Georgia Foley’s STAFDA update

For three days in October, Music City USA will be remade as the specialty tool and fastener capital of the country. The reason: STAFDA is coming to town, bringing to Nashville what is expected to be the organization’s biggest event ever. One person who has had a front row seat for both the planning of the 31st Annual Convention & Trade Show and the overall growth of the Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association is Georgia Foley, the Elm Grove, Wis.-based organization’s executive director since 2000. Home Channel News recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Foley about the upcoming event, and the issues facing STAFDA’s membership.

Home Channel News: You became executive director in 2000. What are the differences in the organization then and now?

Georgia Foley: I’d say the big difference is the number of members we have in STAFDA. We’ve never really altered from our focus to be an educational association and to provide the best education we can to our members. What we’ve seen the last seven years is a real growth in all of our member categories in distributors, manufacturers and rep agents.

HCN: To what do you attribute that growth?

GF: I think a lot of that has to do with the success of our trade show. It also has to do with the fact that our annual membership dues are only $350, so they get good bang for their buck out of that. But going back to our trade show, when we last met at Nashville in 2000, we had final attendance of 4,650 people and we had a 700 booth show which at that point was our largest ever. As of [Oct. 8], we’re expecting more than 5,400 people in Nashville, and we’ve already sold 954 booths, which is about 20 higher than we had last year in Las Vegas, which was our record breaker.

HCN: How does that play out for distributors?

GF: I think more manufacturers are recognizing that STAFDA distributors are key to their marketing program. And our distributors are recognizing that they can see key vendors and find new vendors under one roof at our convention and trade show. So I’d say that’s probably the greatest change within STAFDA in the last seven years.

HCN: How will the 2007 STAFDA conference differ from the 2000 conference, and how will it be similar?

GF: The biggest change between 2000 and 2007 is that last year we put together a new format where there would be more time for the trade show. What worked for us well in Las Vegas is the same thing we’re using this year. We’ve really extended the trade show hours since there are so many vendors, people can get around more. And we’ve just kind of reconfigured the educational program, and we haven’t slighted anything so that’s the biggest change as far as the convention—really extending the trade show.

HCN: Chris Gardner is your keynote speaker. His life was the model for the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Is his selection as keynoter symbolic at all of the need of home improvement suppliers to pull themselves up by their bootstraps during a difficult housing market?

GF: Chris Gardner is the hottest speaker right now in the speaking circuit, and I never really thought about any symbolism as far as home improvement and pulling himself up by the bootstraps, so to speak. What we always try to do is vary our speakers every year. We usually work with speakers bureaus out of D.C. who provide us with who’s hot on the market right now, and Chris Gardner right now is the guy to get. I think because he has had such business success and he really is a rags-to-riches story. His talk about entrepreneurialism and how to achieve business success and get over adversity I think pertains to anyone in this business, particularly in this market.

HCN: Among product trends, what’s going to be the next lithium ion?

GF: That’s a tough question. It’s really hard to say. The technology is changing so rapidly that I really couldn’t say what’s the next lithium ion or what the next hot technology is.

HCN: How about predicting sales. To what extent are power tool sales insulated from the housing market downturn, if at all?

GF: I think with the variety of power tools on the market and the different price points and the benefits of product that are in a lot of different outlets, the power tool manufacturers are able to keep doing very well and keep above the fray, so to speak.

HCN: Even with the housing downturn?

GF: Obviously, residential construction is off but a lot of our members are doing very well through renovation projects. Our distributors are doing very well with renovation and people who are involved with the commercial end of the business are doing exceptionally well. Our members really don’t serve the DIYers too much. They serve the professional contractors who are involved in renovations.

HCN: What can we expect from the State of the Industry reports, slated to be delivered during the STAFDA conference?

GF: We’ve got two reports at our general concession. One will be by our president Greg Drouillard who’s with Target Building Materials out of Windsor, Ontario. Greg is going to talk about some of the similarities between the U.S. and Canadian markets. Greg is only the second Canadian president of STAFDA in our 31-year history. He’s primarily building materials and concrete, but he’s active in many communities in Canada, and he’s got some really terrific statistics. The Canadian and U.S. markets really mirror each other, and he’s got some spin that he’ll put on that for the audience.

HCN: And the other?

GF: Then our associate speaker will be Tim Tevens who is the CEO of Columbus McKinnon out of Amherst, N.Y. We’ve never had an associate speaker who represents the hoist chains industry. So it’s going to be kind of a refreshing talk. Again, a lot of people don’t know too much about that industry in the audience, as far as it’s size and the different types of market, so he should give a very informative talk.

HCN: How much emphasis is on fasteners at a typical STAFDA show, and do you expect any big fastener related news to be announced or discussed at this year’s event?

GF: Well, STAFDA is almost a misnomer now. Obviously our members are involved with fastening products, construction anchors and power tools. But our members over the years have really evolved. We’ve got people who are also into safety and into rental and electrical and HVAC. No matter if one industry is a little soft they can still look at some of these other channels to focus on. I would say as far as fasteners, our members truly aren’t the nut and bolts houses that some other associations serve. Ours is much more broad based.

HCN: With that in mind, and the fact that STAFDA is branching out into other markets, is there a name change in the future?

GF: No we’re not, we’ve got such a strong identity with what we have we don’t plan to make any name change.

HCN: One of the educational workshops is titled “China and India—friend or foe?” What do you see as the big international issues?

GF: Well, Greg is actually going to talk about some of this in his speech. But I think the biggest concern right now as far as China is the dumping petition of steel nails in their country that was filed in May by five domestic nail manufacturers against both China and the United Arab Emirates.

HCN: What is the latest on the imported nail issue?

GF: This whole nail issue went up before the Federal Trade Commission in June where we had some members provide some testimony. The actual report on whether they’re going to move forward with this or how they’re going to move forward with this will be issued at the end of November. So China and nails will definitely be an issue on the mind of our members when we go to Nashville. For an importer of nails, they’re just going to get hammered on costs per container. So it’s definitely a critical issue, and all eyes are on China.

HCN: Have products made in China felt any sting from the toy controversies that flared up this summer?

GF: The quality of the products is still probably rather strong, rather good. We have a lot of distributors in the United States with private label that they import from China and the United Arab Emirates, so not only is it affecting manufacturers who import but also distributors who import, as well as private label.

HCN: In your opinion, what are attendees going to be talking about on the show floor?

GF: China and nails. I think sales, too. How have sales been for our members overall? When you throw in all the different people and all the different markets they serve, sales are probably going to be up 2 percent to 4 percent. There are several new manufacturers who’ve joined STAFDA this year exhibiting some pretty unique products, and that’s really what our attendees always look for. What can they add to their product lists that are really going to attract a contractor’s eye?