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Archive for May, 2011

Join The Industry Dialogue

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

e-DialogueIt’s been a little more than six months since we launched the Young Executives e-Dialogue on Welding & Gases Today. Since then, four young industry professionals have been regularly sharing some great insights about what they’re learning, their challenges and their successes.

As of last Friday, we now officially have five young professional bloggers. I am pleased to welcome Jay Brant, southern territories manager at Indiana Oxygen Co., to the ranks of our e-Dialoguers. Even in his young career, Jay has already worked on both the supplier and distributor sides, including two different distributorships. I’m really looking forward to reading his perspective.

If you’ve been following along like me, our young bloggers have broached a lot of interesting topics these past six months, from family businesses to distributor-supplier relationships to employee motivation and beyond. I would like to invite all of you to take part in these discussions. The Young Executives e-Dialogue is not only a place for five young professionals, it is a place for all industry members of all ages—it is a venue to teach and to learn, to ask and to answer.

While sharing your thoughts with our e-Dialogue bloggers, your discussions can help build a resource for younger generations coming into the industry. Even if you don’t have an answer, drop in and say hello. Let them know you’re listening, that you’re there to take part in the dialogue. Together we can have a great conversation.

Join the e-Dialogue.

Promoting Safety On Memorial Day

Friday, May 27th, 2011

With Memorial Day weekend here, grilling season is officially underway. At about this time last year, nexAir (Memphis, TN) posted a propane safety video on YouTube to share its expertise (watch the video below). I spoke with Patrick Galphin, marketing and public relations at nexAir, who appears in the video. Along with helping grillers operate safely, he says one of the goals of the video is to establish nexAir as the “gas experts” in town. While grilling propane may not be a primary focus for the company, people with questions about gas, cylinders, valves and related topics will think of nexAir next time they need help.

YouTube can be a great way for gases and welding distributors to put themselves out there. It is one of the most popular search engines on the Web, and it’s not only younger generations who are using it. According to YouTube, the website garners more than 2 billion views per day, and its demographic is 18-54 years.

Social media offers distributors opportunities to share expertise and show customers you’re listening to them. nexAir’s video is a great example of this. “By listening to our customers, I knew what questions to answer in the video,” says Galphin. “I didn’t talk about the amount of pressure inside a 20-pound grill propane cylinder because nobody’s ever asked me that. Many people ask us why some cylinders have a triangular handwheel and some have a round one, so I explained about the overfill prevention device.”

Thanks for sharing, Patrick! If any other distributors are using YouTube in interesting ways, I’d love to hear about it. Everyone have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend (and be sure to check your cylinders over before firing up the grill).

Simulating Success

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

It used to be that the only way to get hands-on experience was actually to be hands-on with a job. But what if you could get the training you needed from a video game?

Gases and welding is definitely one of those fields that calls for hands-on experience. It’s probably why many distributors (nexAir comes to mind) put new hires through training programs where they can gain experience working in a range of positions, from the dock to the sales counter.

What if there was another way to get some of that training? Recently, I came across a game called Plantville, where players take on the role of plant manager to delve into all aspects of operations. The goal of the game, which was created by Siemens, is to manage a simulated plant, addressing key performance indicators such as safety, quality, employee satisfaction, energy management and delivery.

Although players cannot take on a fill plant (options include a bottling plant, train manufacturing plant and vitamin plant), the simulation could give players insight into the many facets of running a plant. While games will probably never be a replacement for real life experience, having supplemental experience can’t hurt. In the future, who knows, maybe games like this could be used to vet potential plant management talent.

What element of gases and welding would you like to see a simulation game for?

Get a look inside plantville with the video below:

Do You QR?

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

QR CodeBy now, you’ve likely seen QR codes—those square, crossword-like bar codes—on products and publications. They are all over the place if you look closely enough. Back in June, 2010, I mused on how the gases and welding industry might be able to take advantage of QR codes (See: Gas & Welding Tech: Bar Codes As Marketing).

My musings have become a reality—probably not as a result of my musings, but nonetheless… As reported on GAWDAwiki, Lincoln Electric is adding QR codes to its products. GAWDAwiki explains, “When scanned from a smartphone, product info, operating tips and more will appear on screen.  This information will provide consumers in the distributor showroom more information about the product before it is purchased.” Users can access videos, spec sheets, manuals, product comparisons and more. Could QR codes be a new selling tool for distributors?

Another place I’ve seen QR codes within the industry is on business cards. People seem to enjoy the hunt of the unknown, their phones a looking glass to the other side. Who else is using QR codes, and what are you using them for? How can distributors take advantage of QR codes?

If you’re not familiar with QR codes, I recommend the Editor’s Notes from the Third Quarter 2010 issue of Welding & Gases Today. It offers a nice, straightforward explanation of how to use them. Also, in the same issue, check out the cover. You just might discover a QR surprise.

The Energy Exporting Capital Of The World

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Recently I had the opportunity to see economist Dr. Barry Asmus speak, and he had some particularly interesting things to say that could be impacting gases and welding distributors in the next few years. You might remember Dr. Asmus from his article “Six Unstoppable Economic Trends in 2011” from the First Quarter issue of Welding & Gases Today.

Especially interesting from his talk was his prediction that, in the 2012 or 2016 presidential campaign, we will hear a candidate say the words, “We are going to make North American the energy exporting capital of the world.” How? It’s not about oil. “The stone age did not end because they ran out of stones,” says Asmus. “The petroleum age will not end because we run out of petroleum.”

The key, he says, is that the U.S. has some of the largest shale gas fields in the world. As we improve drilling technology and shale fracking methods, we can not only support ourselves, but begin to export energy. This is good news distributors because shale gas is a growing market for gas and welding equipment. In our Annual Business Forecast, several GAWDA members mentioned shale gas fields as bringing in business for 2011. With a few more years, the sector could see a whole lot of growth.

On the flipside, Dr. Asmus was not too optimistic about wind and solar energy (which also rely on gases and welding). The problem with wind, he says, is that you can’t scale it. According to Asmus, it would take a field of windmills as big as the state of Connecticut to power New York City alone. As far as solar, he cites nighttime as an obstacle that just cannot be overcome. In this case, the sky literally is the limit.

It’s hard to believe, but 2012 presidential campaigns should be rolling out very soon. We will have to see if Dr. Asmus was right in his prediction.

Liquid Nitrogen Fog Machine

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

As I alluded to in my last post, there may not be professional football this fall, but there will certainly be college football. And thanks to GAWDA member Norco, there will be plenty of fog for one college football team to create a grand entrance. The distributor upgraded the university’s fog machine, which uses liquid nitrogen to create a thick mist. The fog machine has been dubbed “Fogzilla,” a fitting name. As mentioned in the video below, the goal was to make the players look like they are coming out of nowhere—I’d say they were successful.

While the video on Norco’s YouTube page came from a local news broadcast, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to see Fogzilla featured on national TV sooner or later, what with Boise State quickly becoming a perennial powerhouse. I’ve had a chance to talk with Norco Marketing Coordinator Chad Mendenhall, who says that the company has made a concerted effort to become more visible on YouTube. One of the unique things about Norco’s YouTube page (http://www.youtube.com/user/NorcoIndustrial) is that videos are categorized into playlists. Because of all the products and applications that distributors carry, this is a great way of organizing videos to direct the end-user experience.

From talking to Chad, it sounds like YouTube offers a lot of opportunities for distributors. Are you a distributor on YouTube? Leave a comment and share your experience, let me know what kind of response you had.

No Lockout For GAWDA

Friday, May 6th, 2011

While much of the country is paralyzed by the potential of a year without football, I have seen little attention—outside of the members of the gases and welding industry—paid to the ongoing acetylene situation. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me—after all, the gases and welding is very much a behind-the-scenes industry that plays an important part in almost everything. Yes, even when it comes to football, gases and welding are there (See: “Gases And Welding In The Big Game.”

You would think that something like acetylene would warrant a little more attention than this. Members I’ve spoken to have had different experiences up to this point, but they agree on one thing: the future is uncertain. In a logical world, uncertainty about the availability, cost and quality of a gas that plays an important part in cutting, welding and more—and therefore is essential to countless industries from energy to manufacturing and construction—would outweigh the uncertainty of whether 300-lb men will run around with an oblong ball on Sundays (The key word is logical).

Whether you like it or not, the gases and welding industry is a widely unsung industry—the anonymous benefactor, so to speak, to countless other industries. When the rest of the country knows very little about a situation such as we currently face with acetylene, it’s more important than ever to work together and help each other. While the NFL is fighting amongst itself, maybe GAWDA can teach the players and owners of the NFL a thing or two.

Distributors Of A Different Kind

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

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.