Chantilly, Virginia, was the site for the 2022 IDEA eBiz conference, an in-person event for an industry that is still getting used to seeing each other again — many for the first time in three years. In partnership with the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), IDEA eBiz saw leaders from manufacturing and distribution come together for a “one-of-a-kind networking and educational event.”
“I came to eBiz because I wanted to hear what distributors are saying about business post-pandemic,” one attendee told MDM. “It’s good to actually shake hands with folks, give out business cards and have face-to-face conversations.”
Living in a Post-Pandemic World
The “post-pandemic” state of the industry was indeed the dominant topic of conversation in panels, breakout sessions, general sessions and roundtable discussions among electrical supply chain leaders. Participants spoke a great deal about learning the necessary lessons from the last two years; but there was also a hopeful emphasis on the future and what may be accomplished in the years to come.
“Nothing has changed, and everything has changed,” Mayer Electric President and CEO Wes Smith said in the IDEA eBiz general session. “Our march towards digital keeps going. But we also didn’t expect inflationary pricing.”
Smith hammered on a theme that participants in the general session echoed, which is that good data is essential to powering business in this new era. Panelists noted that “the demand for real-time updates has exploded” and “the request for information is at another level.”
Concerns about Amazon was another hot topic broached at eBiz. “Amazon has the economic horsepower” that other distributors do not have in terms of collecting data and fashioning algorithms to respond to customers with lightning quick speed. Yet in industrial, distributors have a smorgasbord of intimate knowledge and unique solutions that make the industry competitive.
Larry Stern of Standard Electric Supply said that his two top-of-mind issues were customer solutions and finding and retaining talent. On customer solutions, he said his company is all about “any initiative that adds value and makes things more valuable for the customer.” As for the “Great Resignation,” Stern joked it was “very important for that not to happen to us,” and he was propelled by a desire to hire “great individuals to distinguish us to our customers.” He said he wants “to make people feel good about working at our company.” This sentiment was echoed among many of the speakers at eBiz.
The Near-Term Outlook
“We need to be future-focused” was the main theme espoused by Erin Prinster, a research and data analyst at NAED. Her presentation at eBiz consisted of the economic and industry sector outlook for 2022. She mentioned that the housing market will evolve to a point where she believes the potential of banks issuing “riskier loans” is possible, while she also believes the building of data centers nationwide will become a hot prospect.
The expansion of data centers occurs as the use of artificial intelligence grows and the 5G rollout persists. “Texas, Phoenix and Northern Virginia are the biggest hubs for data centers,” Prinster said. These data centers will be crucially important since the need for big data increases and virtual meetings become the central mode of how business teams congregate.
“Before the pandemic, 10% used virtual communications for meetings,” Prinster said. “Now it’s 80%.”
Travel will still be depressed, Prinster mentioned, and the assembly of automobiles will remain down. Demand may be high for cars, but in her analysis electric vehicles only represent 3% of the market. Charging stations have increased 14% recently and charging ports by 17%, and in the past week due to war in Ukraine and the subsequent oil crisis, interest in electric vehicles has risen by 4%, Prinster said.
Building an e-Commerce Platform
The topic of e-commerce was a favored one at eBiz, and one breakout session in particular, “B2B eCommerce Wheel of Growth,” addressed it directly. Dave Bent from ES Tech Group noted the “critical components to eCommerce success”: Commerce (having a best-in-class B2B e-Commerce platform); Content (having manufacturer product content that sells); Connectivity (integrating with your ERP software); and Communication (developing eCommerce marketing services).
Brand foundation is critical, Bent said, as “crystal clear branding, messaging and targeting” is necessary to ensure marketing success. To build a successful e-commerce platform, awareness means educating your staff and existing customers about your new e-commerce and how it should be used. From there, adoption and encouraging customers to use the new platform as a primary method to shop and order.
Growth can be achieved, Bent said, through cross-sell, up-sell, and product line expansion efforts. “The best source of new revenue is from existing customers who know you, trust you and love your new e-commerce platform.”
Social proof is a powerful brand tool that converts strangers into new customers by showcasing your ability to solve problems and deliver on your unique value proposition, Bent said. “Survey customers to determine their Net Promoter Score (NPS). This will help you identify those who may be willing to give you a testimonial, endorsement or even case study.”
Finally, Bent mentioned that the best way to increase your company’s organic traffic is through ongoing SEO and paid traffic efforts. “Most traffic today is paid for with Google Ads, social media advertising and referral links,” he said. “Focusing on the cost per customer acquisition, ensure that you are consistently generating high-quality leads and/or customers while gradually reducing your ad spend.”
IDEA eBiz also featured an evening at the local The Winery at Bull Run, on the edge of the historic Civil War battlefield. The spirit of camaraderie was evident during this evening and the other meals and coffee breaks throughout the conference, perhaps paving the way for increased business connections moving forward.