UnleashWD Opens Distributors' Eyes To Innovation

The third annual UnleashWD in Chicago was a great opportunity for distributors to learn how to inject innovation and new thinking into their existing business.

“If you know the definition of supply chain, I’m not going to ask you to come speak.”

There’s a sense of boldness in that statement from Dirk Beveridge, an anecdote he used when promoting the third annual UnleashWD conference held Oct. 28-29 in downtown Chicago.

But Beveridge, the event’s founder, doesn’t mean to offend any distribution industry experts. Simply, the quote serves to drive home a message: distribution needs new thinking, new ideas and new innovation — from outside the industry.

That’s what those two days were all about inside the Venue Six10 building, where nearly 150 attendees learned from business entrepreneurs and leaders who shared their wisdom and best practice advice for injecting innovation.

Beveridge is the author of the recently released “Innovate! How Successful Distributors Lead Change In Disruptive Times.” He and the UnleashWD team brought together 16 speakers for the two-day event, and I was in attendance for Industrial Distribution on the first day to soak up as much as I could.

The agenda of the conference was based around four speaking sessions, with half-hour networking breaks in-between. Those breaks offered ample opportunity for attendees to meet and mingle, and share ideas about what stood out to them at the event.

Here is a recap of the day 1 speakers at UnleashWD 2014, including each one’s key messages:

Keynote: Andrew Berlin — Chairman & CEO of Berlin Packaging and Owner of South Bend Cubs baseball team

What a great speaker to get the day started. In early October, Berlin completed a $1.43 billion sale of his company to Oak Hill Capital Partners, but the focus of his talk was about his role as a baseball club owner, and the turnaround the South Bend Cubs has seen in his tenure.

When Berlin took over as owner before the 2012 season, it’s net promoter score was 13 percent. It simply was not a well-run club. Following the recently completed 2014 season, South Bend’s NPS is 74 percent. Berlin shared and showed how the organization revitalized itself through the emphasis of touchpoints — everything the customer/fan experiences — from the drive to the stadium parking lot to the time they leave the ballpark. By ‘adding thrill’ to an extensive amount of those touchpoint opportunities, the Cubs immensely improved the fan experience and are now one of the finest-run clubs not just in their league, but in all of baseball.

David Houle — Futurist, Author of “Entering The Shift Age”

Houle did a great job of getting everyone into a future mindset, advocating “don’t build on the past, face the future.” One of his key pieces of advice was to not compare October 2014 sales with those from October 2013, but rather compare October 2014 with where you want sales to be in October 2015, or 2019. That way, instead of looking back on your successes or failures, you’re looking to see if the company’s on track to be where you want it to be.

Houle also pointed out the importance of having video on company websites, and not just video of company executives giving statements. Rather, video of customer referrals is much more attractive to fellow potential customers. When people use Foursquare, they trust reviews, not company speak.

Steve Steinhilber — Vice President, Industry Solutions Group-Ecosystems at Cisco

Steinhilber's lessons were aimed at independent distributors, talking about “how to keep the sharks at bay.” He discussed how this can be done through:

  1. Building scale economies – Acquire or be acquired, create consortium
  2. Focusing on higher value – Create high margin offeries
  3. Going vertical

Steve also explained how there is a shift from Business-to-business to Business-for-business.

Gary Shapiro — President & CEO, Consumer Electronics Association

Shapiro emphasized the need to take chances in business. His most profound quote for businesses in the U.S. was, "Failure is not a badge of dishonor, it's a badge of experience."

He also talked about how as a business leader, you need people who can tell you that you're wrong; people who will push back.

Jim Liautaud — Founder, Liautaud Instititute, University of Illinois-Chicago

Liautaud kicked off the “culture” portion of the conference, explaining how “you can tell how good a CEO is when the culture goes all through the company.”

He talked about moving authority to where the information is; the process of giving control and the effectiveness of giving others authority as opposed to having one or a few making all the decisions.

Dru Dalton — Founder, Real Thread

Recently turned 30 years old, Dalton was certainly the youngest of the day 1 speakers. Real Thread is a T-Shirt company Dalton began as a college student at Central Florida University. He explained how he built his company’s culture through external and internal promotion, and how to create value: don’t compete on price; what can you do in order to raise price?

Lynn Casey — CEO, Noesis

Casey shared how we get to innovation, emphasizing that “habit isn’t always smart or right.” She explained how working toward the dreams and aspirations of customers will keep a company innovative.

Haley Rushing — Chief Purposologist, The Purpose Institute

Rushing’s talk had her title in name, discussing the importance of having a goal-oriented purpose and making sure the company follows it as a mission statement, as well as having the courage to do things to follow that purpose.

She asked that businesses ask themselves the theological question of “what difference do I make in the world?”

Steve Riddell — Chief Sales Officer, Blinds.com

The energetic Riddell was a great choice to close the day 1 speakers. He used an experiment of having the audience cross their arms, and then do it the opposite way, to illustrate how innovation doesn’t always feel good for a while.

Riddell’s talk focused on customer service and its importance for businesses in surviving the age of disruption.

His point was summed up in the quote he presented: “The only source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption: An obsession with customer experience.” – Harley Manning

I thought Beveridge and his team did a great job assembling this group of engaging speakers that gave those in attendance a lot of ideas to spur innovation in their distribution businesses. Even though the convention is now past, I'd highly recommend visiting the UnleashWD website if you're looking for fresh new thinking, or just want to inject some energy into your company. There, you can view testimonials of UnleashWD from 2012 and 2013, learn more about this year's speakers, as well as the purpose behind the summit.

More in Operations