“Why I Go To SMC”

Spring Management Conference goers come away with best practices for business.

The first stated purpose of the Gases and Welding Distributors Association is “to provide high impact educational and training opportunities and meetings for the industry.” Without a doubt, the Spring Management Conference is the embodiment of this goal, equipping members with best practices and takeaways that they can apply to everyday business. To gauge the true impact of this GAWDA mainstay, Welding & Gases Today spoke with five attendees from last year’s SMC about how they are applying this education and training in their businesses.

“Over the years, I’ve made a lot of changes as a result of what I learned at SMC,” says Curt Towne, president and CEO of Depke Welding Supplies (Danville, IL). The biggest change came after hearing Economist Alan Beaulieu of the Institute for Trend Research at a previous SMC. “I took what he said about the economy and I used it in my financial planning for the year. I used his strategies to improve our cash position. It helped get us through a couple of nasty years.”

Lloyd Robinson, Ned Lane and Ned Pontius

From left, Lloyd Robinson, Ned Lane and Ned Pontius share tools for measurement with fellow SMC goers.

The Spring Management Conference has hosted many a captivating speaker in recent years, none more so than three of GAWDA’s own. “When Lloyd Robinson, Ned Pontius and Ned Lane talk, I listen,” says Sidney Lee Welding Supply (Hampton, GA) president Zane Lee. Lee paid attention when the trio talked about business measurement tools at the 2010 SMC. “Since I heard them in Chicago, we’ve started paying more attention to business metrics. Instead of only measuring overall sales, we’re measuring things like sales per employee and gross margin per employee.” Lee says the measurements have translated successfully to his 30-employee organization. “What I learned in Chicago gave me a better way to set goals using those measurements.”

In 2010, Mike Scott, of Mike Scott & Associates, challenged distributors to change their way of communicating to promote accountability. “The session on accountability was exceptionally valuable,” says Jim Horst, Albright Welding Supply (Wooster, OH) president. “The most important thing I took away from the SMC was learning to ask my employees for completion dates and to repeat instructions back to them to make it perfectly clear what I expect. It has been exceptionally valuable.”

Bob Finnie, president of Carbonic Systems Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI), says Scott’s session on accountability has paid dividends for his business too. “I learned to give my employees a deadline and be specific about what I want done.” Finnie says a tendency of being too vague created problems in the past. “Even the employees like the new way better.” Finnie also found value in the Contact Booth Program. “The more contacts you can have within the industry, the better. The Contact Booth Program gave me an opportunity to meet some vendors of ours that I had never met in person,” he says.

Spring Management Conference Attendees

SMC attendees soak up ideas for business.

Lefeld Welding & Steel Supplies (Coldwater, OH) President Gary Lefeld found common ground at the SMC. Says Lefeld, “The greatest value of the Spring Management Conference was the realization that everyone there faces similar problems.” After having recently commissioned a custom cylinder pallet truck and preparing to retrofit the company’s fleet with for cylinder transport, Lefeld was eager to hear how other distributors approached their cylinder delivery systems. “Talking with people from other businesses really reinforced what we were doing. It gave us confidence going forward.”

Depke’s Towne, who brings members of his management team along to the SMC, echoes the value of dialogue. “On a day-to-day basis, we’re in the trenches,” he says, “but it’s important to have a bigger perspective on management and business as a whole. As a small company, the SMC is a great opportunity to hear what others are doing and have a higher level discussion. Anyone who doesn’t attend the SMC is missing a huge opportunity to become a better businessperson.”

As its first purposes states, GAWDA is about providing opportunities, and the Spring Management Conference is one of the greatest educational opportunities the industry has to offer. This spring, hundreds will come together in Baltimore, Maryland, with a common purpose of taking part in an ongoing dialogue. Join GAWDA members at SMC April 28 – May 1 to hear from industry experts and learn how you can improve your business.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association