If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a visit is worth ten thousand or more. The exchange visits between HARDI distributors and our European counterparts at FEST (The European Federation of Associations of the Sanitary and Heating Wholesale Trade) serve as the best expression of this truism.

In the past, my columns have described the growing relationship that is developing between HARDI and FEST and how it continues to bring our business cultures, interests and knowledge closer together. We have much to learn from others, and on a global perspective, as languages, borders and communication are becoming seamless. I have found that the open sharing of mutual experiences and expertise has become the norm rather than the exception — particularly in our industry.

Our 2008 Annual Fall Conference welcomed guests Peter Peek from Renza Netherland BV and Frans Geurts of FEST. They participated fully in the conference, and at its conclusion, the three of us immediately began a tour of a number of HARDI members. Space prevents me from detailing the itinerary, but I wish to recognize those companies and individuals who graciously took their time to meet with us:

  • American Refrigeration Supplies, Phoenix, Ariz. — Hosted by Steve Martin, president.

  • Geary Pacific Supply, Phoenix, Ariz. — Newly relocated branch operation. Hosted by Russ Geary, vice president, and staff.

  • Johnson Supply, Houston, Texas — Hosted by Carl Johnson, president; Richard Cook, vice president/general manager; and others.

  • Century A/C Supply, Houston, Texas — Hosted by Steve Fair, vice president — Purchasing.

  • Standard Supply and Distributing Co. and Bartos Industries, Dallas, Texas — Hosted by Bill and Spencer Shaw and others.

  • A/C Supply Co., Ft. Worth, Texas — Hosted by Bryan Boyd, purchasing, and Peggy Osborn, territory manager.

At the return invitation of FEST, five HARDI members elected at their own expense to visit their counterparts in Europe this past March. Attending were Jim Woodruff of the Woodruff Co., Rochester, Minn.; Michael Murphy and Joe Della Fera of W.A. Birdsall & Co., Linden, N.J.; Bill Shaw of Standard Supply & Distribution, Dallas, Texas; Frank Baumback of Nu-Calgon Inc., St. Louis, Mo.; and me. Escorted by Frans Geurts, director general of FEST, the group had a similar busy travel schedule and were graciously welcomed and provided either lunch or dinner by the following companies:

  • Walraven BV in Meijdrecht, Netherlands — Walraven is a manufacturer of prefabricated pipe support systems for HVACR, plumbing and electrical construction. Raywal (Walraven's subsidiary in the United States) was recently approved as a new supplier member by the HARDI board. Our Walraven hosts were Charles Lee, president; J. van Walraven and Claude Brand, managing directors.

  • Plieger BV in Zaltbommel, Netherlands — Hosted by CEO Koos van Gerensteijn and COO Koos van Horssen.

  • Rensa Nederland BV in Didam, Netherlands — Hosted by CEO Eric Heijink and Peter Peek, purchasing and marketing manager.

  • Vegro BV, Alkmaar, Nether-lands — Hosted by CEO Frans Soulier and COO Rob van Veen

  • Technische Unie BV, Alphen aan de Rijn, Netherlands — Hosted by CEO Yvan Dejaeghere, and Product Group Managers Ron Kompeer and Paula Reinders.

  • Richter + Frenzel — Wiesbaden, Germany — Hosted by M. Wilhelm Schuster, CEO Germany; and Clemens Elbert and Jurgen Kroepsch, branch managers.

As with the U.S. visits, the groups initially introduced themselves and their companies, and then moved into open discussion on a variety of subjects, followed by a tour of the facilities. While the information taken away from each meeting varied in importance to each individual, there were many in-depth discussions and comparisons made on such subjects as inventory turns, margins, service levels, delivery and warehousing methods, staffing, credit and collections, sales management and compensation, human resource issues, government regulations, manufacturer/distributor/contractor relations and future business concerns, just to name a few.

There is much more detail to relate from both the U.S. and European visits, which space prevents at this time. For more information, I would recommend contacting any of the U.S. participants and obtaining their perspectives on the trip. Having been involved in both exchange trips and hearing firsthand the rave reviews and compliments, I can say it was all a huge success.

Plans are to continue the exchange visits in the future. If you have an interest in participating as a visitor or a host, please e-mail me and place your name on the list.
Don Frendberg,
Executive vice president / COO