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Last year, the American Supply Association (ASA) celebrated its 50th annual convention and unveiled new strategic initiatives to help its members grow and succeed in business. During the event, ASA President Bill Glockner, president and CEO of Van Nuys, Calif.-based Hirsch Pipe & Supply Co., stated his motto and platform of having members “get in the game.” With a plan in place and leadership guiding the way, the one challenge no one predicted was the COVID-19 pandemic.
The association, like others, needed to adapt to help its members during these times of uncertainty. We sat down with Glockner to discuss the association’s goals, its roadmap during uncertainty and how it retooled the membership toolkit to aid on our new frontier.
The Wholesaler Magazine: How did you get started in the industry, and with Hirsch Pipe?
Bill Glockner: After I finished business school in 1991, I joined a consulting business. I flew all over the country while my wife Susan complete her training as a physician. I left every Monday morning and got back late Friday night, and then she was on call. I realized right away this was not going to work for me or my family long-term.
One evening, at a birthday dinner for my mother-in-law, I expressed that I needed to reconsider my career choice. My father-in-law (former Hirsch President Dan Mariscal) expressed frustration about needing help to continue with Hirsch’s expansion. He suggested maybe we should work something out. We wrote out a quick agreement on the back of a napkin and I came to Hirsch later that month, October 1991. I have been here ever since.
TW: What drives your passion for being a part of the industry?
BG: I fell in love with the people — our customers, employees and vendors. Our customers, the plumbers, are fun-loving, good-natured, salt-of-the-earth people who go out every day and help solve peoples’ problems. Our employees — every one of them — have a sincere desire to help make our customers’ lives better, and they come into work every day with that mindset. Our vendors are some of my best friends. We work together to make sure we deliver the best products and experiences for our customers. It’s safe to say this is a special industry filled with quality people. Once someone finds their way into it, they never want to leave.
TW: How do you define success and how do you accomplish it?
BG: At our company, we have a creed we live by: “We are passionate about living out our values and enriching the lives of our employees and customers.” We have taken our customers and employees all over the globe because we love spending time with them; we are passionate about getting to know them on a one-on-one basis. We also are very focused on employee engagement. We are proud that Hirsch has been recognized as a best employer by business journals in Orange and San Diego counties, as well as by our industry buying group, Affiliated Distributors.
TW: What changes did your company make when COVID-19 changed the business landscape?
BG: Our No. 1 focus during this pandemic has been to keep our customers and employees safe and limit exposure to COVID-19. We made an immediate decision to move any of our staff that we could to work remotely. We temporarily moved our counter business outside our stores and created will-call areas in our parking lots. We require our employees and customers to wear masks. These changes remain in place, and we will continue to operate our business outside until it is safe for our customers and employees to return to business as usual.
We formed the Hirsch Safety Advocates team, made up of representatives from all our branches, which eets weekly to discuss safety initiatives. This has been instrumental in creating new safety policies and procedures for the entire company.
TW: How long have you been involved with ASA, and how has it helped you in your professional growth in the industry?
BG: Before I was involved with the ASA board, I attended ASA conferences and our regional PSDA (now Southwest Pacific Distributors) conference since I joined the industry 29 years ago. And I have been a member of the ASA Political Action Committee for many years.
Hirsch has supported the ASA Education Foundation by using its materials in our career tracks. We have participated in the annual ASA Operating Performance Report for the past 20 years. It has enabled us to accelerate the understanding of the products and characteristics of this industry.
TW: What interested you in pursuing a seat on the ASA board?
BG: I was encouraged by Scott Weaver (APR Supply president and CEO, and former ASA president), a good friend and mentor, to get involved, citing the dynamic leadership ASA CEO Mike Adelizzi brought to the association. Mike revitalized the association by driving real value, and he approached me at an ASA conference about the opportunity. He is a tough guy to say no to!
TW: When you started your presidency, describe the goals/initiatives you wanted to achieve.
BG: Engagement — both for our membership and for our ASA staff and board members. To increase membership, I focused on driving engagement deeper into member companies and getting more members to take advantage of ASA program offerings. I call this “getting in the game.” And I share member success stories about how ASA helped make those companies better.
During our 2020 ASA Winter Leadership Meeting in Orlando, we reviewed the ASA program offerings and gained a lot of valuable insights about our communication needs. We are now actively measuring engagement at ASA. I believe, in the long-run, this will help improve programming and participation by member companies.
TW: How did the goals change when COVID-19 hit our shores?
BG: Our goals didn’t change as a result of COVID-19. Our way of engaging one another did. Instead of relying on in-person meetings and events, we moved to virtual meetings and events, which ultimately resulted in a higher participation and reach.
TW: We are in a new normal — how is ASA evolving with the changing landscape?
BG: I give praise to Mike Adelizzi and the ASA staff for how well they responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Almost immediately, staff was moved to work remotely and visits to the ASA office were limited. Next, we canceled planned in-person events for SWPD, Women in Industry, Emerging Leaders and, ultimately, NETWORK2020. The ASA staff moved quickly to minimize any loss exposure to the membership. Then, they quickly pivoted to create a COVID-19 resource center on ASA.net and offer relevant programming to members during this time of crisis.
This included weekly surveys and virtual roundtables with distributors and vendors about how they were responding to the pandemic. ASA expanded its online CONNECT program to allow more distributor member employees to connect virtually with peers in nine separate, critical job functions. ASA University offered a set of free courses related to meeting the COVID-19 challenge.
ASA also started a series of well-attended economic briefings with its Chief Economist Dr. Chris Kuehl. Dr. Kuehl’s offering has now expanded to include a weekly podcast series providing targeted economic updates in 10 minutes or less.
TW: What are the biggest challenge members face today in terms of the “new normal”?
BG: From my perspective, the biggest challenge we all face is the uncertainty in so many aspects of our lives and businesses. We are all operating in a “wait-and-see” environment where we don’t know the duration and final outcomes of the pandemic.
Looking beyond this uncertainty, members must embrace the idea that the way we do business has changed, and we need to continue to remain agile. I see a need for our industry to embrace more technology and work to enhance digital interactions with our customers, employees and vendors. This includes more engagement through the use of technology, including web, text, apps, touchless transactions, replacing in-person meetings and travel with virtual meetings, and moving to a more remote work environment.
TW: What tools does ASA provide to help with the solution?
BG: For starters, ASA conducted a good number of town hall video interviews — and continues to do so — where distributors share their real-world solutions to the challenges the pandemic has presented.
Additionally, this year we launched our D.NEXT initiative as part of our overall larger Building One Future platform, which is a strategic plan to address three critical issues facing ASA members, one of which is on the technology front. What can ASA do to spur growth-oriented members to transform their companies strategically and successfully through the use of technology? So earlier this year, and during the pandemic no less, ASA opened its ASA Innovation Lab at Research Park in Champaign, Ill., in partnership with the University of Illinois.
ASA also helps clarify the business environment for its members with multiple offerings from Dr. Kuehl, whether it be his economic webinars, podcasts or the monthly Economic Advisor report. The Pulse report gives members a great look at how they shape up both nationally and regionally when it comes to areas such as sales, inventory and staffing.
TW: How do you see the business landscape for distributors in the next 6-12 months?
BG: Personally, I think there are mixed signals about the business landscape right now for distributors. On the one hand, it has been gratifying to be recognized as an essential business, and to be able to continue operating and keeping our team members working. This pandemic has proven the need for distributors more than ever.
On the other hand, aside from dealing directly with the business challenges ofmore virtual meetings and more remote workers in our businesses, we need to deal with the secondary, economy-wide effects of these trends and what that might mean as commercial real estate, airlines, hotels and restaurants all suffer setbacks. The resulting reduction in employment in these sectors, and in overall demand, could lead to severe contraction in our economies unless offsetting stimulus funds are continued.
TW: Tell us about this year’s conference — how it went from iniperson to virtual and talk about the format, please.
BG: The ASA Executive Committee met in June and, based on the current regulations/gathering limitations related to the state of Illinois’ reopening plan and the prevailing sentiment of the group about our industry’s concerns about business travel, we approved ASA staff’s recommendation to move to a two-day virtual format.
The format is exciting in that it has a mixture of live virtual presentations and on-demand educational sessions available to all registrants, plus face-to-face virtual wholesaler-distributor and vendor conference appointments. And we are super-excited about the ASA virtual trade show, a first-of-its-kind event in the PHCP-PVF industry. We also are exploring adding a virtual cocktail hour component. And registration fees for members are very reasonable.
TW: What are the topics and focus of the event?
BG: NETWORK2020 Virtual is about bringing together thought-leaders and educational sessions that can immediatley impact your company and your team’s ability to succeed. After an opening session where I welcome attendees and share the progress on our ASA initiatives to secure our industry’s future, Ron Karr’s Velocity Mindset presentation dives into different critical facets of a business, including the use of modern sales techniques. Kohler Co. President and CEO David Kohler follows with a look at future trends affecting our industry.
On Day 2, we honor several industry award winners and introduce ASA’s leadership for 2021, followed by Dr. Kuehl, who will deliver his always anticipated industry forecast for 2021. Alexandra Levit also will be live to show attendees how to “future-proof” their businesses and careers. The day concludes with two virtual networking components with the wholesaler-distributor and vendor conference appointments and the much-anticipated virtual trade show.
TW: This year, ASA bestowed its IPD Award of Excellence to Johnny Seder. Will he be honored during the virtual event and will other awards be given?
BG: Yes, Johnny Seder (former Milwaukee Valve owner) will be honored with the IPD Award of Excellence; we’re also honoring an ASA Women in Industry member with the Alice A. Martin Woman of the Year Award. As always, six ASA member companies (three distributor and three manufacturer companies) will receive the annual ASA Safety Award — plus a special virtual ceremony will honor 2020 ASA Chairman Steve Cook.
TW: What does ASA offer its members that they cannot find elsewhere?
BG: By serving the entire PHCP-PVF industry, ASA is our members’ best source for education, networking, business intelligence and advocacy. Recently, ASA organized a hard-fought campaign against California’s new lower-lead bill AB2060. ASA’s newly launched D.NEXT initiative will help members attack the technology challenges of more digital interaction brought on by the pandemic. Later this year, we’ll unveil the TALENT initiative to provide members with strategies and content to attract more new, young workers into our industry.
If you are serious about staying in the PHCP industry, I strongly advise you to “get in the game” and take advantage of all that ASA has to offer.