Old School No More: Segment Moves into Digital Era

If you have attended any keynote speaker address in recent years you have probably heard some version of the phrase, “Nobody likes change.”

Many industries are reluctant to change and you could argue that this is particularly true in the distribution segment of mouldings and millwork. The sometimes “old-school mentality” is one that’s built on relationships and in-person selling, and that is perhaps one area of the industry that was particularly hard hit when the world shut down, so to speak, during COVID-19. Many of the speakers who addressed attendees during the World Millwork Alliance Annual Conference (held virtually in October) alluded to that fact. But boy did this segment adapt. They adapted to everything thrown at them by dealing with things head-on, and I think they will emerge stronger than ever.

One positive side effect from the COVID-19 crisis includes the fact that individuals were forced to go digital. This came up repeatedly during the three-day event. When the pandemic hit and in-person selling came to a halt, some sales reps didn’t know—or didn’t want to—make the leap to online. But one presenter warned them that they no longer had a choice. Indeed, companies are still struggling to restructure and transform their sales processes to incorporate remote selling. I don’t envy those who have to figure all this out but I applaud them for jumping in and doing it.

Luckily, I noticed company after company working to make the changes necessary to compete in this new environment—and they are doing so while being slammed with high demand.

One of these adjustments is improved communication models. In one panel discussion, a group of executives agreed that working remotely brought people closer together and strengthened communication.

Still challenges remain, and experts agreed that planning in the time of COVID-19 is difficult. As one presenter said, you have the need to preserve cash, but on the flip side you have to set up your company to survive long-term. When you have housing starts ebbing and flowing, do you reduce or increase capacity? Though these decisions are hard ones, executives are stepping up and taking action.

“I have felt like a turtle with my head stuck in the shell for months, and then I realized it’s time to go on offense,” said one attendee. “I’m tired of being the turtle waiting for things to get better.”

The industry is adapting in other ways as well. With some products in short supply, other materials like MDF are being specified to fill the void. Companies are rolling with that too—they are making swaps and substitutions as necessary to meet the needs of their customers. Again, this is where expert communication is vital.

I am very proud of this industry which has taken all the punches like a champ. And, for someone who attends a lot of industry meetings, the sessions WMA put together this year were top notch—and you are the ones to benefit and learn from all this education.

I will leave you with another comment from one of the speakers, “Chaos creates opportunity.”

Grab a hold of that and go thrive. I have faith in us!

Tara Taffera is the publisher of [DWM] magazine. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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