At STAFDA, products and politics

Phoenix -- Maybe Sarah Palin’s appearance had nothing to do with the spike in attendance, but nearly 4,000 people gathered here at the Phoenix Convention Center for STAFDA’s annual convention, a 17% increase over last year’s attendance. Members of the Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association (STAFDA) gave the former governor of Alaska a warm welcome before, during and after her keynote speech on Nov. 8, which covered the devaluation of the dollar, government overspending, a “massive tax hike” expected on Jan. 1 and President Obama’s healthcare plan, among other topics.

“Obama took a government that was already too big and he supersized it,” said Palin, who has become a visible face of the Tea Party movement. But the self-described “hockey mom from Wasilla” also told the audience she buys most of her husband’s presents in hardware stores.

“I look out there, and I see a whole bunch of Todds,” Palin said.

Incoming STAFDA president Mike Kangas, the president of Alaska Industrial Hardware -- who also happens to be from Wasilla -- talked about the several billion dollars in infrastructure spending approved by the Obama administration on Labor Day, saying that many distributors are not staffing up because they’re uncertain when those public works projects will begin. “Most STAFDA members would agree that [business] can show signs of recovery one month and turn stone cold the next,” he said.

Max “Andy” Johnson, president of Mar-Mac Wire in McBee, S.C., spoke about the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA) and its effect on U.S. manufacturers. Although “the marketplace is [still] sorting it out,” he said, Johnson observed that the “Buy American” provision of the ARRA has helped business. “There are projects across the country that are ARRA compliant,” Johnson said. “[We] have noticed a change in the ordering process.”

Political discussions percolated through the convention hall, where Marvin Anderson, president of Coilhose Pneumatics, was exhibiting at his 10th STAFDA show. He observed that this year’s event seemed livelier. “I feel like there’s a little more optimism,” Anderson said, attributing it, in part, to the Nov. 2 election returns. “I think business people like a divided government,” he explained.

First-time exhibitor Tim Fitzpatrick of Michigan Industrial Tools said his company is branching out from DIY and homeowner sales into pro and industrial users with its Goodyear-branded rubber air hose reel. “A lot of STAFDA is a new market for us, but they all need hose,” Fitzpatrick.said.

Some vendors unveiled new products at the three-day event, which ends Nov. 9. Generac, a company mostly known for generators, showcased a new line of pressure washers. The company has designed six models to cover both the consumer and commercial markets. The products will hit the market in spring 2011.

Empire Level took the opportunity to show off the mahogany and brass levels from American Level Brands, which it acquired last May from M-D Building Products. Empire also displayed its DeWalt-branded box levels, which it has been shipping since February.

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