June 21, 2023
How do we provide more value to the members? It’s the question at the forefront of every Association executive’s mind. For Brendan Breen, President at Industrial Supply Association (ISA), the answer is to be the best networking association in the industry.
Brendan is grateful for the foundation laid by former ISA leadership, but “cruising right out of a pandemic,” he recalls, they had two options. They could either try to do all the things the members were asking them to do, or they could lean into what they already do best, “gathering together our community, getting all of the right people, in the right place, focused on the right things.” They chose the latter.
And that strategy has paid off for ISA! At this past year’s convention, ISA got creative with how they delivered on the networking promise, adding a golf tournament, a 5k fun run, and facilitated networking lunches with assigned seats to their roster of top-notch keynotes and solid educational opportunities. There were principles sitting with entry-level professionals, running partners doing business together… and the feedback was phenomenal.
As for the immediate future of distribution, Brendan is optimistic. He says there’s a misalignment between what’s in the news and what his members are seeing. “Everyone is screaming from the rooftop, ‘Recession! Recession!’” But members of ISA, by and large, report that demand is still strong, supply chain is easing, and labor numbers are positive.
Brendan recommends focusing on the fundamentals of distribution and channel performance to weather whatever slowdown may be on the horizon. “That's what ISA is really about. It’s about connecting as equal partners, manufacturers, distributors, and reps so that they can optimize this supply chain.”
Make no mistake, Brendan’s advice still leaves room for innovation and adaptability. He welcomes changes in the workforce demographics, opportunities in omnichannel customer experience, and AI automation. And yet, all of the buzz is best undergirded by a rock solid understanding of channel conflict, strategic pricing, optimizing rebate programs, and financial models for distributors.
Ultimately, Brendan and Jason agree that the sustainability of the industry comes back to the people at its core, and how we connect with each other.
“There's a buzz and an energy when you are all gathered,” says Brendan. “These are the unspoken reasons why people have joined associations for, you know, over a hundred years… They see the power of leveraging a room full of your peers to your benefit and to the mutual benefit of all.”
“[Association management] is a great way for you to learn a little bit about a lot. You learn a little bit about a lot of different industries. You get to dip your toe into sales, marketing, HR… You get to do all these great things! And no day is ever the same.”
“Some stayed the course and really dug into what they had been doing for many years. And then others adapted. They had gone to a more visionary approach. They worked on their brand. They tried to make it so it wasn't the same association that people had known forever.”
“The efficiency of having 20, 30, 40 in-person meetings over the course of three days is unmatched. And those same meetings can't be replicated by Zoom.”
“You know, there's a buzz and an energy when you are all gathered. There's also a community. I mean, these are the things that are the unspoken reasons why people have joined associations for, you know, over a hundred years.”
“But people would come to me and they would say, ‘Brendan, the booth program's great. You did a good job. But honestly, I get the majority of my work done at the bar!”
“Everyone is screaming from the rooftop, ‘Recession! Recession!... Start batting down the hatches and boarding up your doors cuz it's gonna get crazy!’ And they're seeing the opposite in their business. They're seeing demand still strong. They're seeing supply chain ease. They're seeing positive labor numbers, which have been the big three, that everyone's like, ‘All right, if these are good, what are our concerns?’”
“We're getting back to the nuts and bolts of distribution and channel performance. And I think that that's important.”
Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.
This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.
Special thanks to our sponsor for this episode: HMI Performance Incentives, providing innovative, data-driven B2B incentive solutions.