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GAWDA’s Regional Meetings Are A Must

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

GAWDA Regional MeetingThe calendar reads March and that means the seasons are changing.  Of course we know that Spring is right around the corner.  But more importantly for GAWDA members, Regional Meeting Season is upon us.  The season stretches from early Spring to late Autumn.  A quick check of the GAWDA calendar shows that nine meetings have already been scheduled.

Regional meetings are a vital part of GAWDA membership.  They nurture the symbiotic relationship between member and association.  The meetings are better when you attend, and you get more out of GAWDA by attending a regional meeting.

At the meeting, you have the opportunity to visit with distributors in your area and hear what is working for them and share ideas for tackling common challenges.  You get to put a face with a supplier who is in your area and is eager to help you grow your business.  And GAWDA provides an update on the latest benefits provided to its members and issues that are important to our industry.

Birmingham, AL, GAWDA Regional Meeting

Vestavia Hills is the home of the 2012 Birmingham Regional Meeting, March 25-26.

This year, the Birmingham-Dixie regional meeting is first on the docket.  We kick off our event with an evening dinner and cocktail reception Sunday night.  On Monday we start with breakfast and an update from GAWDA.  We then have three great speakers who will deliver “take-home value.”  We will hear from a Morgan Stanley analyst for an economic update, an industry executive on the state of consolidation and a university professor who is training the next generation of industrial distributors.  We will wrap up the meeting with a tournament on Birmingham’s finest golf course to determine the region’s best sand baggers.

Since 2008, I’ve attended regional meetings in Hattiesburg, Mobile, Fort Myers, Biloxi, Houston and Birmingham.  Each meeting is unique in its content.  But all have in common the rich camaraderie of industry friends and partners convening to make this industry better. So do yourself a favor, make GAWDA better, find a regional meeting near you and make plans to attend.

Guest Blogger James Cain is vice president of Atlas Welding Supply in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is chair of the Birmingham, Alabama, GAWDA Regional Meeting.

LinkedIn Vs. The Business Card

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Business Cards Vs. LinkedInWith GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference fast approaching, many of you are probably readying your business cards. However, there has been some talk recently that LinkedIn could threaten the existence of business cards. In our “On The Edge” feature at Welding & Gases Today Online, we was asked that very question: Are business cards on the way out? For many, Social Media presents a more convenient and instantaneous result. But until LinkedIn has close to 100% of the market, I have to think that most people will continue to carry business cards.

A recent article on Bloomberg Businessweek called “How Business Cards Survive In The Age of Linkedin” got me thinking about the issue once again. The article explains that business cards were originally created as a means to prove a business’s legitimacy. But as Design Strategist Nathan Shedroff, points out, just about anyone can procure a professional-looking business cards these days. This, according to the article, is where LinkedIn reigns. The professional networking site allows more than contact information, it allows an entire resume and professional references. What better way is there to prove one’s legitimacy than a resume with references?

Business cards, on the other hand, are simple. An online business card printer tells Bloomberg Businessweek, “They don’t require batteries, experience no intercompatibility problems, require no sign-up, and everyone in the world understands them.” Some tout the ability of the business card to allow self-expression and branding. Despite the lack of actual “artwork,” I would argue that your LinkedIn page can say a lot about your brand as well.

Another argument for business cards suggests it’s the act, “the theater,” of exchanging a business card that keeps the business card alive. I have to admit, in my experience, while attending a trade show, business cards do feel a bit like currency.

Amidst all of this debate, is there really a need to choose sides—why not have both? For those who prefer paper, offer them a business card. If you’ve spent some time brushing up your LinkedIn page, asking someone if they are on LinkedIn could be a great conversation starter.

What do you think? Do you prefer LinkedIn or business cards? Which do you think is more effective?

Learning From Businesses Of All Sizes

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

During a conversation earlier this week with someone in the business community, I was surprised to hear him say that, in reading about a large company in his industry, he could not relate because of the size of the company. I can see where he was coming from as the owner of a small business. But it’s hard to think there isn’t something he could learn from a larger company.

This conversation got me thinking about GAWDA members and the companies we profile in Welding & Gases Today. Over the last year, the GAWDA member profile has looked at companies ranging in size from 9 employees to 900. A big range, yes, and one that reflects the diversity of GAWDA members themselves. I’d like to think that no matter the size of a company, there are always things to learn from others. Large companies can learn from the little guys, and vice versa. How so?

At a 24-person operation like Melo’s Gas & Gear, it might be tales of how cylinder tracking has helped the company with accounts receivable and theft prevention. President Dave Melo says, “Reconciling cylinder balances can be an incredibly frustrating and potentially damaging process for a distributor.” Melo recalls the police making multiple arrests when cylinders ended up in the wrong hands, all because the company’s cylinder tracking system proved that the cylinders were stolen.

Meanwhile, a 900 person organization like Norco might teach a small business about success in a family business. CEO Jim Kissler recalls how in order to work for his father’s company, he first had to complete a four-year degree and then work outside the business for five to seven years. Kissler’s father was a firm believer in the teachings of Leon Danco: “Danco taught family business members to first become somebody before coming into the business,” says Jim Kissler. “It makes you more credible, and it makes you more knowledgeable about running a business when you’ve worked outside of the family business.”

When it comes to business, there are issues that simply transcend business size. Well, that’s my opinion, at least. What do you think? What have you learned from a business of dissimilar size?

My Resolution For 2012

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

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Setting goals is an important part of any business. Last year, I stated that my New Year’s resolution was to become better connected to GAWDA members. As I wrote, “I’m not interested in boosting my followers and connections for the sheer sake of numbers—my hope is to build a network that represents the voice of the industry, to bounce questions off of and to generate discussions.”

A year later, I feel that I have made progress on this continuous goal. One of the most rewarding experiences for me was attending the Spring Management Conference in Tampa and having people who I’d never met in person recognize me from my blog, LinkedIn or Twitter, or recall a phone conversation we’d had months before. Over time, many of these connections, online or over the phone, have turned into personal relationships.

Connecting with GAWDA members has helped me know what issues GAWDA members care about (To those of you reading this, I’m listening, if you have any topics you’d like to see us explore). And I hope, as a result, it has helped us create value for GAWDA members.

As far as the latter part of my goal, to generate discussions, I can see the voice of GAWDA getting louder every day. Several articles, particularly those in our On The Edge feature, have drummed up lively discussions. For me, the highlight was the conversation that followed as a result of an article about sales territories vs. market segmentation. It’s great to hear from people on both sides of the issue.

This year, I am setting a new goal, to learn the gases and welding industry in greater depth, to become more familiar with the products and services that distributors sell.  Like last year’s goal, this is a continuous goal. I’ve spoken with 50-year veterans of the industry who say they learn something new every day. This year, I’m making a concerted effort to keep learning. Any advice?

With that in mind, what is your resolution for 2012?

The Evolution Of The Business Card

Friday, August 12th, 2011

The Evolution Of The Business CardIn our most recent On The Edge article—or should I say video—“Business Cards May Be On The Way Out,” Jeffrey Gitomer shares an anecdote about the changing face of business networking. He questions whether business cards are obsolete. Could they be replaced by the professional networking site LinkedIn?

It’s an interesting proposal. Afterall, the first thing I did when I got back from GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference this spring was to take the business cards I had gotten and looked the names up on LinkedIn. After that, I connected with a handful of others who I met but did not have business cards for. So I can see where he’s coming from.

Then again, business cards are evolving, too. On some business cards, we’re beginning to see QR (quick response) bar codes, that can be used to refer smartphone users to a website—it could even be a LinkedIn page. On the back of my business card, for example, is a code that directs users to my blog. This is a nice feature of QR codes: the ability to direct users to a long and complicated URL. Before, business cards were pretty much limited to a basic company website. Now, the possibilities are without limit.

Maybe rather than replacing them, LinkedIn is just simply raising the bar for business cards—challenging us to think differently about how to maximize the real estate of a 3.5” x 2” piece of paper. What do you think? Will LinkedIn make business cards obsolete?

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.

Marketing lessons learned from a 104-year-old woman

Friday, July 30th, 2010

The world’s oldest Twitter user, Ivy Bean, passed away this week at the age of 104. According to MSNBC, she got turned onto Twitter when she reached her friend limit on Facebook. She had around 60,000 followers on Twitter.

I mention Mrs. Bean for two reasons. She shows us all that it’s never too late to learn something new. And maybe just as important, Bean shows us that marketing yourself doesn’t always have to take the form of selling yourself. While she probably had no interests in marketing herself, Bean developed a massive following from simple gestures. And perhaps it is the very fact that she did not seek to sell herself that drew people to Mrs. Bean.

For a company, a Twitter account can be a great way to market yourself but, as Bean shows, the best way to market yourself on Twitter is by not marketing yourself. On Twitter and off, by taking a simple interest in people, you can develop relationships. By caring about your followers, your followers will care about you.

Bean made headlines from her nursing home by doing a simple thing, a practice that millions of other people did. She attracted a following because she her true interest was in connecting with people. And even at the age of 104, she wasn’t afraid to try out new technology that could provide an efficient means to the often evasive end of getting people to care.

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.