I have to admit that when it comes to conference themes, I can be a bit jaded. Maybe it’s that I live in Colorado, and just see so many “Peak Performance” and “Summit to Excellence” taglines that my eyes get blurry. I love it when my cynicism is proven wrong, and the HARDI annual meeting held in Austin, Texas this week stampeded my assumptions like a herd of longhorns.
Here’s the conference description:
“The origins of the HVACR industry date back over a century. Over the years, a rich history was forged. Risk takers and pioneers chose to build something that would shape modern society, affecting generations beyond their own. These legends’ stories have helped us to learn from our industry’s past, shape the present, and pave the way for us to continue building the future.
“We all can be proud to work in an industry that possesses such a rich history. We must not forget the lessons of the past, as these efforts laid the groundwork for the innovations of today and the pioneers of tomorrow. That spirit of fervor and fortitude perseveres, as we are reminded that the job is not done.
“There is still a great amount of work to be done, and together we must forge ahead.”
When I read that, I thought, “That’s nice, but is it the right thing to focus on the past when we are in an incredibly disruptive time in distribution – consolidation, massive generational shifts, technology and competition?”
Absolutely. Flying back home, I reread that description and it hit home for me that the sessions and conversations centered around the core value that distributors and manufacturers create in the marketplace. While technology, markets and many other things change, this core value is still built on relationships and how well company leaders manage them – with suppliers, employees, vendors and customers.
Winning in the marketplace still requires you to build and deliver solutions for customers based on what they tell you. While some purchases may go to an online service that makes it very easy to buy, it doesn’t replace your knowledge of a customer’s unique challenges and how to match the right solutions to those needs.
The conference also featured panel discussions of the association’s emerging leaders, contractors, and a “legacy” group of HVACR industry leaders that I was honored to moderate who generously shared their decades of experience in the industry. The panels were a great way to share the wisdom of those who have faced and solved many challenges and get insights from customers while also the hearing the fresh perspective and passion from those in the early stage of their careers in the industry. In addition to some great tributes to long-time, multi-generational companies profiled throughout this conference, there were topics on artificial intelligence, Amazon and the future of the distribution industry (ably presented by MDM’s Ian Heller).
The past, the present and the future. Distributors have to challenge themselves to make it easy for customers to do business with them in this one-click era. But this conference celebrated the essential differentiators distributors have embedded in their DNA – the ability to create value based on the relationships they manage and the intangible but essential qualities of respect, integrity and gratitude that define great leaders of great distribution companies.
Congratulations to HARDI for the hard work it took to present such a dynamic conference, and just as much to the many member volunteers who contributed to the quality of content and connection this event achieved.