This year’s NAHAD Annual Conference came off splendidly at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort in Arizona. Originally planned for earlier in the Spring, the Conference was moved back to June, because of continuing Covid-19 concerns. Then, a couple of months out, the organization also switched the location from San Diego to Scottsdale, due to concerns over restrictions that still might be in place in California.
The result was that the normal nice weather getaway was instead an amusing jaunt to daily 110°+ temperatures in the Valley of the Sun. But the staff and resort handled the near-record weather smoothly, moving some events indoors and setting up multiple water misters for outdoor functions. I caught up with NAHAD’s Executive Vice President, Molly Alton Mullins, to get a sense of where the organization has been — and where it’s headed.
FPW: What are your feelings about this year’s Annual Conference, and what are the lessons learned for you and your staff?
Mullins: I’m grateful; more than any other feeling, I think that is the best word I can use to describe it. I think we listened to our members. We polled them excessively to see what they wanted. Obviously, I wanted to do an event. This is what NAHAD is known for and what we do so well.
If it wasn’t what the members felt comfortable with, then we weren’t going to go forward with it. Poll after poll said, “No, we want to come. We want to be there. We want to get together.” You certainly learn to be more flexible in the planning process. I don’t think I would have been as willing, maybe two years ago, to do this. After all we’ve lived through, now you think, “Yeah, we’re going to make it happen no matter how we can.” I think those are kind of the lessons we’ve learned from it.
FPW: NAHAD Academy, which launched in 2019, seems to have been phenomenally successful. It was almost perfectly timed, as the pandemic was an ideal time to grow it by leaps and bounds. Can you talk about the genesis of it and where it stands?
Mullins: I think we’ve really gotten lucky that those two worlds aligned at the time that they did. Previous to 2019, for the Hose Safety Institute and all of our training, members handed their employee this giant handbook, told them to read it, and then made them take a paper test. If you did that to me right now, I’d feel like, “I don’t want this job. I just don’t learn that way.”
We took that information and turned it online to where people can take interactive courses, where someone’s talking to them, there’s pop-ups they can use. We all know how we learn and what we are visually attracted to nowadays. To be able to have all that implemented in 2019 so that when everyone was doing more training in 2020, it just gave us the opportunity to sell it more and to get more people involved.
I can’t speak highly enough about Joanna Truitt’s [Director of Training and the Hose Safety Institute] work behind all that because it’s not easy to take content like that and develop it into something that’s interesting, while still providing the detailed training that you need when you’re manufacturing hose.
We launched in April of 2019 in Las Vegas at the NAHAD Annual Conference. At the end of 2019, we had 200 users. Now, we have 800 users. It’s been gangbusters; people are saying, “Yes, let’s get more seats involved.” You can sign up for a subscription as a company, or you can license the content and put it on your own website. There’s very NAHAD-specific training in there, but there’s also a ton of other training related to inventory management, sales and marketing, OSHA, and all those other sorts of things.
FPW: Can you give some insight into the Hose Safety Institute? You’ve mentioned at this Conference that there are some new things coming.
Mullins: NAHAD has always had a very interesting relationship with the end-user community. Obviously, we are a manufacturing distributor-based organization, but their customers are the end users. What a lot of the Standards Committee members have said is, “Let’s engage them more. Let’s actually give them access to our educational content, so they understand why they want to work with a Hose Safety Institute member.” That’s always been my goal — to have an end user go to one of my distributors and say, “Hey, are you a member of HSI, so I can make sure that you’re doing things appropriately?” To be able to educate them is something that we’ve never really done before. I’m super excited to see how that goes.
We’ll be developing courses directly for them, so that end users — free of charge — can log on the system and learn what they need to be asking questions for and what they really need to be looking for. That’s a lot of what Joanna and her team are working on for this year.
FPW: We heard a great presentation by Ian Heller yesterday. Some of what he talked about was pretty scary stuff, though. He said that distributors must be laser-focused on marketing their value-added services, due to encroaching competition from Amazon and the like. What is NAHAD doing for your members to help train them to deal with what’s coming in the next 5 or 10 years?
Mullins: Our focus is a lot of providing them the education to know what’s ahead — as best as any of us can predict. To have people like Ian, who also does webinars for NAHAD members, to help them kind of understand forecasting and understanding what supply chain challenges are out there and really understanding what other types of different disruptors they have in front of them. It’s really for us to get as much information to them as possible.
Then it’s up to them to prove what their value is going to be. Distributors do work that nobody else is going to do for a customer. There is inherent value in that — that you can’t replace. It’s showing them how to better educate and market that message. I think that is something that we try to do at NAHAD.
FPW: Are there any other issues that you hear consistently from your members, things that keep them up at night? What are distributors most worried about today?
Mullins: It really boils down to two key elements with them. It is supply chain and it is personnel.
None of us, our own company included, can hire and retain as many people for the work that we all have going on right now. How do you keep and retain the employees that you have and keep them from burning out? How are you attractive enough to that next employee to bring them in? I heard the other day that McDonald’s is offering $50 to simply interview, not even to take the job, simply to get people to come in and interview. This is everywhere. When you’re looking at manufacturing and warehouses, what can you incentivize to encourage that employee to really take that job and stay there?
Then supply chain. Connor Lokar did the opening talk, the economic presentation. He spoke a lot about supply chain. It’s going to be a year. I mean, that is what every economic prediction says now. Demand won’t normalize until June of next year. We just had just this influx of demand with such a limited supply, given everything that the pandemic produced. That’s a lot of what they’re trying to balance, as well as — how do you get your customers to understand that and know that it’s not going to be overnight, and this isn’t going to be fixed. How do you mitigate and work through it?
FPW: You just announced the May 14-18, 2022 dates for the Annual Conference in Miami next year. What can attendees expect in 2022?
Mullins: People are super excited about Miami. The largest Convention they had ever held was in Miami in 2015. They love the location. We’re right on the beach.
We have deliberately, for this year’s program, built in downtime. We want to let people do what they want to do. Again, it’s listening to our customers tell us what they want instead of telling them, “Go to an education session. Go do this.” Right? Because they want to connect. They want to conduct their business meetings. They want to meet one-on-one and have sales meetings, those sorts of things. We will continue to build that into our program.
I do think that this NAHAD is going to bust at the seams because of the pent-up demand of people who couldn’t be here, including all my international members. I’m missing at least 20-25% of attendees from Europe, Asia, Canada, who couldn’t travel. All of them have said, “We will see you next year. We will see you next year.” I expect it to be one heck of a party for everybody.