The State of Independents

Complacency leads to mediocrity, writes General Air Service and Supply’s Brad Armstrong, and mediocrity works as long as your competitor has agreed to the same level of performance. In his article starting on page 103, Brad gives specific examples of how to make sure the words “value added” really do add value to your customer interactions. Interesting stuff.

Insurance expert and GAWDA consultant Brian McLaughlin breaks down the Affordable Care Act and its impact on our businesses. That article is followed by information from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and what the new law will mean for both large and small companies. And if you’re still scratching your head, check out the online video at for a short, humorous summary of the 9,000-page act.

This issue is filled with Convention information, including the Annual Guide to the Convention’s Contact Booth Exhibitors, starting on page 40. Two of the four keynote speakers are also highlighted: Author Jason Jennings and Lt. Col. (retired) Oliver North. Ollie agreed to an interview and was a delightful, interesting subject. Having been embedded with 56 combat units, most recently this summer in Afghanistan, he is passionate about American heroes and telling their stories. He has much to say about leadership, teamwork and independence.

The theme of the convention, “United We Stand Celebrating Our Independence,” serves as the inspiration for this issue’s cover story, “The State of Independents.” A very large percentage of GAWDA members are independent business owners, albeit a shrinking number due to the large amount of recent industry mergers and consolidations. In fact, the number one challenge cited by GAWDA members for the 2013 Business Forecast is the amount of industry consolidation among both suppliers and distributors, coupled with the loss of independent distribution. This challenge has had a marked effect on how business is done, i.e., commoditized pricing and loss of relationships.

I spoke with many independent distributors over the summer who shared their extreme passion for the distribution business and their desire to create an independent company for which they are responsible for growing and maintaining. Of course, the flip side of that extreme passion is the fear and concern they have about the intense competition from “the big guys.” Perhaps some of the tips located throughout this issue on dealing with the severe challenges of being an independent distributor will prove insightful as independents work to level the playing field.

So what makes independent business owners different from their corporate cousins? There is no easy answer. Some use the word “value” and many say “service.” Which is why you really need to meet Phil Royle on page 106. Phil is the Product Excellence Manager at Legoland in Orlando, and he gets paid to make sure customers go away satisfied. Lego, by the way, is a family-owned business that faced bankruptcy in the early 2000s when the company went on an “innovation binge” in response to low-cost China-manufactured knock-offs, consolidation among retailers and the growth of big-box stores that made it tougher to negotiate prime retail space. Sound familiar? A new management team took the company back to its core principles and over the last four years, LEGO sales have gone up an average 24 percent annually, and profits have grown 41 percent. That story is detailed in the book Brick by Brick, reviewed on page 108, and is a fascinating read for anyone wanting to delve into family businesses, crushing competition and survival.

Welding & Gases Today will be in full force reporting from the Annual Convention in Orlando. Look for photos and recaps in the October 1 e-newsletter and on the pages of this magazine.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Carole Jesiolowski Meet the Author
Carole Jesiolowski is senior editor of GAWDA Media and executive vice president of Data Key Communications in Syracuse, New York. She can be reached at