Between March and April of this year, I probably traveled more miles than in the past two years combined.
In mid-March I went on a week-long press trip to Thailand on behalf of several ID sister publications; in early April I visited Newton, IA-based Cline Tool for our latest Distributor Profile feature; a few days later I attended the Industrial Supply Association’s annual convention in Baltimore, MD and vacationed the rest of the ensuing week in Washington D.C. with my wife and in-laws, doing all the touristy stuff; in late April I visited General Electric’s outdoor lighting factory in Hendersonville, NC for Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation (see that story in IMPO's July/August issue); and in early May I made the short drive from our Madison, WI office to Grainger’s call center in Janesville, which you can read all about here.
I’ve set foot in much of the U.S. in my four years as editor of ID, and now a decent sampling of the world. Geographically, my unseen world is shrinking. I feel like I’ve made good headway on the globe for someone still young by industry standards.
Travelling is one of my favorite activities — both for editorial purposes and for vacation. And while I actually like the hustle-and-bustle of airports, I was happy to have nearly two consecutive months of in-office time once the calendar turned to May after that whirlwind of flights and hotels. It'll ramp up again beginning in September when trade show season kicks off.
While at Cline Tool in Newton, I finally had one of those “small world” moments I’ve heard so many other people talk about. For a bit of background, I used to live in Newton (pop. 15,000) for more than 2 years between 2010 and 2012 when I was a sportswriter for the local newspaper there, covering all sorts of prep athletics. While chatting with Cline Tool company president and CEO Jim Long and vice president of operations Sherri Long — a husband-and-wife executive combo — I connected the dots that they are the parents of a former Newton athlete I frequently interviewed and took sports photos of at her golf and swimming events. Jim and Sherri were at many of those events. Odds are that we walked right past each other numerous times without knowing. Once we realized that at my Cline Tool visit, it gave us a laugh, and made me even happier to tell the story of a company where I spent my first full-time job out of college.
The other way my world is getting smaller is through industry networking. Four years ago, I had next to no knowledge of the industrial supply sector or the people involved with it. Now, I have many great relationships with people at industrial distribution, manufacturing and service-providing companies, as well as the marketing companies that support them. As time goes on, there are more and more individuals I’m happy to catch up with at trade shows and other industry events about past or future collaborations with ID, or simple ‘how are things?’ chats. The age of the Internet has helped greatly in this aspect, as many of my professional relationships begin with an email and eventually progress to a handshake. But that email, Tweet or LinkedIn message provides a great foot-in-the-door to get a discussion going.
While digital communication makes forming relationships today easier, I encourage everyone to keep making as many face-to-face connections as you can. At each industry event, I go in with the goal of having conversations with at least three people I don’t know — something beyond small talk. Sometimes that means striking up a conversation with someone new at a cocktail party, or the person sitting next to me at a keynote speech or educational workshop session. Even if that new connection isn’t relevant to your business (or in my case, editorial) goals, it will undoubtedly expand your knowledge of the industry and perhaps give you a new perspective.
While walking the expo at the ISA convention, I came up with a new goal: ‘At some point, I want to talk to everyone here,’ I told myself, meaning I want to have a conversation with everyone on the show floor. Given that there’s typically hundreds of people on the ISA show floor at any time, and that it’s the only time each year I’m in the same place as many of them — it’s a lofty goal, and essentially impossible. And in a strange way, it’s a goal I hope I never achieve, because new people join that industry pool every year. If I were to meet everyone that's there, that means there's been a lack of new faces brought in. But I’m going to keep that goal mindset at each industry event I attend and try to accomplish it nonetheless. I hope you do the same, as I’m sure it will lead to many more ‘small world’ moments.
ID’s LinkedIn group continues to grow at a brisk pace. We’re now over 12,500 members. It’s a great place to find industrial supply executives and thought-leaders to connect with, as well as read and share thought-leadership content. If you haven’t joined yet, please do. And as always, feel free to reach out to me with your latest company news, or let me know about an industry trend you think we should look into. And we're always looking for distributors to feature for upcoming Distributor Profiles, so if you think your company has a great story to tell, let me know. The easiest way is to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.