Minnie Pearl and Grandpa Jones may be long gone (am I dating myself?) but Nashville Tennessee is still a major tourist and convention draw. Mild temperatures and the Grand Old Opry attract multitudes to the city and especially the Gaylord Opryland Resort where the second installment of AHTD’s annual series of national meetings took place October 23-26. Over 300 delegates attended.
For more than 25 years, the Association for High Technology Distribution (AHTD) has worked to increase the productivity and profitability of the Automation Solutions Providers, Distributors and Manufacturers who satisfy the automation needs of general industry and OEM manufacturers. Today, through a wide spectrum of association programs, services and networking events, AHTD is the primary resource for all member companies to achieve their common goals.
Although there are many reasons to join, one of the most popular for motion control products distributors is to be able to share challenges and successes with similar companies that aren’t regional competitors. They truly understand each other’s issues. The manufacturers join mostly to get access to the distributors. Both enjoy the speakers and educational sessions that usually have some relevance to all towards improving the professionalism of the industry.
This time around, DieQua President Mike Quaas joined Director of Sales and Marketing Chris Popp and Motion Products Manager Tom Kahn, both of which had attended the previous April meeting in Palm Springs. DieQua was once again showcasing their wide range of servo gearhead products and solutions.
Chris arrived prior to his colleagues on the Wednesday start date so as to fulfill his responsibility as a member of the newly established AHTD Promotions committee. His committee meeting agenda, held prior to the General Meeting’s opening, was to determine the scope of activity and begin formulating the content to be promoted. A variety of other AHTD committees also met at this time.
The first general event was the First Timers Orientation party. This is where those new to the association get to meet the board members and are introduced to the convention schedule and how best to get a return on the time investment. It’s made clear from the start that getting involved is the path to success. And there are plenty of networking opportunities for that.
The initial such event is the Opening Welcome Reception where old friendships are rekindled and new ones are started. As a member’s tenure increases it’s almost impossible to get around to everyone they know. That’s ok as there was another late night networking opportunity at the Irish Pub just a few hours later.
Thursday is the big day, packed with activity. It started with a 7 AM group breakfast. Everyone wanted to get done early and find good seating for the featured opening keynote speaker. After some house keeping announcements and officer reports Karl Rove was introduced to the receptive audience.
Mr. Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000-2007 and became known as the “architect” of his 2000 and 2004 campaigns. He is a frequent Fox News contributor, commenting primarily on political strategy. He also writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal, definitely from a conservative point of view.
Regardless your political persuasion, his fast paced presentation and opinions regarding the current tribulations in Washington offered some unique insight. The several stories he told about his days in the White House were also extremely entertaining. As a closing treat he offered a photo op to all who requested it. Several dozen attendees took advantage of the grip and grin opportunity.
After a half hour networking break, next up was another gentleman of national stature. Gene Marks is a columnist and author writing daily for the New York Times focusing on issues affecting the small business community. He also writes weekly columns for Forbes, Inc. Magazine, The Huffington Post and Entreprenuer.com. He also frequently appears on Fox news, Bloomberg, and CNBC.
Mr. Marks’ presentation was on the upcoming trends for 2014 and how winning companies were meeting today’s challenges. His suggestions included watching C-Span to gain insight into future policy decisions regarding taxes, inflation, interest rates and the markets; have a cloud and mobile internet strategy as technology is moving rapidly in this direction; have dinner with your accountant to plan up-to-date tax tactics; and get a good handle on healthcare as this landscape is changing rapidly.
These two heavy hitters left a lot to talk about at the group luncheon, which featured excellent food and better conversation.
The afternoon had three presentations available but only two blocks of time. That meant a choice had to be made. Session 1A was led by Tom O’Connor, President, Farmington Consulting Group with a title “Do you know where your business is going? Get some direction”. Mr. O’Connor is an operations consultant specializing in distribution companies. His 11 step optimization plan is highly organizational, analytical in nature and is very goal driven.
Session 1B was led by Robb Dessault and James Potach of Schneider Electric and was titled “A new approach to industrial energy management”. They discussed the role of high tech distribution, the characteristics of the Controls Engineer of the future, and how energy management automation will be a growing area of opportunity.
Session 1C was presented by the Bluff Brothers, Brian and Eddie, of Site Seeker, Inc based out of New Hartford NY. Their presentation, “Marketing via your website”, high lighted the changes in search trends and outlined some strategies that should be considered. The growth of local search was a trend that regionalized distributors should definitely evaluate and take advantage of to reach new customers.
The big moment for manufacturers started at 5 o’clock with the opening of the Product Showcase. This is where over 40 producers of various motion control products vied for the attention of the strolling distributors, most of whom were attracted as much by the variety of interesting technologies as they were by the adult refreshments and tasty finger foods graciously provided gratis to the attending members.
DieQua, of course, was presenting their extensive line of servo gearheads, which encompassed likely the widest range of gearing technology solutions available from a single source. Diequa is also well known for providing selection assistance to their customers, which helps them navigate the array of options.
To generate additional exposure, DieQua held a raffle for select distributors who received a pre-event mailed package including a sleeve of golf balls and a raffle ticket. Those depositing the raffle tickets at the DieQua exhibit were entered to win one of three American Express gift cards.
AHTD Services Manager Leigha Schatzman, and DieQua President Mike Quaas, pulled the names at the end of the showcase with the first place $500 gift card going to Andreas Sobotta of Davis Controls. Jim Stanizewski of All Control was the second place winner, while Gilles Laberge of Electro-Mag took the bronze prize.
Thursday night dinner was at each member’s discretion. So, we took advantage of the locale and enjoyed the company of our regional sales representative, Pierre de Giorgio of Blue Bay Automation, who lived in the area.
Later on, departing AHTD President Neil Montgomery hosted a late evening reception in his presidential suite, which drew at least a few dozen revelers. Did I mention there were a lot of networking opportunities?
Friday morning continued the educational presentations. To start off, Matthew Dixon, Ph.D. Co-author of the Challenger Sale espoused his strategies for “Taking control of the customer conversation”. While classic relationships are helpful its through identifying a customer’s needs that success is more likely. Leading the conversation to arrive at a mutual understanding of those needs is key.
“Optimizing Channel Compensation Best Practices” was the title of the next presentation by Barry Lawrence Ph.D. of Texas A&M University. He presented case studies and statistics supporting his findings as to where distributor growth initiatives are succeeding.
Friday afternoon was set aside for some relaxation as attendees could play in the golf outing, tour the city of Nashville, tour a Nissan plant or try their hand at clay target shooting. The anticipated Friday night dinner party was held at the famous Wild Horse Saloon where great food, cool libations and hot line dancing ruled the evening.
The Fall AHTD meeting finished up on Saturday morning as song writer Richard Leigh performed his hits and recounted how he rose from orphan to induction into the Song Writer Hall of Fame, including behind the scenes stories about how his songs came to be recorded by famous artists.
Then it was done. Three days go by fast when networking and gaining knowledge on how to run our businesses better. Developing friendships within the industry is just an added bonus of this well run event. We are already looking forward to the Spring meeting in Louisville, KY.