What Are Your Thoughts on Buying Groups and Trade Associations?

I know there’s been lots of discussions on the pros and cons of buying groups over the years, and I’m not here to try to sway you one way or the other.

I recently came back from STAFDA, which for those who don’t know, is an association of construction distributors and the manufacturers that sell into that market. What struck me at the trade show part of the event was it was obvious which manufacturers didn’t belong to a group. You saw plenty of Evergreen, Sphere 1 and NetPlus badges there, but they were concentrating mostly on seeing the manufacturing members of their respective groups. (I’m using STAFDA as an example and I’m not trying to pick on them.)

So my question is for those who don’t belong to a group
(and don’t have a unique product), how do you justify going to one of these meetings? Should the association try to incentivize distributors to stop by new member booths? I feel sorry for those folks who ponied up the cash but not very many distributors stopped by.
Another interesting issue is that most of these buying groups have their own annual meetings and some are incorporating trade shows along with these get-togethers. From a manufacturing point of view, which shows do you go to? Obviously it’s the ones where you get the most bang for your buck.

Associations/buying groups may want to look at their model as things have changed over the past several years.
They need to ask about the value proposition of getting these distributors and manufacturers together. Instead of trade shows (whoever introduces a new product at one of these), maybe there should be a series of round table discussions on how to improve the supply chain for everyone involved.

There are some really smart people out there (on both sides), and I believe a lot more could come out of these kinds of meetings and they could include all members.

Any of you belong to other type groups that have changed the model? I’d like to hear from you.

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8 Comments. Leave a comment

  1. Skip DeVilling

    John you are on target with your remarks! We all know what works with industry association conventions….”getting distributors and manufacturers together to discuss their present and possible business relationships”.

    Several years back, ISA held the Central States Conference Booth Sessions in Chicago where the distributors manned the booth table and the manufacturers had the opportunity to visit with any or all distributors in attendance. All who attended felt this was the most effective and efficient meeting of the year, partly because it was held the weekend (Sunday & Monday) before Thanksgiving in Rosemont, Illinois. Small and large manufacturers had an equal chance to meet with any small and large distributor who attended. The convention had a reputation as a “no-nonsense”, working convention, with no barriers. Maybe associations should revisit the reasons why their members attend their conventions and is it working?.

  2. Brendan

    Great article, thanks for sharing. However I am just getting involved with buying groups and distributors and i’m not sure that i truly understand the entire process of which you just spoke of. Any advice on how to reach many appropriate distributors for the line that we manufacture?

    Thank You,
    ~Brendan McKenzie

    • tradesmeninsights

      Brendan are you in buying groups now or are you trying to get into them? If you’re not in any yet you need to identify the ones that serve your key end user markets and see if any of your competitors are in them. Buying groups usually limit the number of competitors. Once you’re in you just have to call an each distributor and tell them your value proposition. If you’re in the group and all things are equal you’ll get the business. Good luck- John

      • Brendan

        I have just started trying to locate and get into them. I am currently in talks with a few that may cater to end users that can use our products, but I am not sure where to locate others. Do you know of any good online resources for such a thing? Good tip regarding competitors, I didn’t think of that. thankfully it’s a fairly new, niche market, and there really aren’t many competitors.


  3. Rick Lamb

    John, I could not agree with you less. I find great value in the trade associations my company belongs to, Evergreen Marketing and STAFDA. The manufacturers’ management that I speak to often find these associations a big help in the marketing of their products. STAFDA is a great venue for the manufacturers to display and introduce next years new products. In the weeks since the STAFDA convention I have had meetings with 6 manufacturers that I have not done business in the past with to discuss products that I viewed at STAFDA. I know this is the case with many of my distributor associates as well. For this reason, STAFDA has stayed a strong organization for both the distributors and the manufacturers.
    Evergreen is certainly one of the cornerstones of our marketing program. Products are not regularly displayed at its yearly conference. Evergreen places more emphasis on business development between the distributor and the major lines the distributor represents. It is the combination of the two organizations that keeps my company a marketplace leader in the region it serves.

    • tradesmeninsights

      Rick, thanks for your comments.The point I was making was from a manufacturing viewpoint if they don’t have a unique product chances are you’re not going to stop to see them. Let’s face it you don’t need another line of power tools or truck boxes. These guys are on the outside looking in with the big guys like the Evergreen and Sphere 1 folks.I don’t dispute the overall benefits of groups like your or STAFDA. My opinion of STAFDA is it’s one of the better associations.

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