At this week’s 34thAnnual NAHAD Convention at the JW Marriott in Marco Island, Florida, I had the chance to sit down with Molly Alton Mullins, the new Executive VP of the association. Here’s our exclusive interview with Mullins, which covered her vision for the group, her thoughts on how the Convention has evolved, and what she believes the future will bring.
FPW: Tell us a little bit about how you first got involved with NAHAD.
MM: Sure, I’ve been with NAHAD for about two and a half years now. I was brought on as Executive Vice President to really plan a succession plan for NAHAD with Joe and Christa Thompson’s pending retirement. It gave me a great opportunity to work with them and see how they had done things—and see what we could do to make NAHAD even better, as we continued to move forward. So that was a great opportunity, and it culminated here at the convention, which was the last of their NAHAD activities.
FPW: It seems like there have been a few changes from last year’s conference to this year’s. How much of that was your team? How much was feedback or simply trying new things?
MM: We really encourage people to complete our convention surveys and to provide us with feedback, and after last year’s convention, three very distinct points came out of the survey. People wanted more time in the showcase to meet with distributors and manufacturers. People wanted the convention to be shorter; it was too much time out of the office. And people wanted more time for business meetings.
We started offering space for company meetings a few years back. Then, in addition to all the other things they were doing here at the convention, people could hold their company sales meetings, they could do their strategy plans, their forecasting, etc. So we sold out with more than 40 company meetings during the course of this year. There were no open time slots, and people really responded to it. Will we do the same thing every year? No, but one of my biggest visions is I want to try new things, so I can see where we can succeed and where we fail.
FPW: What is your vision for NAHAD moving forward?
MM: My goal is to provide services that directly impact business, so how can I increase your bottom line? How can I provide you with tools that help you benchmark how you’re doing against others in the industry? What kind of networking do you need, face-to-face? What kind of education do you need, webinars? What kind of training do you need? What are the issues around workforce development and finding and recruiting the right people? I even struggle with that at our company, so what kind of tools can I provide so that you can not only attract someone to this industry, but you can keep them and retain them. I’m trying to evaluate the services that we offer and see what we’re missing, and really discover what the members need.
FPW: Do you see the membership changing much in the coming years?
MM: The heart and soul of our membership is distribution, I think, and it always will be. But, distributors aren’t traditional like they once were. I’ve had members with both manufacturing and distributor memberships, because they want to be able to exhibit and showcase product, but they also do distribution. I think that’s only going to increase more and more. We’re going to see more and more companies that fit a multi-channel profile, and I think NAHAD needs to adapt—and figure out what’s best for their members and best for their industry. I want the exhibitors here that they want to do business with, so if they’re changing, tell me.
FPW: How did this year’s event turn out?
MM: This was our second highest convention in history. We had about 1,060 registered attendees. We rented out all space in the hotel, that’s how good our numbers were. It’s a good economy; that makes a difference. Everyone’s businesses is good; for the most part, with every member I talked to, they cannot keep up with demand—so there’s an economic edge that helps a convention like this.
We tried to offer attendees different opportunities here, whether it was company meetings, whether it was networking-specific times. We didn’t want them to feel like they missed anything, so we planned education so you could attend. We planned networking so you could go. We planned open times so you could have it. These people still want to enjoy a beautiful location like this.
FPW: For sure. And then next year? Talk a little bit about next year, Las Vegas, and the rumors of the Bahamas in 2020.
MM: Next year we’ll be in Las Vegas. Vegas is one of the cities that work really well for some, and others, not as much; they don’t like it as much. So, you’ve got to make a program that works for that particular city, and a lot of that will be based on feedback from what people want. Do you like more education? Do you want more time for networking? What can I do to keep you from the casinos and all the other attractions of Vegas? So we know what’s ahead of us.
Then, we will be at the Atlantis in the Bahamas on 2020; I think the dates are the 24th through the 29th of April. Attendees likes to go to warm places; we’ve heard that from our members. In 2021, I’ll probably look back on the West Coast. We’re going through that process right now.
I do want to make sure my manufacturers know that for 2020, we’ve looked heavily into shipping rates to make sure that [rates to the Bahamas] are comparable to anywhere else that they’re going to be going, so your fee shouldn’t increase just because we’re going into international waters.
FPW: Why should a NAHAD member come to a future convention?
MM: At this show, you really see people coming here to get business done, and I think that that’s a huge value for our members. People come back year after year, and I think there’s a reason for that. But I’d love to hear what it is that they want from us and what they want from NAHAD—so that we can keep trying to evolve it as we move forward.