While attendance figures at this year's NAED Leadership Summit were down from past years, the electrical distributors and manufacturers who did make the trip to sunny San Diego were optimistic about market conditions. No one had much good to say yet about the residential market, but distributors doing business in industrial MRO and lighting retrofits are looking at good growth for 2011. On the manufacturers' side, industry chatter at the meeting and the recent bevy of 1Q 2011 financial reports recently published by publicly held manufacturers point to double-digit growth for some companies and high single-digit growth for many others. Two big caveats…wild increases in steel and copper prices that have been passed along in price increases and may have inflated sales a bit and the unavoidable fact that any increases are off some very, very low bottoms. Still, things seem to be moving in the right direction.
As far as the low attendance at the annual meeting -- which had the “feel” of a busy, but smaller NAED regional meeting -- as it's been said many times, meetings are what you make them. Yes, in the “good old days” the NAED Annuals of the 1980s and 1990s were much larger industry gatherings, but we don't live in that world anymore. The acquisitions of dozens of NAED distributors that have been rolled up into larger regional or national distributors, a sluggish economy, tighter travel budgets and leaner staffs, and all sorts of new communications technologies like email, Twitter, LinkedIn and Skype have all had their impact on the attendance figures not only on NAED meetings. NAED is not alone in facing these challenges -- industry consolidation, the economy and electronic communications are issues for trade associations outside the electrical world, too.
All of these electronic communication technologies are great as far as they go, but I don't think you can ever really place the value of meeting face-to-face with business partners. As in other years, the 2011 NAED Leadership Summit offered attendees all sorts of opportunities to network and pick up some new ideas from the conference programs to learn about NAED's newest training programs, and an interesting new event -- the Congressional Fly-In on Sept. 7-8 that will offer NAED distributors a chance to meet with their local legislators in Washington, D.C., to discuss legislative issues of mutual interest.
Still, it's pretty obvious more NAED distributors and suppliers are opting out of the annual meeting. They still find value in the regional meetings, and increasingly consider the Affiliated Distributors and IMARK buying/marketing group meetings to be must-attend events for senior managers.