Bill Visintainer, the outgoing President of the Gases and Welding Distributor Association (GAWDA) welcomed over 450 attendees to the organisation’s 2016 Annual Convention currently being held in Maui, Hawaii.

In true Hawaiian style, the conference kick-started with a traditional greeting (below) with all delegates then uniting to sing the US National Anthem.

Gawda 2016 annual conference, traditional hawaiian welcome reception

Visintainer began the proceedings by giving an update on the State of the Association, Process of Improvement initiative, a programme created under his role as President. He was pleased to announce an increase in membership in which 19 new distributors joined, bringing the total to 309 gas distributor members. He also revealed that the number of total suppliers increased this year to 236, seeing a net gain of two extra members.

Some of the new members to the initiative turnover approximately $2-5m each year. Interestingly, Visintainer confirmed that 78% – or 248 members – were under $10m in revenue size, as well as some 50% of suppliers – around 109 suppliers – being under $5m in size. 

The Executive Committee undertook a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) Analysis of the organisation, which gatherered over 500 responses, and helped to set the 2016 objectives and goals for driving membership. Goals included improving operations and admin processes, as well as undertaking an annual review process, which has never been done before.

Bill visintainer, gawda president

Visintainer (left) went on to describe a few highlights over the past year, including implementing a Cvent Registration System to improve data processing, member detail storage and database performance. The aim was to improve the contact booth programme and pass on subsequent value to the supplier. GAWDA also adopted Online Training, developing closer links to its CGA webinar programme through the GAWDA website.

He described how the GAWDA media team had effectively taken over the publishing of the Welding and Gases Today publication and improved it with more up-to-date topics and more content about distributors. The organisation was also taking strides to progress GAWDA’s presence through social media.

“The largest changes to your business will be in technology, resources, people and the economy”

Bill Visintainer, GAWDA President

Under this year’s event theme of Disruption - Threat or Opportunity, he went on to explain the importance of change and innovation in order to continue to grow or be sustainable. Visintainer highlighted several examples of companies currently facing disruptive technologies, included Kodak and Blockbuster who have both effectively lost out, with companies like Uber and Amazon successfully introducing or embracing disruptive technologies.

“The largest changes to your business will be in technology, resources, people and the economy,” he stated.

Summing up, he said, “The main reasons for distributors needing to join GAWDA are the people in this very room; life-long friendships can be developed which will provide support to your business.”

A number of formal announcements were made during the session, with John Osprina, Executive Director at GAWDA, announcing that the GAWDA Gives Back charity generated $187,000 throughout the year, which will be shared between the Boys and Girls Club of Maui and also the The Neighbourhood Place of Wailuku.

Tom Biedermann, former President, also announced the main officers for the 2017 Board with Mark Raimy succeeding as President and Ned Lane becoming President Elect.

Bill Visintainer then introduced the Key Note speaker, Seifi Ghasemi, Chairman, President and CEO of Tier One player Air Products.

Ghasemi (below), who has been involved in the gases business for 37 years, said his favourite thing about the event was the opportunity interact with independent distributors as they are the key link to customers.

Seifi ghasemi, air products, gawda

His presentation, Lessons Learned from Independent Distributors, turned the clock back to 30 years ago when the role of independents was limited with many being sold to the major suppliers. Management Consultants also addressed the distributors within the audience, confirming the lifespan of independent distributors was likely to be short.

The US packaged gases market, valued at $7bn, sees independent distributors making up 52% holding a value of around $3.64bn, and the five majors forming the rest of the market with around $3.36bn.

Ghasemi revealed that average sales have risen from $1.2m in 1985 to $4.6m in today’s market, so independent distributors survived and become stronger, with independent distributors now deemed to be “major players” in the sector.

Lessons to be learnt

“So what are the important lessons to learn from the independents?” he questioned. According to Ghasemi, there are seven. The first, which may seem obvious, centres on customer service. He reinstated that it’s the primary job encompassing all employees and that it’s important to create a culture within the company for customer service.

The second is to adopt total commitment to safety. Companies have a moral responsibility to respond and commit to safety, with attention to safety being critical for the industry.

Thirdly, it is essential for management to spend time with employees so they embrace the correct company values, as they hold the key to excellent customer service and safe operations.

The fourth lesson suggested keeping business processes simple and focused and to avoid bureaucracy. Ghasemi suggested empowering people in the field to make local decisions as matrix operations overburden decision making, especially at the customer interface. Empowering staff to make decisions could break down operations into smaller profit and loss (P&L) business units for local business. 

Promoting an entrepreneurial spirit from within was the fifth lesson, with Ghasemi defining independent distributors as fine examples of entrepreneurialism. Rewarding performance and creating differentiation was another lesson learnt; by implementing differentiation ensures the right performers get rewarded. The final essential lesson focused on communication, suggesting a direct, open and honest approach.

In summary, Ghasemi suggested that to be successful in the long-term and create long-term sustainability for your business, it is down to the degree of commitment and motivation of people within the enterprise. Creating this culture is a key success factor with winning the hearts and minds of the people who work for you being the greatest challenge.