Solution Providers

GAWDA’s Management Information Committee will focus on four key areas in 2007 to benefit your bottom line.

Six years into the 21st century, it’s apparent to many thriving GAWDA member distributorships that the proper utilization of technology within their organization is a key element to support their successful growth in the marketplace. Demands on members to do more with less, and at the same time offer expanded services for their customer base, have smart distributorships turning to various technology solutions. With this in mind, the GAWDA Management Information (MI) Committee took a closer look at what changes we needed to consider as a GAWDA Committee to add value to the association and better serve our fellow members. A subcommittee of three members (ESAB’s Dick Powell, Norco’s Chris Dominiak, and Lefeld Welding Supplies and Rental’s Stan Lefeld) expanded on collaboration from the other 11 members to determine ways the GAWDA MI Committee can add value to the GAWDA membership. In preparing to move the MI Committee forward, we will focus on four key areas, with a goal of becoming “solution providers” rather than just “technology experts.”

Software Standards
The first key focus area is to continue our efforts to develop and push for implementation of software standards that benefit our industry. The implementation of new technologies coupled with solid process improvements have the ability to change the de facto standard expected by customers overnight. In the case of our industry, it’s as simple as the acceptable response time to customer inquiries for product price and availability.

Over the last few years, manufacturers have supplemented standard phone customer support with Web sites that allowed distributor personnel to access price and availability information via a business-to-business Web site. While this approach did reduce the dependence on talking with a vendor phone agent, it also shifted a new requirement on the distributor that multiple users within the organization have individual computer skills and access to the Internet. In many cases there is little, if any, major time saving for the distributor in responding to his customer using this approach.

However, driven by efforts of leading-edge software companies, distributors and manufacturers, the ability for manufacturers to offer price and availability on a specific item has moved, in some cases, from a few minutes to less than ten seconds. Over time, this new ten-second response time, driven by the ability of computers to exchange data with each other, will become the new de facto standard. This is an important area where the MI Committee has been working to establish software standards that need to be utilized by supporting software providers and manufacturers within our industry. By developing and enforcing uniform technology standards within our industry, we greatly increase the chance for faster adoption and a greater opportunity for all our members to take advantage of this and other technology-driven new de facto standards.

Supporting Process Improvements
As a second focus point, the MI Committee needs to become more engaged in supporting process improvements within our distribution channel by working as a better liaison between our industry’s software companies, manufacturers and distributors. Our distributor channel is under pressure from competing sales channels that are offering our “bread and butter customers” better or improved business processes. We cannot afford to just play catch-up or offer a weaker work process solution. GAWDA should take the lead in bringing all the parties together to look for ways to create process improvements and bring value to our three-way partnership. This will require a focused effort by the MI Committee and support from leadership from within GAWDA, software providers, manufacturers and distributors.

Educational Opportunities
The third focus will be to continue bringing various educational opportunities with a technology component to our membership via the GAWDA Web site, seminars at SMCs and Annual Conventions, webinars and technology support available through GAWDA. Select members of the MI Committee recently completed a high level review of the GAWDA Web site. On a quarterly timetable each year, the MI Committee will complete a more detailed review and offer suggestions for improving the Web site.

Management Information Committee Focus Areas for 2007
  1. Develop and promote implementation of software standards.
  2. Work with software companies, manufacturers and distributors to support process improvements.
  3. Coordinate educational opportunities with a technology component.
  4. Educate members on new technology and best practices.

As we did at the last three SMCs, we will continue to demo and present technology programs based on requests from association members and customers. To support the various skill levels within distributorships, the webinar series program content will include training for level 1, 2 and 3 employees. We will include more training and educational content on gas products, cylinders, liquid units, bulk and microbulk issues, plus other related cylinder training content.

New Technology and Best Practices
Our fourth focus will be to expand efforts to educate members on new technologies with an added positive twist. We need to take these new technologies and combine them with best practices to assist members in the following operational functions: sales (outside, inside and counter), distribution, warehouse (purchasing, pulling, stocking and inventory control), cylinder management, back office and corporate Web site. We will begin a renewed effort to reach out to our membership base to identity, document and share results of projects that combine technology and best practices for positive results. New technology by itself means nothing! New technology and best practices that are combined to support increased efficiency, offer expanded services to our customers, protect current or achieve greater market share, reduce a measurable bottom line cost or increase bottom line profits—now that gets everyone’s attention.

The GAWDA MI Committee is enthusiastic about working in these four focus areas, and we are determined to assist our fellow association members as we move forward in the new calendar year.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Rick Smith Meet the Author
Rick Smith is chair of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee and vice president of planning and technology for National Welders Supply Company Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina.