The contagious atmosphere of the Spring Management Conference (SMC) continued among distributors and suppliers where friendships and relationships were renewed in person at the Gases and Welding Distributors Association (GAWDA) Annual Convention (AC) at the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Source: Keith Hall

AC welcome reception in Colorado Springs

The AC kicked off with the President’s Welcome Reception poolside at The Broadmoor where many members and their families caught up with old friends and welcomed new first-timers.

GAWDA President Abydee Butler Moore opened the general business session by reiterating her challenge to attendees to gather the ‘take home’ knowledge and value that will justify the investment that companies made in attendance. She challenged attendees to bring that take home value back to their companies and put it into practice. She then repeated the conference theme of ‘Eyes Up’ where GAWDA was successful in keeping its eyes up throughout 2021.

Abydee noted that although this year’s convention did not set records in attendance with a total of 777 attendees, GAWDA did bring on board 19 new distributors this year (net 15 with losses), breaking the prior record of 10 net new distributors. She then introduced GAWDA’s committee members, 2020-2021 Board of Directors, and 16 Past Presidents in attendance. Abydee concluded her comments by discussing the ‘four pillars of GAWDA’: driving content-centric meetings, running data-driven operations, maximizing volunteer talent, and evolving and growing membership.

In the ‘The CEO Track’, Abydee was joined on stage by well-known industry CEOs and Presidents: Wally Brant (Indiana Oxygen), Richelle Smith-Brecht (S.J. Smith), Jason Krieger (American Welding & Gas), Mark Raimy (Welders Supply-Raimy Corp.), Jenny McCall (WESCO Gas & Welding Supply), and Alex Kennedy (Red Ball Oxygen). Abydee moderated the panel discussion following the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis.

When it came to strengths, all the CEOs agreed on the importance of company culture. When Abydee asked the panel about core competencies, the CEOs brought up the importance of being ‘customer focused’ to add value to the customer. Jenny McCall noted that after the sale, service and responsiveness to customers was critical. Trust was also raised as important.  

The CEOs identified weaknesses that we have as an industry. Mark Raimy noted that the W is the most important column in SWOT because that is where the opportunities are to improve. He said that when you identify your weaknesses you can improve through fixing weaknesses. Other weaknesses noted by the CEOs included not enough personnel to train and training protocols.

In addition to the questions from Abydee, the panel took questions from the audience. One question asked was how the CEOs ‘stay fresh?’ Many ways cited included themes around ‘keep on learning’ for personal development through GAWDA meetings, outside training like Visage Collaborative, reading, webinars, being a ravenous student of business, and utilizing peer networks.

During side conversations at the conference, a number of distributors mentioned the labor and driver problem. There is a lack of drivers affecting delivery of all gases and cylinder returns, and it is not resolving. The latest US employment monthly report showed that the US only added 194,000 jobs which speaks volumes about the issue.

Another hot topic in these side conversations was the CO2 shortage. Some distributors with more reliable sources were helping out other distributors. Longer distribution distances were driving prices up as a result. The lack of driver’s and labor has affected some distributors more significantly than others.

The next morning was dedicated to the Contact Booth Program where more than 500 GAWDA members were in attendance, coming together and have proactive discussions with 120 exhibitors, actively networking and discussing the latest technology available to our industry and common interests. The program was dynamic with everyone utilizing every minute up until the close.

The day culminated with the President’s Farewell Gala where the upbeat atmosphere of the Contact Booth Program prevailed.

The Closing Business Session on the morning of October 9 was opened by First Vice-President Gary Halter of Indiana Oxygen Company; he announced the attendance of this year’s AC as 777 attendees, including 201 distributors, 341 suppliers, and 121 exhibitors at the Contact Booth Program.

Keynote speaker Francesco Maione, President, Americas, Air Products and Chemicals discussed the importance of collaboration and the future of industrial gas distribution in his presentation. Francesco discussed how the industrial gas major learned how to manage in crisis during Covid-19 and that made the team stronger. He described how the industrial gas companies worked together with the US government and other industries through the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) to solve critical problems as they occurred.

Wrapping up the closing business session, Abydee announced the GAWDA President’s Award of Excellence, the highest honor the association can give, went to Ken Thompson. Ken became only the 10th recipient in the association’s history.

Abydee received her official GAWDA President’s Jacket in recognition of her service as President of the Association, a two-year term in which she guided the association through the turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bob Ewing of Red Ball Oxygen was inducted as the incoming GAWDA President and laid out his vision for the Presidency before closing.

About the author

Maura D. Garvey is a Principal and Director of Market Research for Intelligas Consulting (a J. R. Campbell & Associates, Inc. company), an international consultancy specializing in strategic analysis and forecasting in the industrial gas industry. Email: mdgarvey@intelligasconsulting.com