Ten years ago, some forward-thinking distributors, reps and manufacturers hit the mark with their forecasts for the 1990s.

EW's January 1990 article "Future Gazing" offered some fascinating insight into the minds of a few forward-thinking distributors, reps and manufacturers. As you will learn in this month's article, "10 Trends that Shook the 1990s" (page 40), many respondents to an EW survey for this article saw a much more global market than what we have today. And like most people in the business community, they missed the rapid rise of the Internet.

But several of their prognostications were right on target. For instance, when commenting on the coming information age in the electrical business, it almost seems like Bill Vizcarrondo, principal, Agency Group, Inc., Gambrills, Md., had the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW) in mind when he said that companies had to learn how to handle information transactions as efficiently as possible. He said the biggest challenge would be to "capture, retrieve and utilize meaningful information available to us, to respond better to our customers' needs. Those who can't handle the information transactions won't be around."

Terry Burkholder, president, Dauphin Electrical Supplies Co., Harrisburg, Pa., was already concerned with new advantages in critical mass that he saw for larger distributors, particularly in the area of information technology. At that time, the concept that larger companies would invest in computer technology and use it as a customer-service advantage was a radical concept. But Burkholder said back then that the biggest challenge facing distributors in the 1990s would be competing with large firms on price, economies of scale and technological resources. "Those in the distribution business must be more productive," he said. "Only those that can get products from the manufacturer to the end user in the cheapest and most cost-effective way will survive."

Another distributor was already concerned about challenges from outside the traditional electrical channel. Chuck Steiner, CEO, The Branch Group, Upper Marlboro, Md., may have foreseen the rise of Home Depot, Grainger and other powerful alternative sources of electrical supply when he said more than 50% of all electrical products were being sold through other channels besides electrical distribution, and that alternate channels, like home centers and catalog houses would be the biggest challenge for distributors during the 1990s.

Another distributor offered a forecast for a booming economy-and his concerns about the need to find and keep good employees. Jim Schmid, CEO, Crescent Electric Supply Co., East Dubuque, Ill., seems to have foreseen today's extraordinarily low unemployment rate and its impact on the job market with his assessment that the struggle to hire, train and keep good employees would "continue to be our biggest problem."

Schmid also was the most bullish of EW's forecasters in this survey. While his forecast that the 1990s would be "unmatched in profitability for the wholesale industry" could be challenged, he was dead-on with his take on the decade's economic possibilities: "With more likelihood for peace in the foreseeable future, the defense industries will wither, but consumer prices will come down, as will interest rates and inflation."

These survey respondents did a terrific job with their forecasts for the key industry trends for the 1990s. How about taking a shot at picking out key trends to watch? If you would like to go public with your prognostications on the biggest challenges be for distributors, manufacturers and independent manufacturers' reps in the first decade of the 21st century, give me a call at 913-967-1743, or send an e-mail to me at jim_lucy@intertec.com.