The payoff for the reps and manufacturers who invested their time at this year's National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association annual conference was readily apparent at New York's Marriott Marquis Hotel, Feb. 17-20. A robust seminar session, the always-popular one-on-one sessions, a sizeable smattering of manufacturers looking to fill territories and exhibiting their companies' products and services in the NEMRA Showcase of Services, and presentations on the economy and NEMRA's new “Rep of the Future” study were more than worth the price of admission.

Attendance at the meeting seemed slightly less than usual, but there was the usual buzz in the hotel check-in area, lounge and between the one-on-one sessions about who's taking on what lines, reps or vendors being promoted or demoted, and possible acquisition targets. The economic climate colored many if not most conversations at the conference, and with so many NEMRA reps focused squarely on the non-residential construction market, there was plenty of chatter about when the construction market would get back on track.

Most economists agree that the nonresidential construction market won't pick up much before 2011. Alan Beaulieu, principal, Institute for Trend Research, Boscawen, N.H., believes the U.S. economy has turned the corner and is already starting to recover, but he says it could be several years before U.S. businesses return to the level of sales activity they enjoyed before the recession. He cautioned attendees about the potential of inflation rising to 6.5 percent in 2011 and said he expects oil to hit $120 a barrel in 2011 (up from approximately $80 per barrel at press-time) and for copper, steel and zinc prices to spike later in the year.

Beaulieu said this recession really shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise, because the U.S. economy was due for a big downturn, judging from historical economic cycles. “About every 10 years there is a recession,” he said. “You can always see them coming. You just have to prepare for it.”

There was a lot of talk about new markets at the meeting, and a session on the renewables market by Fred Paris, president, Wind Sun Institute, Peabody, Mass., was well-attended. Kelly Boyd, president, Electrorep Inc., Sausalito, Calif., and NEMRA's 2009-2010 chairman, told meeting attendees that the green market can be good business. “The energy market is wide open for adventure seekers and early adopters,” he said. Boyd also urged reps and manufacturers to tap into ARRA federal stimulus funding. “It's our money,” he said. “Let's get it back into the electrical market.”

Another highlight of the conference's program was the presentation by Tom O'Connor, president, Farmington Consulting Group (FCG), Farmington, Conn., on NEMRA's “Rep of the Future” study. NEMRA commissioned FCG to survey reps, distributors, manufacturers and end users about the role reps will play in the future. O'Connor urged reps to consider a basic philosophical shift and focus more on marketing and less on just selling products. “Most reps are stuck in the ‘peddler mindset,’” he said. “They are still sales-driven and are not market-driven. The rep of the future will be a skilled, market-driven strategist.”

To do this, he said reps must get serious about developing a clear strategic vision of the future for their companies and work with distributors and manufacturers on annual marketing plans. O'Connor also said his firm's research uncovered clear indicators that rep firms will continue to consolidate and that mid-sized reps may have a tough time in the future competing against very large regional rep firms and niche players that focus on specific products or market segments.

Several reps and manufacturers received awards at this year's NEMRA. Daniel Jones, CEO, Encore Wire Corp., won NEMRA's Thomas F. Preston Award for manufacturers, and Nancy Hayko, Eastern sales manager, Krayloy Fittings, won NEMRA's first Excellence in Regional Management Award. Electrical Wholesaling also announced the winners of its 2010 GEM Award for Independent Manufacturers Representatives and GEM Rising Star Awards (see page 31). In other news at NEMRA, Rick Johnson, Andrews Johnson Brusacoram Inc., Minneapolis, began his term as the 2010-2011 chairman, and Mike Gorin accepted his appointment as the 2011-2012 NEMRA chairman.