This weekend I had the opportunity to meet distributors of another kind—material handling equipment distributors, to be precise. They gathered in Phoenix, AZ, for the Annual Convention of the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association, which I was lucky enough to sit in on for a few days. Fresh off of attending GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference in April, I saw quite a few similarities between GAWDA members and material handling distributors—and a few differences as well.
Many of those gathered in Phoenix this weekend pointed to the relationships that they’ve formed over the years as a result of attending—with fellow distributors and with suppliers—and how it’s important to have fellow industry professionals to bounce ideas off of. Many of the distributors were even members of formal groups—something akin to buying groups—consisting of non-competitive distributors, who met periodically for exactly this purpose, to share ideas and ask questions without the threat of overlapping territory and customers. Some of these groups got together on their own after the business sessions concluded.
This year, the theme of the convention was “The Customer Convention.” Come to think of it, gases and welding distributors are among those customers—I met one distributor of pallet racking who perked up when I mentioned a GAWDA member located in his town. “Oh sure, they’re a customer of ours,” he says. Material handling itself plays an important role for gases and welding distributors. It comes into play with moving cylinders, lifting tanks, storing inventory, palletizing and so forth.
Among of the ways the group was focusing on customers, social media was a hot topic. Several distributors I met have jumped head first into social media and are seeing real results (sales!). And seeing these results, other distributors are following suit. Talking with material handling distributors, for me, reinforced that social media can be worthwhile for gases and welding distributors. Both industries face a lot of the same challenges and questions—Will my customers follow me? How can I add value through social media?—but if you believe that customer relationships are important, then social media is a big part of that.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may know I am a big proponent of social media. However, I know there are some people who just don’t see the value. One material handling distributor I spoke with made a great argument for social media. “These days, people like to choose how they receive their information. If our customers were all baby boomers, traditional avenues of communication would be fine. Social media is an important part of reaching as many people as possible.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
All in all, it was a great experience. The values of networking, service and camaraderie reminded me of being among GAWDA members at SMC. I’m already looking forward to GAWDA’s annual convention in October.