Georgia Foley has been the executive director of the Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association (STAFDA) since 2000, but her involvement with the trade organization dates to when she was barely a teenager, when she helped her father — founder Morrie Halvorsen — run the operation out of the family basement.
Through the years, Foley has seen membership grow in numbers and stature even though STAFDA has maintained the same dues rates it first established in 1977.
Home Channel News recently spoke to Foley in advance of the 2012 STAFDA Convention & Trade Show, Nov. 4 to 6, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
What excites you about this year’s STAFDA convention?
There are a lot of things that excite me every year about our Convention & Trade Show. First, it provides the best opportunity for members to exchange ideas with not only companies from North America, but globally, while having the chance to attend an 800-booth trade show, where our manufacturers are showcasing their latest product line. We cram a lot into three days — including top business experts presenting educational workshops — giving attendees plenty of take-home value with minimal time out of the office.
If I am a distributor who is not sure whether to attend or not, why should I attend?
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked from distributors is: ‘What are you hearing from distributors in other parts of the country?’ One of the intangible benefits to a distributor who attends our convention is that he realizes he’s not alone. It doesn’t matter where he’s from, but by visiting with peers from non-competing markets, he has the opportunity to pick up an idea from another distributor, talk products or common business issues, or even commiserate on the economy. Plus, there is a good chance the majority of his vendors are at the STAFDA show, so that alone should encourage a distributor to attend.
How did you get involved in the industry?
My father, Morrie Halvorsen, used to be the VP sales and marketing for Milwaukee Electric Tool and also with ITT Phillips Red Head. He started STAFDA in 1977, along with 18 of his distributor customers. STAFDA began in our basement. He put me to work for him when I was 13, and I helped him make the initial prospect mailing. I worked for him while in junior high and high school, and even during college. After I graduated, I managed an exhibit and trade show industry association for seven years. That outside experience prepped me well to join STAFDA full time in 1994 as member services director. I became executive director in 2000 when my father retired from STAFDA.
What are some of the personal or association achievements that you are most proud of?
It’s personally rewarding to be involved with an organization that started with 18 members in ’77 and now has more than 2,500 internationally. Our membership dues are the same now as they were in ’77 ($350, less than $1/day) and our convention registration fee is the lowest in the industry ($190). We continue to add new services and programs, while dropping those that no longer serve us well. STAFDA is always evolving, and it’s exciting to be part of a dynamic organization serving a great group of people.
How has your industry been able to survive, or in some cases thrive, during this long downturn?
I think ‘thrive’ might be too optimistic of an adjective for the construction industry. During the recession, our members, like other businesses, made tough decisions on what to cut, who to cut and took the necessary steps to eliminate any overhead. The stimulus promoted infrastructure work, which helped our members through the worst of the recession, while others turned their attention to utilities, solar energy and other non-typical STAFDA markets. Those now involved in fracking and alternative energy sources are doing well. Mergers/acquisitions have impacted our industry, but STAFDA members are resilient, flexible, tenacious entrepreneurs who know how to compete.
What does the future look like for STAFDA and the industry it represents?
I believe the biggest driver for STAFDA and the construction industry is technology. It’s changed how we all do business. In a very short window, salespeople have gone from hauling catalogs to sales calls, to laptops and now iPads. Selling online has gone from being a threat to just another component of the sales process. For the construction industry, contractors have more product information, training and a greater assortment of vendors to choose from. Product technology has completely revolutionized our industry. Everything is faster, lighter, safer and easier to use.
But for all of today’s technological advancements, the one thing I don’t foresee changing in the construction industry is the value and importance of personal relationships and the hands-on demoing of new tools. That’s what built our industry and will carry us into the future.