In a business climate where many trade show organizers were seeing attendance at their conferences and trade shows plummet by 30 percent or more, staffers from the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Tarrytown, N.Y., were delighted with attendance at the 2009 NEMRA Annual conference, held March 18-March 21 in Orlando. With more than 1,300 attendees, conference registration was only down 8 percent from last year’s meeting in Washington, D.C.
Despite the economic tsunami that’s engulfed the electrical market and the rest of the global economy, this year’s NEMRA Conference had the same buzz as other meetings in past years. The one-on-one sessions and group meetings were as active as ever and reps coming out of their pow-wows with manufacturers didn’t look too battered or bruised — a bit of a surprise considering the economic conditions. Several reps told EM that manufacturers had more realistic sales expectations this year because of the recession. One rep from the Midwest said he considered himself lucky because his business was “only” down less than 10 percent. “I feel like I hit the lottery, compared to some other reps who are seeing their businesses down 30 percent or even more,” he said.
It was the first NEMRA Conference for Ken Hooper as president of the association, and the first one for Hank Bergson as president of his own consulting firm, Henry Bergson Associates. Both already seem comfortable in their new roles. Attendees also enjoyed an interesting seminar program, which featured William Taylor, a cofounder and the founding editor of Fast Company magazine, and currently an adjunct professor at Babson College; Dick Offenbacher, senior vice president–sales and marketing electrical, Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis; Bill Weisberg, chairman and CEO, Affiliated Distributors (AD), Wayne, Pa.; and two experts on succession planning, Brett Howard, and Paul Lambert, of Cherry Street Partners, Denver.
Taylor told attendees their companies must stand out from the crowd. “The only way to stand out from the crowed is to be different. You define yourself by being different in a world of ‘me-too’ thinking. Originality will stand the acid test and allow you to emerge from this economy with much closer connections with customers and manufacturers and allow you to create separation from the competition.
“Keep in mind that you can’t be pretty good at everything. In order to achieve separation you’ve got to be the most at something. Determine what you are the ‘most’ of in your market and use that to create a difference between yourself and the competition.”
Howard and Lambert of Cherry Street Partners told reps in the audience developing an exit strategy can take years. “It’s much easier to get into than out of business,” they said. “Many owners are busy working in their business and not on their businesses. They don’t see the big picture on how to get out of the business. Exit planning is a process — you can’t wake up tomorrow and say you want to get out next week. It will take five to 10 years or more to identify the people in your business who will help you get out.”
The 2010 NEMRA Conference is scheduled for February 16-21, 2010, at the New York Marriott Marquis, New York.