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Staring Down Sandy

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Despite heavy odds, distributors and suppliers on the East Coast were not to be out-whacked by Sandy. Contingency plans proved helpful.

  

On the East Coast this past week, a storm the likes of which has never been seen hit with such brute force that at least 87 people were killed, businesses and schools were shuttered, transportation came to a grinding halt, half of New York City went dark for days. Lower New York City was flooded and without power.  Bridges and tunnels were closed. And if you were able to get into the city when one bridge reopened on Thursday, you better have two more people with you in your car, or you were turned away.

In Levittown, PA, power outages shut down oxygen concentrators, and patients were scrambling for help, calling EMS, hospitals and emergency management.  When the large, electric-powered concentrators fail, patients resort to using small portable oxygen tanks, which empty within a few hours. So many calls were coming into the companies that refill the oxygen tanks looking for refills that they could not keep up. Patients were urged to contact their oxygen supply company to find out about the soonest refill and to consult their doctors to determine if they should be hospitalized.

As bad as it was in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland, New Jersey appeared to get the worst of it. Houses in coastal cities were swept away. Phone calls to two distributors located in Sandy’s path have gone unanswered for several days.

I called GAWDA members located in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania to learn how they were coping with the aftereffects of the storm. As of today, Thursday, November 1, some are still without power and phone service. Seaboard Welding Supply, located two miles from the beach in Oakhurst, NJ, had no water damage, but without power, the phones weren’t working, and they were searching near and far for additional generators.  Vice President Richard Nowell said that calls to the company were being transferred to cell phones, and they were receiving requests from emergency management re filling medical oxygen supplies.  Without power, though, they could not generate oxygen.  

Some GAWDA members indicated that their homes were in trouble, as were those of many employees. 

AWISCO has several locations in the New York City area and thankfully, none were impacted. Some employee homes, however, were in trouble. Vic Fuhrman, vice president of sales & marketing, pointed to the dwindling supply of gas, closed roadways, and bustling storefronts shuttered and shut down. “This is something that we will be facing for a lot of years,” Furman says.

These are just a few small examples of the past few days.  The big question remains: When all is said and done, how much impact will Superstorm Sandy have on local businesses and the wider economy? How much has been lost during these days? Disaster modeling company Eqecat estimates Sandy caused up to $20 billion in insured losses and $50 billion in economic losses. According to the Insurance information Institute, Hurricane Sandy now ranks as the fourth-costliest catastrophe ever in the United States, behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, the September 11 attacks of 2001, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

With so many of our gases and welding customers feeling the impact, what will this mean for our businesses going forward?

 

 More on Emergency Prep and Disaster Planning
Awaiting the Storm’s Price Tag

Video:   How Small Businesses Can Rebuild After Sandy 

Distributors Develop Emergency Action Plans

Six Lessons from Hurricane Katrina

PHMSA’s Emergency Response Guidebook

 

Lessons Learned At SMC

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

The Spring Management Conference wrapped up today, but not before we squeezed in a little more networking, two speakers, and three forums. One such speaker, Christopher Guest, had some great stories to tell about climbing Mt. Everest, and it was amazing to hear about all of the challenges he overcame to accomplish his goal. If you didn’t have a chance to see Guest speak (or even if you did) you might be interested reading “Outlasting Everest,” an article about his journey from an issue of GAWDA Edge last year.

For me, the definite highlight of the day was the Consultants’ Forum, where GAWDA’s consultants provided updates on what to look out for. The biggest news to me came from Michael Degan, GAWDA’s joint defense fund coordinating counsel for welding fume litigation. He says the industry is not out of the woods yet in terms of litigation, particularly with the emergence of suite related to asbestos-containing products. Having seen a trend in welding fume litigation moving in favor of the industry, and with several cases overturned last year, it appeared that things were quieting down a little.

Overall, the best part of SMC for me was talking with GAWDA members between events, getting to put a face with the names, and getting to meet new people. I wrote back in January that my New Year’s resolution was to become better connected with members, and SMC was a step in the right direction. There was also a lot of talk among distributors about getting more involved with social media. It’s not only big companies talking about social media. It was a hot topic at Wednesday’s technology forum, the young professionals forum and even on the shuttle to the President’s Reception. In part, I think the SMC really drives home the value of dialogue. Why not keep the dialogue going year-round through these venues?

Social media can also lead to better dialogue at events like SMC. There were a number of people who I recognized—or who recognized me—from interactions on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and this very blog. Although I was in a new environment among people I had never met in person, things were a lot easier with this frame of reference. Now imagine how much easier it would be to cold call a customer you’ve connected with online. For me, these last few days stood as evidence to the power of social media.

For those of you who were at SMC, what were the best takeaways for you? Leave a comment below.

Banding Together In Tampa

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Now that day 2 at SMC has had a little time to sink in, I wanted to follow up with some more thoughts. One program I didn’t get a chance to talk about earlier was the Young Professionals forum, where Britt Lovin of Andy Oxy, Tom Biedermann of Airweld, and Steve Castiglione of WestAir shared their experiences as members of a family business, among other topics. I admit I am not part of a family business, but many GAWDA member companies are, and the issues of family businesses permeate the industry.

The questions raised were many, from estate planning and succession to dealing with difficult situations. I was really impressed with the discourse that GAWDA’s young professionals engaged in—it was a great forum for this dialogue, and I was impressed with the willingness of the panelists to talk openly and candidly to help the young members of the industry.

What I saw was that GAWDA members do not see each other as competitors, but rather as colleagues in this industry. They are eager to help one another grow and become better distributors. This is the spirit of GAWDA that comes out at SMC. Back home, distributors may be competing for the same accounts in the same territories. But here in Tampa, everyone bands together for the purposes of becoming better business people, and it’s a very powerful thing.

Now I see why distributors always cite “networking” as one of the greatest benefits GAWDA has to offer, but today’s events show that it goes well beyond simple networking, and really comes down to mentoring and two-way communication. I was glad I had the opportunity to be a part of it.

SMC Retrospective, Day 2

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Today I found out what SMC is all about. The day got started with a networking breakfast, where I got to meet more members and talk with them about what they do. Soon after, we were treated to a host of speakers. GAWDA President Lloyd Robinson announced the recipients of the 2011 Gives Back Program, an amazing program that really showcases the generosity of GAWDA members. This year, the beneficiaries are the PENCIL Fellowes program and the FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation. Young Executive blogger Abydee Butler, from Butler Gas, joined Member Services Committee co-chair Amy Milligan, of Dynaflux, to talk about the efforts of the committee. (Great job, Abydee!)

Michael MarksThe first of the headlining speakers was Michael Marks. He brought a unique, no-holds-barred approach to the supplier-distributor relationship, and really challenged attendees to rethink the dynamic. It really stuck with me when he said, “You can eliminate the distributor, but you cannot eliminate the work the distributor does.”

Next, Bruce Tulgan took to the stage, bringing an energetic style to his presentation about managing a new generation of workers. He suggested that Gen-Y employees are the highest maintenance work force yet, but will also be the most productive, due to the information available to us young folks. Tulgan made reference to some of the management myths outline in his article, “It’s Okay To Be The Boss.” What do you think—are Gen-Y workers as high-maintenance yet highly productive as Tulgan suggests?

After the morning business sessions, I sat in on Michael Marks’ distributor owners’ lunch, where he addressed how to create shareholder value in wholesale distribution. Again, he was really insightful, and brought up some great issues, such as the question of whether a small, independent distributor should have a board of directors. Any of you have a board? What do you think? His presentation also focused on the importance of targeting the right market segments. “Sales is getting rid of what you have,” he says. “Marketing is having what you can get rid of.”

Believe it or not, that was only the first part of the day. I don’t want to be long-winded, but I don’t want to short-change the other great programs, so check back for more on everything going on at SMC.

SMC Retrospective, Day 1

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

GAWDA members at the Florida AquariumJust wrapped up a great first day at GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference. The setting for the conference is beautiful here in Tampa, and it made for a great backdrop to meet up with all of the GAWDA members in attendance. I started out with the First Timers’ Reception, and got to meet some great young distributors and suppliers, along with the veterans who were there to welcome us newcomers. We met up outside the Florida Aquarium. Among other things, I learned what stud welding is (it seems so obvious now that I know—it is basically the welding of studs).

Next we moved indoors at the aquarium to mingle among the fish. It was great to meet everyone, and it was great to hear that so many of you are reading my blog and following me on Twitter. Keep the feedback coming!

SMC Day 1I hope to meet many more GAWDA members tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to connecting with some of our Young Executive bloggers. Also looking forward to the great speakers on tap for tomorrow—I’ve been reading Michael Marks’ book, Working At Cross Purposes, and it’s been extremely educational when it comes to understanding the roles of distributors and suppliers (I’ll write about the book in more detail in a future blog post). Anyway, If you’re here in Tampa, please say “Hi.” If you’re reading the blog, let me know what you think.

Regional Meeting Season Opens

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

GAWDA Regional MeetingIt’s hard to believe February is over already. Spring is only three weeks away, but another season is just beginning (and I’m not talking about Spring Training). March 1 marks the beginning to a great slate of GAWDA regional meetings that will take place all over the country throughout the year. For the inaugural meeting of 2011, GAWDA members gathered in Bonita Springs, Florida, to listen to speakers, network, and play a little golf.

There are around a dozen regional meetings every year, and each one is unique in its own right. Each meeting features different speakers and unique attractions. Events have been hosted at venues ranging from baseball stadiums to casinos.

I spoke with Ken Flora, VP sales & marketing at Welder Services (Fort Wayne, IN) who has organized the Fort Wayne regional meeting for the past 15 years. Regardless of who’s speaking, Flora says the regional meetings are a good way to make contacts in the industry. “It creates camaraderie between GAWDA members and vendors.” According to Flora, attendees enjoy the meeting so much that they come back year after year, and it has even created something of a friendly rivalry on the golf course. “The Berger brothers (of Berger Farm & Welding Supply) over in Plymouth seem to dominate our golf scramble, so we’re always out to try to beat them.”

Another one of the great things that goes on at regional meetings is fundraising for GAWDA Gives Back. Silent auctions raise thousands of dollars every year for charity. At last year’s Gettysburg, PA, regional meeting in September, members raised an impressive $64,116 for the campaign.

GAWDA members, what is the most memorable regional meeting you have been to? What traditions make your region unique?

See the slate of regional meetings and to find the location nearest to you.

Follow me on Twitter: @GasWeldEdge

How To Use Job Sites As A Networking Tool

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Recently I came across an article about how to buy technology for small businesses. The article has a lot of great points, but there is one tip that struck me as entirely innovative.

Article author Gene Marks points out that hardware reviews are readily available in magazines, but when it comes to business software applications and services, it can be hard to find reliable testimonies. What to do? Marks says to log onto job search sites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com and search for the software’s name in job postings.

With any luck, you’ll come across a company seeking candidates familiar with your software, which means that the company uses the software. Then, call up the company and ask them what they think: Do they like the software? What has their experience been like? How’s the tech support? Many companies will be glad to help, and best of all, they have nothing to gain by being dishonest.

This is a brilliant and innovative way to use networking to your benefit. Taking advantage of other people’s experience is one of the most tried and true ways to get ahead in any industry. Maybe it’s the colleague who has worked in the business for thirty years that you turn to; but who says you are limited to those people to which you have direct access?

Think outside the box—learn from anyone you can. In my experience, everyone in GAWDA, from green salespeople up to the company presidents, is willing and happy to share their knowledge and experiences. This is the greatest resource the association has, so why not use it? With technology, networking is easier than ever, thanks to sites like LinkedIn and Twitter. Based on Marks’ advice, you could even add job search sites to that list.