The Industrial Supply Association wrapped up its annual meeting and trade show today in Indianapolis. Attendance doubled over last year, and attendees were upbeat. I heard many comments that while the first two months of this year showed some improvement, March and April really showed strong revenue gains. It wasn’t euphoria, but a dramatic contrast to the focus on survival most companies were forced to concentrate on last year. I found it interesting that the meeting started the day the Commerce Department released the first-quarter GDP number of 3.2-percent growth, stronger than forecast. This meeting was stronger than I think most expected.
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I’ve attended several distribution association meetings and technology events the past two months. While there has been some optimism, this has been the strongest signal that industrial distribution sectors are starting to bounce back. Two months don’t make a good predictor of the year, but it is the start of what points to a long, slow climb out of the dark hole of 2009 – one month at a time.
ISA launched its first product show this year – with changes to its traditional format – and comments were positive. People were buying, selling, building programs – the kind of things these events are supposed to foster. ISA made a bet on the new format and the timing worked great. An association is as strong as its membership; this organization felt like it was revitalized this weekend. I’m confident other associations are starting to feel the same effects.
It also reinforced the value these association events bring to the industry. While many distributors leverage critical resources such as marketing groups, there is a continued need for industry-wide meetings where managers of distribution companies can network, learn about new products, services and technologies.
Successful distribution companies rely on innovation to adapt. These association events offer a venue to recharge, benchmark, compare notes, and find new ideas for making the business better in an open marketplace environment. After a downturn such as we experienced, I think it’s hard to remember how important these association networks are to help our companies keep adapting and innovating. This weekend was a great reminder.