Azione Buying Group Focuses on Three-Year Plan During Spring Meeting

April 15, 2013
When you’ve had the same job for a long time, there’s a tendency to stick to what you know or fall too easily into a predictable formula. For Azione Unlimited president Richard Glikes, however, starting a new buying group after serving as the leader of another one for so many years is a chance to improve on the past, rather than returning to an old routine.

During Azione Unlimited’s Spring Conference last week at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch, Glikes leaned on some of his “greatest hits” as an education/buying group director, but he also showed what he’s learned since ending his 15-year term as director of Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) group a couple of years ago.

During AU’s Spring Conference last week at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch, Glikes pulled out some of his “greatest hits” as an education/buying group director, but he also showed what he’s learned since ending his 15-year term as director of Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) group a couple of years ago.

After a brisk half day of guest lectures, roundtable discussions, and vendor presentations last Wednesday, Glikes asked his membership to step out of its large hotel meeting room and line up on either side of a long lobby hallway, vendors on one side and integrators on the other. Then, after his traditional ringing of a bell, Glikes asked each side to step forward, shake hands and conduct a two-minute conversation with the person directly in front of them, before stepping to their right following the next bell, and meeting the next person in line. This went on for 15 minutes, before everyone went back to his or her seats for another panel discussion.

Because it’s such a young organization, Azione Unlimited’s Spring Meeting panel discussions often focused on building the buying group itself, including where to invest its resources, during one-year and three-year plans, specificallyfocused on marketing, operations, training, purchasing and forecasting.

“It’s a great ice breaker,” Glikes said. “I always hated going to a conference not knowing anyone at that first cocktail reception or dinner on the first night. When you do this, you go to dinner having already met 10 different people.”

This so-called “circle introduction” is a noteworthy holdover from Glikes’ HTSA days, as is the frenetic pacing of his meetings (as one presentation from a car stereo buying group director began to bleed into a lunch break, Glikes said, “You’re running over, and I’m getting nervous.” Glikes’ solution was to move the plated lunch into the meeting room, creating a working lunch as the panel discussion got underway.)

As familiar as Glikes’ meetings might seem to those who’ve attended one during his previous tenure, there are significant differences in the way he’s building his new group. “I wanted to learn from mistakes I’ve made in the past,” he explained.

Perhaps most notable is AU’s insistence on making vendor partners actual members of the association and members of the board. Currently 35 companies are listed as members of AU, which is a respectable number that likely won’t grow much larger because Glikes also hopes to limit the number of vendors with which AU partners.
AU is still a relatively small group, having grown to just 67 dealer members in a year, but the group’s goal is 250 in the next two years.

“That’s a market,” Glikes said, “Then we can have branded products just for us because we would have critical mass.”

Despite the vendor-member mandate, 90 percent of AU’s members are integrators, with 25 percent of those companies making at least $5-million/year in revenue. Eighty percent of these members had never been in a buying group before joining AU.

Azione Unlimited’ “circle introduction” is an ice breaking exercise that Richard Glikes started during his HTSA days.

Because it’s such a young organization, AU’s Spring Meeting panel discussions often focused on building the buying group itself, including where to invest its resources, during one-year and three-year plans, specifically focused on marketing, operations, training, purchasing, and forecasting.

Committees are populated with both integrators and vendors, and all voices were heard during the meeting. As is the trend with buying groups these days, education of members on business strategies and technical solutions was deemed equally important to the traditional “collective buying power” incentive of joining a group like AU.

“An extra percentage point here or there is nice, but it’s much more than that,” stated Digital Projection’s George Walter, during one discussion. “Being part of a group means being able to call a peer and learn best practices from them, for instance. Being in a group like this, one plus one can actually equal three.”

During the conference, vendor members were given 15-member presentation blocks, scattered throughout the days, where even the most loquacious sales managers were forced to get to the point quickly before running out of time. Vendors were also afforded dealer “one-on-one” meetings at various pre-determined times. Guest speakers included consultants Steve Firszt and Laura Cornille-Cannady who discussed labor productivity, “filling the pipeline,” building profits, and hiring best practices; David Pritchard presented a session called, Preparing Your Business for Maximizing Saleability.

One of the goals of AU’s planning sessions was finding a way to utilize the shared experience of a buying group to help integrator members measure success or failure against one another and combine their goals with those of vendor partners.

“Once we put together this marketing scheme and operation scheme and how this group can work together, we have to start measuring our results,” stated David Daniels, an integrator from Xssentials in Denver. “We have to know where we’re failing and where we’re succeeding. And we need to be able to measure ourselves against each other and against the industry as a whole. Putting together key metrics and figuring out how to raise the key metrics within your company is going to be very important to do. The fortunate part is that we have a group of people that care enough about measuring our results that I think we can build a great database [allowing] us to improve our top line and bottom line as a company, but more importantly, we can do it now as vendors and dealers combined.”

Earlier in the day Glikes had reminded attendees of AU’s mantra, “We’re all in this together; we’re all a team” with vendors being members alongside integrators. That philosophy seemed to influence all discussions about the organization’s goals. “We want [vendor members] to be profitable, and we want our dealers to be profitable,” he said. “We want to create a national network of the best entrepreneurs. We want to provide a platform to share best practices and execution excellence, and that’s what this meeting is all about.”

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