Expect the unexpected…

...and be prepared to change - that was one of the core messages from the first day of the ABC in Las Vegas.

…and be prepared to change – that was one of the core messages from the first day of the ABC in Las Vegas.

When Jim O’Brien, SP Richards’ (SPR) SVP of Marketing, came on stage for the opening proper (not counting Sunday night’s well-attended Welcome Reception) of this year’s ABC, taking place in Las Vegas this week, talking about our industry 15 years ago, there were more than a few dealers in the audience who had scarcely heard of the companies he was referring to.

Daisytek, Value America, CompUSA and US Office Products – where did they go? Somewhere along the line, they took the wrong path. What’s important, said O’Brien, is “to be ready and to be prepared for the unexpected”. 

Working together in every way possible is one way to be as prepared as possible, especially as merger and consolidation activity continues apace, among independents as well as, of course, the big boxes. And all that activity can present real opportunities and needn’t be a negative, as long as – again – dealers are prepared and, urges O’Brien, “as long as we keep all that business in the independent community”.

The theme of this year’s event is Ignite and this is exactly what the always eagerly-anticipated opening keynote session, presented by Jeremy Gutsche, the creator of Trendhunter.com, did.

It’s unusual for a keynote speaker to not even go on stage, but Gutsche enthralled the audience with his dynamic talk – pacing up and down the aisles and being close to his audience – on how to create opportunities and convert them into lasting successes.

Gutsche, too, referred to some past failures where the initial vision or idea was there, but the follow-through wasn’t. Blackberry, Kodak, Blockbuster or Microsoft Encarta ’95 are all good examples. Often, Gutsche said, “it’s not about the idea, but how you can make it happen and successful”.

Hindsight of course is always a beautiful thing, but Gutsche had a few tips on how to reverse hindsight into foresight by adopting a ‘hunter’ rather than a ‘farmer’ attitude.

The three traps of a farmer, he said, are to be complacent, repetitive and protective. Hunter instincts, meanwhile, refer to people and companies that are insatiable, curious and willing to destroy (something that happened in the past to try something new).

With more real-life examples, Gutsche likened independent dealers to drinks company Red Bull – the little guy against the big shots, so to speak (in the drinks world Coca-Cola and Pepsi). His four-point advice of how to succeed is this:

  1. Increase your odds of winning by aligning with multiple trends
  2. Be irresistible to a certain group of people
  3. Pursue the path less travelled
  4. Opposing the mainstream – it fuels success

Straight after the General Session, the first of three dealer sessions of the day started. In one of them five senior SPR executives – Wayne Beacham, Jim O’Brien, Rick Toppin, Steve Lynn and Don Mikolasy – put themselves in the firing line from a room packed full of dealers in the annual Town Hall Meeting.

The questions dealers had were many and varied, from technology and Amazon to service levels and pricing. Like all good debates, this wasn’t a session where everybody just patted each other on the back. Instead, it was a spirited discussion that laid bare some of the challenges both dealers and the wholesaler itself are facing.

It also highlighted the positives and one of these is undoubtedly the success and importance of the cleaning and breakroom solutions category, SPR’s fastest growing category (which was also covered in another dealer session, run by SPR’s VP of Sales, Facility & Breakroom Solutions, Nick Lomax). As O’Brien said: “Regardless of where your business stands today, if you’re not doing well in this category, you’re behind.”

And there are other opportunities out there, innovative ones that can replace past sales being lost to a digital world. But, as Lee Silber commented in his Think Quick and (Act Fast) presentation, we live in a fast world where we have to think quicker and act on ideas fast. And they needn’t be big ideas. Start small. Great ideas come from opening your mind and trusting your intuition, seeing opportunities where others see problems. As Silber said: “Be an artist, not an accountant.” 

One issue that was covered in some detail during yesterday’s sessions is sales. It’s a topic as old as trade itself but, as highly experienced sales speaker and trainer Tim Wackel said in a lively, well-attended session: "Being good at sales is hard work."

Wackel delivered a fascinating presentation on how to drive top line growth through smarter prospecting. His key takeaways revolved around four key principles:

  1. Get a better message
  2. Follow up or fail
  3. Kick the Hopeium habit
  4. Business gets better when you get better

Much of what happens in a sales environment is also communication-related. Sarita Maybin gave an entertaining and very audience-interactive perspective of How to Maintain High-Touch Relationships in High-Tech Times.

While it may not be rocket science, it’s very easy to forget what real communication – rather than weekly blogs, monthly newsletters or uninspiring, often even rude text and email messages – means. As Maybin said: “Speak in such a way that others love listening to you. Listen in such a way that others love speaking to you.”

And that summed up the first day of the ABC: listen, learn, innovate.

Las Vegas (NV), USA