Two conventions do not make a trend, but the tone at two industrial products distribution conferences in the past month does mark a milestone. We’ve finally turned a long, long corner that had peaks, valleys, speed bumps, potholes and full-blown detours. If there was an industrial distribution confidence index, it spiked in the past month.
The annual meeting of the National Association of Hose and Accessories Distributors at the end of April had strong attendance and a positive outlook for 2014 that simply has not been a feature of most distribution conferences the last six years.
Three weeks later, the Industrial Supply Association annual meeting had more buzz, energy and positive outlook in two days of booth programs than I have experienced since before the 2008-2009 downturn.
Some of that energy can be attributed to a change-up of show format. For the first time in several years, there was a distributor day, where distributors were in booths. It was the first year in many that I heard manufacturers genuinely positive about their day on the floor.
I also heard consistent reports of record months in March and April. There was strong confirmation that weather was a real factor in dampening the first quarter, which fed a bounce-back into the second quarter. There have been some fundamental shifts, with consistent growth and demand at major customer accounts.
We’ve had periods of strong growth in the past five years. But we have also had consistent headwinds and turbulence – employment first and foremost, with housing, politics, weather, international conditions and other factors also at play. It’s been long enough that it’s hard to remember what it feels like to plan and invest in a stable growth cycle.
We're being reminded. And it's more important than ever to focus on developing those growth strategies and to get away from just thinking about survival, as Alan Beaulieu notes in How to Clear 2014's Economic Hurdles.
May this shift last a long time.