenter, VP Indiana Division for Becker Electric Supply; Keith Gilbert, Vice President Sales for Central Supply Company; and Mathew Hardy, District Manager for Gexpro.
Attendees for the conference included representation from the British Columbia Electrical Association, Electric League of Indiana, Electrical Association of Philadelphia, Electrical Association of Western New York, Electrical Board of Missouri & Illinois, Intermountain Electrical Association, Nebraska Iowa Electrical Council, The Electrical Association of Chicago, Electrical Association of Milwaukee, and NAED.
Eye-opening as the general reaction by attendees to the NAED-sponsored panel session at this year’s conference. Skip Morris, conference manager, said, “The panelists presented a very clear picture of the challenges facing the distribution segment of the industry.” Panelists addressed challenges ranging from on-line ordering, generational change, and other critical hurdles for distributors. Specifically, other topics included:
Present Economic Conditions
Peters states that many companies within the industry had to really make some tough company decisions over the past 4-5 years to weather the economic storm. Panelists agreed the economy is showing “gradual” signs of improvement. One panelist stated that they are actually starting to hire again. Hardy explained to the audience, “it’s really also how you look at things, do you use the present state of the economy as a negative, or do you find ways to turn it into a positive and find opportunities?” Fenter also adds, “the downturn in 2008 turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It really made us focus on our efficiencies and processes as well as pay close attention to our core competencies.”
Aging Workforce Challenges
The bulk of the one and a half hour panel session was spent discussing the need to find and attract new talent to the electrical distribution industry. Panelists fielded questions from attendees about the recruiting challenges that their companies are presently facing. How companies can utilize and leverage the various industrial distribution programs throughout the US and further foster those relationships. Panelist all agreed that companies need to have a solid succession plan in place to help alleviate questions about the fate of their organizations future success. Panelists agreed that we, as an industry, need to better communicating the opportunities our industry has to offer, from cutting edge technology to new emerging markets, to further attract new employees and talent.
Competitive & Changing Landscape within Distribution
Panelists spent time fielding various questions from the audience in regards to the impact of the emergence of potential online threats to the market place. As well as, discussing what the future may look like for the electrical distributor in ten years. Is the brick and mortar electrical supply house still important? What role does it play in the marketplace? And discuss the various ways electrical distributors should “demonstrate” its value proposition to that of the end-user. Fenter states “at the end of the day, it’s still a relationship business, one that’s built upon trust, as well as the need to offer technical assistance to your customer.” The common theme among the panelists, “We really aren’t concerned about the online threats yet, but we are certainly keeping our eyes on potential threats within the marketplace, the next several years will certainly be interesting.”
Panelists further explained what their individual companies are doing from a social media standpoint. Many have their own Facebook or LinkedIn sites and have found success with these platforms. Most of the companies presently offer i-Pad capabilities to their field sales force. Fenter states, “many of the technology advances and changes that we have made, really stemmed from our supplier partners requiring us to make these advances.” Hardy further explained, “with ages ranging from 20-70 within the workforce, companies need to provide training across the board if they wish to keep their employees engaged. Otherwise, doing more with less will be more difficult to achieve.” Peters points out that with the introduction of new technologies into the workforce, companies and employees need to provide the appropriate training on how best to utilize devices such as IPAD’s and smart phones to better integrate them into one’s company culture.
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