Specialty Gas Task Force Report

Survey shows clear needs.

The Specialty Gas Task Force was commissioned in May of 2004 “to canvass our membership to determine if there is a need to expand our services into the area of specialty gases.”

Our Task Force of ten committee members represented all aspects of our Association: the large and small distributor, the equipment supplier and the gas producer, as well as the trade press. Hank Grieco, president of Specialty Gas Publishing, acted as the advisor to our committee.

As there was some pressure to get this job accomplished on a timely basis, the committee opted for an electronic survey to get the job done. A copy of this survey and its responses can be found in Welding & Gases Today Online at www.gawda.org.

The committee reviewed the responses and came to several conclusions. We received 68 responses, which represents a little over 12% of our distributor membership, which we felt reflected a low level of interest. Of the 68 who responded, only 32 were interested in expanding the number of products they pumped. Again, we perceived this as low level of interest. However, 57 of the 68 expressed a desire to learn more about the opportunities that specialty gas and equipment offered. We saw that as encouraging.

Part of our questionnaire was to target the equipment side of the specialty gas business. While most of the respondents said they sold some specialty gas equipment, it was our opinion that most were providing vendor-supplied information to their customers. We saw this as a training opportunity as the distributors tended to be orders takers and not system sales-oriented.

Another item of interest the survey pointed out was the distributors’ knowledge of their specialty gas and equipment marketplace and their ability to play in it. There was evidence of some hesitancy on part of the distributors that resulted in comments like: “not enough volume to justify cost,” “we don’t have the expertise,” “prices are too competitive to warrant investment,” “not all the vendor equipment deals are good, i.e., low margin.” Here, we saw an opportunity to update the distributors on what really is the potential of the specialty gas and equipment market.

There were several comments related to help with standards, proper documentation and labeling, storage and MSDS sheets. There also seemed to be a need of “where do I go to find information about this or that.” Again we felt that GAWDA might be able to help out by expanding its electronic database.

So what did we gather from all this information? The big question was, “Do we need a consultant?” What are some of the things he would be asked to do?

  • Answer distributor inquires – 5 to 25 per month.
  • Expand MSDS database to include the common mixes and the common special applications products.
  • Develop or purchase a program to create mixture recipes and the corresponding cylinder labels required to pump and ship specialty gases.
  • Put on seminars that cover sales training, marketing, plant and lab design at the SMCs and regional meetings.
  • Be a resource to other resources.
  • Write a Specialty Gas Tips column for the newsletter.

While it is our perception that the marketplace is changing, the distributor still overwhelmingly looks to his or her suppliers for specialty gas training and guidance. A GAWDA specialty gas and equipment consultant will not be unique in his knowledge covering the job functions listed above as compared to our legal consultant or traffic consultant. The access to industry expertise is everywhere – the majors, the equipment suppliers, as well as a growing group of consultants. Most of these distributor needs could be handled by tapping into our associate membership and expanding the scope of our existing consulting staff. Therefore, we did not find enough evidence to support the need for a full time consultant at this time.

If, in the future, GAWDA were to become the “keeper of the knowledge,” and by that we mean develop and promote the standards by which the specialty gas industry operates, then by all means additional personnel would be required. However, due to timing constraints and no opportunity to study what the financial impact would be, we have no comment at this time.

After much discussion among committee members, it became clear that one of GAWDA’s assets was that it was not solely a distributor organization due to its very active associate membership, and shouldn’t it be the associates who should rightfully lead the charge here? The committee agreed. As long as the associates are preaching to the choir, the concerns of geographical diverse buying groups tend to go away. All distributors are learning as the associates are teaching (selling). There is no competitive disadvantage except for the distributor who doesn’t participate.

Action Steps
So then, how is GAWDA going to meet the needs of its members?

  • By allowing everyone to participate in an opportunity to learn. Some other distributor groups tend to be more selective in their dissemination of knowledge because of competitive reasons. GAWDA, however, is our industry’s trade association and information is freely traded for the benefit of all.
  • By harnessing the great energy and knowledge of the association’s associate membership to educate, instruct and continue to teach us the basics of this growing market.
  • By expanding our electronic database to handle e-mail inquiries to our ever expanding library and by developing a conduit whereby our associates can respond directly to distributor inquiries.
  • By having the associates develop educational tracks for our SMCs and regional meetings to help the distributor become more successful through better knowledge of the industry, its tools and its markets.
  • By developing webinars and/or other training events to accommodate members who can’t make it to an SMC or national meeting.
  • By using our friends in the trade press to continue to present the issues and opportunities and support the common goal of developing a better educated specialty gas and equipment distributor.
  • By tapping into our existing excellent consulting staff, we can expand their offerings to cover safety, labeling and compliance issues, as well as be the go-to-group for “pointing the way” on technical issues.

In order to get those objectives accomplished, the committee makes the following recommendations to the board of directors.

Establish a Specialty Gas & Equipment Track at our Spring Management Conferences – Hank Grieco and Pat Carlucci have agreed to head a sub-committee to put together the programming for the specialty gas & equipment track at this year’s SMCs.

The track will feature a panel format. There will be associate representatives from different aspects of the specialty gas and equipment arena. The panel will have a moderator from the trade press. The panels may be made up of different people at each SMC. The specific theme will be announced at a later time, but presentation format will be to have each panelist give a short presentation followed by a lively question and answer session. This format has proved popular at a couple of the regional meetings.

Hank also has offered to put together a “canned” presentation for a regional chairman to use at his/her meeting to simulate interaction.

Create an Electronic Consultant – Engage Scott Ernschwender to create an electronic consultant. A member, for instance, would e-mail specgas@gaseda.org. All e-mails would be automatically redirected to the associate members who want to participate. This would become a sort of a reverse lead generation system. To the associate, it can present a selling opportunity. To the distributor, it may elicit several solutions from which to make a choice.

Expand our Electronic Database – Engage our safety and traffic consultant and our technology consultant to expand the MSDS database to include the common mixes and the common special applications products. Add to our searchable library articles on specialty gas and equipment, safety and training.

Develop or Purchase a Program to Create Mixture Recipes and the Corresponding Cylinder Labels Required to Pump and Ship Specialty Gases – Engage the Specialty Gas Task Force along with the executive director to solicit potential vendors for program solutions.

Develop Associate-Sponsored Webinars – Engage the Industry Partnering Committee to challenge the associate members to develop webinar presentations on specialty gas and equipment topics.

Extend the Authorization of the Specialty Gas & Equipment Task Force for an Additional 12 Months – The task force would like to monitor the feedback from its SMC presentations to determine the level of interest in is programming efforts and suggest changes for the future.

Also, the task force would like to look deeper into the “keeper of the knowledge” strategy to assess the liability, political and financial consequences of such a game plan.

While the survey revealed there is a thirst for knowledge on all fronts, the committee felt that GAWDA should target the areas outlined above. It provides the most economical approach to test the waters of support in this subject field. We hope that our approach is successful and encourages the eventual formation of a subgroup within GAWDA to carry the torch forward.

I would like to thank all members of the Task Force for their valuable input and commitment of time and congratulate them for a job well done.

GAWDA Specialty Gas Task Force
The purpose of this Committee is to provide the industrial gas and welding distributor with information and feedback on products, processes, hardware and software which allow the distributor to manage his or her business more effectively. Members of the Specialty Gas Task Force include:

Avery “Whip” Seaman Jr.,
GAWDA President-Elect
President, Corp Brothers Inc.

Jack Butler
President, Butler Gas Products

Dan Byrne
CEO, Byrne Specialty Gas Inc.

Pat Carlucci
VP of Sales, Controls Corporation of America

John Harris
Division Manager, National Specialty Gases

Jason Holland
Area Sales Manager, BOC Gases, Inc.

Jack Hughes
Specialty Gas Manager, Norco, Inc.

Bill Miller
Business Manager, Specialty Gas Group

Frank Scornavacca
President, SGD, Inc.

Dave Stein
President, Advanced Specialty Gases

Hank Grieco, Advisor
President, Specialty Gas Group

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Avery “Whip” Seaman Jr. Meet the Author
Whip Seaman is president of Corp Brothers in Providence, Rhode Island. He serves as GAWDA’s president-elect and chairman of the Specialty Gas Task Force.