MDM Podcast: Eric Hoplin on Industry Challenges, NAW Executive Summit

Ahead of NAW's Jan. 31-Feb. 2 Executive Summit in Washington D.C., CEO Eric Hoplin stopped by to discuss how distributors are handling the labor market, economic headwinds, supply chain conditions and more.
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Other than maybe Dirk Beveridge, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the distribution sector that’s a bigger champion for the industry than Eric Hoplin. As President and CEO of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, Hoplin serves as the face of the prominent association that represents approximately 30,000 companies that account for one-third of the U.S. economy — per NAW figures.

He took over as NAW’s leader in the fall of 2020, succeeding Dirk Van Dongen; and ever since, Hoplin has ensured that NAW’s voice has been heard when it comes to legislative matters that will or could impact the distribution sector. 

He’s had interview segments on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC — and his latest segment is none other than the MDM Podcast. On Jan. 12, Hoplin stopped by to chat about the major challenges facing distributors as 2023 gets going and to preview NAW’s 2023 Executive Summit, which I and MDM CEO Tom Gale are attending Jan. 31-Feb. 2 in Washington D.C. 

While industry forecasting has been incredibly difficult since COVID-19 arrived, I wanted to get Hoplin’s thoughts on the near-term business vibe amongst NAW’s distributor members.

“Of course, it’s sector dependent. And while some are seeing a bit of a slowdown, I think for most most distribution companies — as they look back at pre-pandemic — their numbers are solid. I think they’re feeling pretty good,” Hoplin told me.

He went on to acknowledge the juxtaposition observed between what seems to be most of the distribution sector communicating cautious optimism about their 2023 business prospects and that of the various major economic indicators that news coverage that projects a considerable slowdown in demand for industrial and commercial products.

“That doesn’t mean all things are rosy,” Hoplin also noted.

Besides economic headwinds, we also spent a portion of the interview discussing the topic of labor, which was arguably the biggest challenge distributors faced throughout 2022 and figures to remain an uphill battle in the year ahead. We touched on recruiting and retention, the need to provide flexibility and the state of hybrid work environments, as well as how distributors can take advantage of the major layoffs that have recently occurred in the technology sector.

We discussed the state of supply chain conditions and the job distributors have done over these past several years pivoting as needed to move product however they could. We also chatted about how distributors are faring with the ongoing digital transformation the entire industry is going through — the central theme of MDM’s SHIFT conference — and the escalating challenge of serving customers who prefer a digital-first buying experience.

And, of course, we highlighted what’s to come at the NAW Executive Summit. Featured guest speakers include former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, NASA Astronaut Chris Hadfield and economist Alan Beaulieu. As a space geek, I’m particularly excited to attend the event’s Feb. 1 dinner gala held at the newly-renovated National Air & Space Museum.

As he did last year, Hoplin will emcee NAW’s Executive Summit, which brings together a who’s-who of prominent distribution leaders across various industries.

Plan on attending? Tom Gale will moderate a panel session during the event’s Jan. 31 Executive Sales Forum, hosted by SPARXiQ. I’m also looking to conduct a series of 5-minute interviews with executives at the summit; so, if you plan on attending and are interested, let me know (mike@mdm.com). Check out the event agenda here.

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