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TMB - The Wholesaler - Features: September 2008: IPD flourishes as ASA centerpiece

IPD flourishes as ASA centerpiece

BY MORRIS R. BESCHLOSS

PVF and economic analyst

The year 1970 was one of the most pivotal in the history of the phcp industry. It was the year that the Central Supply Association and the American Institute of Regional Supply Associations merged into the current ASA.

It was also the year that the Association of Industry Manufacturers emerged as an attempt to develop leading manufacturers as organized policymakers. Although this association, which I originally brought to life, lasted only a few years, it gave birth to aim/r, which has become a highly effective industry manufacturers’ rep organization. Aim, the parent, was merged into the Plumbing Brass Institute, which became the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute.

This pivotal year also gave birth to ASA’s Industrial Piping Division, which now represents over 100 members of ASA, who attribute a significant segment of their business to pipe-valve-fitting sales. These range from plumbing-heating-cooling-piping distributors to upstream purveyors who deal primarily in all aspects of the oil patch -- extraction, refining, distribution, etc.

IPD is currently made up primarily of phcp distributors, but is aggressively recruiting upstream distribution.

To answer questions as to the current structure and direction of IPD, we are privileged to interview its incoming chairman, Pat Adams, ceo of mks Pipe & Valve Co., a leading PVF distributor, long-time IPD board member and an industry activist.

Beschloss: It’s been 38 years since I, as chairman of vma, was privileged to join Fred Keenan, Keenan Pipe; George Keenen, Keenen-Cashman; and Charlie Ransburg, Pittsburgh Gage, to form IPD. As a long-term member, are you satisfied with the strides that have been made since IPD’s inception?

Adams: Very. And I continue to be encouraged by the progress that is made each year. It’s a very dynamic group of companies that participate in IPD. For those who make the decision to join, it’s not just about being able to say you’re a member or doing it because it’s the right thing to do -- it’s about being part of a group that actively works to make a positive impact on our industry. And if you take a look at the people that have sat on the Executive Council over the past 10 years or so, they’re not the type to come to meetings and get nothing accomplished. They’re doers and they have guided this group to make significant contributions to building the PVF sector of the distribution channel.

Beschloss: As a key member of the industry’s largest PVF distribution complex, has IPD been a solid addresser of the issues facing the PVF sector?

Adams: I’ve been a part of many committees over the years in different groups and I can say without hesitation that IPD is the most active, influential and in-tune with anticipating its members’ needs of them all. To pick just one of the ways IPD addresses issues facing the PVF sector, let me talk about our work at the ASA Convention each year. IPD sponsors two seminars at every ASA convention. One is for our members only, addressing issues that are of great importance to the PVF industry at that time. The other is for all ASA members. We all share the same channel and the same interest in making it as strong as possible -- the stronger every member of the channel, the better for all IPD members.

IPD is a recognized leader in identifying topical issues facing the industry and finding the right people to educate us on them. A couple of recent examples are Dr. Donald McNeeley from Chicago Tube and Iron, who was the highest rated speaker at last year’s convention, and Robert Weidner from the Metals Service Center Institute, who will be talking about the forces impacting the metals industry today at this year’s meeting. We recognize we need to look both inside and outside the industry to address the influences our members experience. We mix industry experts who can give us an “outsider’s view” of what’s going on in the world, sort of seeing the forest through the trees, with our own members -- like Don McNeeley -- who know day to day what our members face. Some years we’ll have a stand-alone speaker, others we will put together a discussion panel, but always we provide the best forum for companies in our industry to learn more about the issues they face.

Beschloss: Do feel that some of the PVF sector’s substantial strides can be attributed to the work of IPD?

Adams: While we have no control over market conditions (no matter how much we’d like that option!), we do have a great influence in how our members take advantage of the good opportunities and work through the down times. Networking and sharing ideas and solutions with your peers is key to the success of any business and IPD has offered the perfect platform for our sector to get together and do just that.

We provide our members with quarterly commodity reports, which are compiled by members of the Executive Council, and the Materials Market Digest, written by Ed Scott. These two reports give IPD members information they need to address current conditions and make adjustments in anticipation of what’s probably going to happen in the next 30 to 90 days. The trending and forecasting IPD provides for the industry is invaluable.

We’ve worked with the ASA Education Foundation to develop a very strong training curriculum and the appropriate tools to support it, specifically for the PVF sector. People who work smarter make a business stronger and able to compete in the environment we’ve experienced the last few years. By making our members’ businesses stronger, IPD has raised the bar of the entire industry -- a rising tide raises all boats and I think that’s especially true in the case of IPD members and the substantial strides made in the PVF sector in recent years.

Beschloss: Could you spell out the top items in today’s IPD agenda?

Adams: Definitely continue our work with the ASA Education Foundation on building that collection of educational and training programs for the PVF sector. In the coming months, you’ll see IPD mirror ASA’s increased activity in government affairs. There are many regulatory and legislative issues floating around out there that can make a big difference to our members. To give you one example, IPD is going to work very hard to promote the overhaul of the nation’s water infrastructure. We’ve all seen it in the news, the nation’s entire water system is in dire need of repairs and improvements. Many of the largest cities are relying on infrastructures built in the 1800s. Various estimates place the immediate infrastructure needs from $277 billion to nearly $500 billion. That’s a lot of new business for our members.

IPD is actively promoting legislation creating a federal clean water trust fund to provide a dedicated funding source for water infrastructure, and we’re trying to get the Senate Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security and Water Quality Subcommittee to introduce a water infrastructure bill in the Senate. As a matter of fact, longtime IPD member and ASA chairman Joel Becker submitted testimony to the Subcommittee urging the creation of a clean water trust fund. This is millions -- potentially billions -- of dollars in new business for our members over the next 30 years and you can be sure we’re going to stay on top of this effort.

All of this activity will help us with one other item on our agenda and that’s membership recruitment. With all that IPD represents to the entire industry, specific sectors and individual companies, there’s no reason every company dealing in the industrial and mechanical PVF business should not be a member. We just need to keep getting the word out. We’re much better at doing that and the results are showing. In the last 12 months, 17 companies have joined IPD and it keeps growing every month.

Beschloss: Tell us about the makeup of IPD’s leadership and its activities.

Adams: IPD is governed by an Executive Council of 10 distributors representing all regions of U.S. and five manufacturers representing the major commodity areas of the industry. It’s a diverse group, with people who have very strong ideas and an even stronger dedication to accomplishing our goals. Our activities are wide-ranging; I’ve spoken about many of them already -- education, benchmarking, and advocacy.

One I’d like to spend a little more time on is in the area of networking, specifically the IPD Open House -- Building Relationships, that we have at the ASA Convention. Last year, IPD took a strong stand with ASA in saying that our manufacturers were not really best served to be a part of a trade show that is predominantly plumbing-focused. We wanted something different and ASA delivered with a great event. We took the traditional IPD Reception, extended the length, and provided manufacturers the opportunity to purchase space and set-up a conversation area for business discussions with their customers and potential customers. It’s open only to IPD members so everyone there is specific to PVF, and it’s a much better fit for our group than the trade show. It was so well-received that we’re doing the same format this year in Atlanta.

Beschloss: How often does IPD’s Executive Council meet, and what are the key items that usually appear on the agenda?

Adams: The IPD Executive Council meets in person three times a year to discuss and plan our convention activities, review Commodity Reports, discuss legislative and regulatory items of concern to the PVF sector and brainstorm ideas that are presented to the ASA Education Foundation for consideration. The chairman and vice chairman also sit on the Board of Directors for ASA, where we make sure that the interests of our members are represented in the decisions made for the entire association.

Beschloss: Has the size of the Executive Council remained stable, and how has it been chosen?

Adams: The size of the IPD Executive Council has remained consistent at around 15 members for a few years. About 10 years ago, we started to increase our representation from the manufacturing side. When we’re looking for someone to replace a departing member, the entire Executive Council talks about it. We look for someone who is influential in the industry, who perhaps can represent a product niche that isn’t currently on the Council, and who will be as dedicated as everyone in the group to getting the job done. We’ve been very fortunate to have had some of the best minds in the business as a part of this Council over the years. Well, when you look at the people who you listed earlier as the founding members, they are the best of the best. It’s no wonder they were able to recruit a team that built something that has always drawn the interest of the top talent in the industry. That has continued, year after year

Beschloss: What influence does IPD exert on the programming of ASA’s annual meeting since PVF has become an increasing factor within our industry?

Adams: ASA really looks to us to provide them information on how to best meet IPD members’ needs and requests at the annual meeting. We have full rein to select the topics of our two seminars, identify the speakers and develop the format. And we were able to work with ASA to change the venue for our manufacturers from the trade show to the IPD Open House

Beschloss: Are efforts being made to expand IPD membership to include “upstream” distribution, such as Wilson Supply and National Oilwell Varco, to tap into the growing PVF volume that his group represents?

Adams: IPD is certainly a very open and inclusive arm of ASA and welcomes all distributors and manufacturers who meet the membership criteria and have a substantial background and business base in the PVF arena. This same membership opportunity is open to both Wilson and National Oilwell Varco and we have expanded our efforts to initiate membership discussions with these type of upstream distributors.

One of our main focuses over the last couple of years has been to take a look at our existing membership, compare it to what we saw happening in the marketplace and create strategies to recruit members that give IPD a more diverse representation of the distributors that touch all aspects of the PVF industry.

It is my personal view that ASA’s recent strategic plan will encourage such behavior. I also believe that no matter how large or small the value proposition of ASA/IPD is to each company, membership is worth the investment. Recruitment and retention from within our industry are just two main focus areas along with training though our Education Foundation that I feel are tantamount to future success in our industry.

Beschloss: Critics of IPD feel that it is too heavily weighted toward phcp wholesalers who cater to mechanical contractors and the phc sector, rather than energy and power generation. What is your response?

Adams: I can see why some people have thought that in the past, but I have to disagree with that statement for where IPD is today. Take a look at a list of members who have joined in the last two years and you’ll see a strong trend to growing the companies that serve the energy and power niche.

In order for us to do the best job we can in representing the interests of the manufacturers and distributors of PVF products, we need representation from both ends of the spectrum and everything in between. That’s what our recruitment efforts are focused on and that’s what our membership list reflects. It takes time to change perceptions, of course, but we’re doing just that and interviews like this one will definitely keep us moving in that direction

Beschloss: As a long-time friend, I’ve admired the growth of mks Pipe & Valve Co. as a leading PVF distributor. I’m presuming things are going very well for you in the heartland?

Adams:  First I would like to thank you, Morris, for this opportunity to give you and the readers an update on the very exciting times we are enjoying in IPD. You have been very supportive and all the membership appreciates your work. 

To answer your question, yes, things are going pretty well here in the mid-section of the country. We are a diverse and talented group here at mks and we have made many substantial changes in our leadership and focus this year, all for good. We have a very aggressive goal for growth that will be met with additional efforts in the power and energy and waste water sectors, not to mention additional focus on our industrial and commercial arenas. Our valve automation now includes multi-turn as well as quarter turn actuation. Additionally, our instrumentation line is growing daily.

We are extremely bullish on our future and feel the only limits we have are self-imposed. Our association with ASA and IPD has been extremely beneficial to us and I am deeply honored to be the incoming chairman of the IPD Executive Council.

Morris R. Beschloss, a 51-year veteran of the pipe, valve and fitting industry, is PVF and economic analyst for The Wholesaler.

                              

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