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Like the distribution channels they serve, buying groups and associations are changing quickly. There is not a buying group, marketing group or association that has not been tested by fire through the past few years or who won't face a test soon. These groups are challenged more than ever to prove and upgrade the value they bring to both distributor and manufacturer members. Some are meeting the challenge; others are adopting a wait-and-see attitude that holds a little too tightly to the past successes in a very different marketplace.
Buying/marketing groups have increasingly competed with traditional associations for the attention of members, and members increasingly weigh the investment in time and money attending the meetings against the benefits received. After a few years of economic stagnation, buying groups are enjoying a resurgence as new groups gain traction and established groups work to raise the level of programs and services offered. There is some healthy competition.
This is a long-term transition in progress. As reported on the back page of this section, the partnership formed between the Industrial Supply Association and NetPlus Alliance to combine national meetings in May is a bold step in the right direction. There is every reason for other groups and other associations to talk about how to work together to create more value in core areas of networking and education.
During the 1990s, the rigid walls between product areas in distribution fell as integrated supply and sole sourcing drove new competitive opportunities. You have to ask when the economic realities of this decade will expose that traditional political and competitive walls between associations and buying groups are hurting members, not protecting or providing new opportunities.