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Happy 100th to NAED

May 1, 2008
Here's what it will take for NAED to "keep on keeping on" for the next 100 years.

While paging through the NAED 100th Anniversary commemorative edition of TED magazine (kudos to Michael Martin and his staff for a wonderful editorial tribute), I couldn't help but wonder what's in store for the National Association of Electrical Distributors in its next 100 years. What will it take for NAED to “keep on keeping on,” as Curtis Mayfield sang in 1971?

In the tributes to NAED penned by industry leaders past-and-present, were good vibes for NAED. The upbeat tone of the reflections in the TED tribute proved that although its members are often quick to bellyache about dues, meeting venues and meeting attendance, they appreciate the opportunities NAED provides them to learn how to run their businesses more profitably and to sell more electrical stuff, meet and greet their industry peers and to have some fun along the way.

At its best, NAED provides ample opportunities for all of that. The vault of the NAED Education Foundation is stuffed and will finance valuable training resources for years to come. The programming at the NAED conferences has improved notably over the past decade. When attendees are willing to step off the lush links at the swanky conference resorts and immerse themselves in the training that's available at NAED conferences, they fly back home as much more enlightened distributors, reps and manufacturers.

In its second 100 years, NAED will face challenges that confront most if not all trade associations in and out of the electrical wholesaling industry. Industry consolidation is slowly draining the pool of potential new members. The “younger generation” now taking the reigns at distributors, manufacturers and reps may not be as willing as their elders to devote a big chunk of a week at an industry conference, because they may not value the networking opportunities that NAED and other trade associations provide. They also may look more toward online webinars and other virtual formats to train their employees instead of sending them to classes at industry conferences.

These challenges do not sound the death knell for NAED. In fact, the benefits NAED offers become even clearer in this all-too-electronic world. E-mails will never pack as much punch as handwritten notes, and compliments delivered over voice mail never quite sound as sweet as those delivered in person over a lunch or an after-hours beverage.

So it is with attending industry conferences, because the personal touch still counts, and you are often more conspicuous by your absence than by your attendance. In his TED tribute, United Electric Supply's Tom Cloud talked about how it now takes him 45 minutes to get across a lobby at an NAED conference because of all the people he knows at the meetings. That's time well spent, and those are industry friends and mentors he probably would have never met sitting in his office in Delaware.

Tom Preston, one of the industry's legendary “schmoozers,” also knew how to work a lobby or cocktail party at a NAED and NEMRA function. He would make sure he circled a room or lobby twice — once clockwise, and once counter-clockwise — to make sure he said hello to everyone.

NAED is getting a well-earned pat on the back at all of the gala celebrations at this year's Leadership Summit in San Francisco. But once Foreigner sounds the last note at the NAED Birthday bash on May 20, its next 100 years officially begin.

The association survived plenty, including two World Wars, a Depression, Home Depot, its move to St. Louis, the dot-bomb implosion, and competition from buying/marketing groups for members' time out of the offices. It will have new challenges to face in the next 100 years.

For one, the faces of members are changing. The association has done a great job bringing in smaller distributorships as new members. But some of its biggest members are buying smaller NAED distributors by the handful, and the giant distributors have different needs and demands of the association than the smaller firms.

More than anything, NAED needs to listen to its members and provide them with the services they ask for. If its leaders do that, NAED stands a good chance to “keep on keeping on” for years to come.