What Distributor Attendees Gained from MDM’s SHIFT Conference - Modern Distribution Management

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What Distributor Attendees Gained from MDM’s SHIFT Conference

Now two weeks past MDM's marquee in-person thought leadership event, we reflect upon insights that several attendees shared from their experience there.
SHIFT screen

If you are a regular MDM reader, you undoubtedly saw the frequent promotions for our 2023 SHIFT | The Future of Distribution conference, which we hosted Sept. 18-20 in downtown Denver. A year of planning went into those three days of thought leadership, and the “Now what?” feeling has set in after decompressing.

Immediately after the event, we surveyed SHIFT’s 200+ attendees to gather their feedback, but valuable quantitative voice-of-attendee insights only go so far. Some of the best feedback from MDM events comes from follow-up conversations with attendees, some of which I’d like to share here.

Of course, this is naturally self-serving for MDM, but I think it also illustrates the kind of content that distribution executives really appreciate absorbing at industry events.

As we were preparing to record a podcast on Sept. 28 — that you can expect to publish very soon — Michael Knight, CEO of OEM fasteners distributor Endries International, told me that on just the first full day of SHIFT (Sept. 19), he filled nearly a dozen notebook pages with notes he jotted down during sessions about best practices to take home and discuss with fellow leaders at the Brillion, Wisconsin-based company. 

Knight shared insights during a panel session that same day on the topic of “What a Coaching Model and AI Mean to Your People,” something that his passion for was obvious in our podcast discussion.

During lunch on SHIFT’s final day, I was able to snag quick interviews with a couple of distributor attendees, mainly wanting to know why they wanted to attend SHIFT in the first place and what they got out of it. Here’s how those conversations went: 

Kevin McErlean – Co-Founder & Operations Leader at HVAC Distributor NorthStock Inc. (Southborough, Massachusetts)

Hockett: Why did you decide to attend SHIFT?

Kevin McErlean

McErlean: At NorthStock, our goal is to make it quick and easy for HVAC professionals to get the equipment and parts they need to complete their projects. So, I’m here to learn about ways we can serve our customers better. There are a lot of experts and fellow attendees here who have great experience, and great suggestions to take some of the strategies that have worked for them and apply them when they get back.

Hockett: Was there one particular point, stat or nugget of information that you found particularly interesting?

McErlean: I really liked what Max (Meister) said yesterday. He said it’s important to measure yourself against your past performance and try to improve a little bit each day, a little bit each week. And then, over time, we’ll see measurable results.

Hockett: Is there one company initiative that NorthStock is looking to accomplish by the end of 2023/early 2024, or at least make considerable progress on?

McErlean: Yes. You can have the best tech and most well-thought-out plans. But if you don’t have a team in place to use those tools, then you’re not being honest. We’re planning to continue to emphasize team member training and development so we can deliver the best possible customer experience.

Hockett: Between the economy, supply chain conditions, the talent situation or something else, what do you see as the biggest challenge distribution faces in the year ahead?

McErlean: Keeping up with the pace of innovation is a really big challenge. When I started in the HVAC business, we were receiving some orders through the U.S. Postal Service. People were putting purchase orders in an envelope and putting a stamp on the order to get to us. It worked at the time, but a lot has changed since then. The pace of innovation has increased to the point that we know the way that we’re doing things now is not the way we’re going to be doing things in the near future. So, if we’re doing our jobs right, then we’re going to find better ways to serve our customers and make continuous improvements. That’s a big challenge, but it’s also one of the most rewarding parts of the job and one of my favorites.

Ed Tutas, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Packaging Supplies & Equipment Distributor Rocket Industrial (Madison, WI)

Hockett: Why did you decide to attend SHIFT?

Ed Tutas

Tutas: There’s not a lot of places that, as a distributor, you can go to in one location — almost like a buffet — where you have a menu of some of the best minds in the industry who are all thinking progressively. And they’re all at different levels as to where they’re at with change and seeking change within the organization.

Hockett: Was there one particular point, stat or nugget of information that you found particularly interesting?

Tutas: What’s exciting about SHIFT is that it’s everybody together towards a common goal. So, when I come in and look at that, I’m able to surround myself with others doing a lot of what we’re doing, but in different verticals. We get to see people outside of our industry. So, besides the content, it’s as much about the networking and the future meetings that we have based on the information we’re getting from today.

Hockett: Is there one company initiative that Rocket Industrial is looking to accomplish by the end of 2023/early 2024, or at least make considerable progress on?

Tutas: Our year (2023) is pretty much planned. And the benefit of this is, in two weeks I go to an executive off-site that we have for next year. So, when we look at next year, some of the things we want to really work on is AI and having a better program for AI and data analytics, which was a big component of this show and being able to utilize those two working together.

Hockett: Between the economy, supply chain conditions, the talent situation or something else, what do you see as the biggest challenge distribution faces in the year ahead?

Tutas: Certainly, we’re paying attention to the economy, because that impacts your revenue, which impacts different things that you can do and invest in from a CapEx standpoint. As far as other things, we’re listening to the customer. The majority of our customers are in the industrial base, and they’re all suffering from a shortage of labor. So how can we help them? How can we reposition re-engineer our platform to help our customers with their issues in that area? That’s a big area of focus.

More SHIFT Coverage Ahead

The day after SHIFT ended, I shared some initial thoughts on the event after returning home. MDM Premium members can expect to see plenty of SHIFT content analysis in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned!

We’ll look to make 2024’s SHIFT event even better. So, if you attended, we welcome any additional feedback. Feel free to reach to me at mike@mdm.com or MDM CEO Tom Gale at Tom@mdm.com

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