NEMRA returned to Las Vegas for its annual meeting last week, and while attendees were a bit early for the Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers being held on Sunday, Feb. 11, the association scored with a new format that seemed quite popular with attendees.
More than 1,650 reps, manufacturers, services providers, national distributors and executives from the industry’s buying groups gathered at the Las Vegas Virgin Hotel for several days of meetings and educational sessions.
NEMRA made a major change in its general session that resonated with members. Instead of bringing in a speaker from outside the electrical market, Jim Johnson and the NEMRA team put together a Distributor Panel discussion and offered one-on one meetings with panelists after the session.
Executives from four of the nation’s largest distributors and two marketing groups engaged in a lively discussion moderated by Dr. Jeffrey Magee that covered point-of-sale data, creating demand, the impact of M&As, managing promotions and the importance of understanding each branch location or profit center’s unique business model.
The panelists were: Steven Guidry, senior VP, Supplier Relations, Affiliated Distributors (AD); Steve Ruane, VP and Member Services, IMARK; Bob Kalkowski, Senior VP, Strategic Vendor Relations, Sonepar; Scott Dowell, senior VP and general manager, WESCO; Brad Selby, VP and Midwest Region Manager; and Andy Ciccone, district VP, Graybar.
A key takeaway from the panel was that the quality of local relationships reps establish with end users will continue to define the value they offer distributors.
NEMRA agents have focused on creating demand for the lines they carry for decades, but panelists said that responsibility will evolve dramatically in coming years as the industry moves toward more widespread use of POS data and how it’s tracked and used for compensation.
Several of the panelists also agreed that reps can play a key role in managing product promotions in the market. While it’s always exciting to launch a new promotion, once the initial hoopla and excitement fades, they said distributors need reps to help to manage promotions by redirecting or refining their sales efforts to focus on the customers or products based on the feedback they receive from the front line.
Mergers and acquisitions were another key point of discussion. The current wave of distributor acquisitions is changing local market dynamics and shows no sign of stopping, according to the panelists. Reps can best adjust to M&As by maintaining their focus on building brands. Said IMARK’s Ruane, “Build brand equity within customers. Distributors are looking for manufacturers with solid brand preference. Look for customers predisposed to the lines you carry.”
Sonepar’s Kalkowski said M&As are forcing relationships to get closer and be more strategic. “Acquisitions are part of our lifeblood, but the local market wins,” he said. “Our operating companies run our business.”
IMARK’s Ruane surveyed 20 IMARK distributors about the traits common with best-in-class distributors. One of the things that came up frequently was the need for reps to build and maintain business relationships at all levels of a distributorship — including management, outside sales, inside sales, purchasing, warehouse and the counter. WESCO’s Dowell and CED’s Selby agreed. “Understand our business model,” said Selby. “Someone who calls a CED profit center a branch does not understand our business model.”
WESCO’s Dowell said reps need to understand that some local branches operate differently and that they can help fill in any gaps that may exist with the services they provide.
Another popular change in the meeting format over the past few years has been the use of mobile meeting rooms for the one-on-one meetings. The meeting rooms, which both manufacturers and reps sponsored, could be customized with company logos and other promotional materials. Approximately 50% of the booths were customized.
NEMRA’s 2025 conference will be in Orlando from Sunday, Feb. 2 through Wednesday, Feb. 5. Click here to see who won the 2024 NEMMY Awards.