Hoses have an important role in several industries and applications, however, the role one plays within the hose industry is often overlooked. Hose + Coupling World recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mark Balcom, President and Owner of Pooley Incorporated and member of NAHAD, The Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution, about the importance of efficiency and reliability. He also offered his advice to newcomers in the industry, and explained not just how, but why, it is imperative to be involved in the hose community.
By KCI Editorial
Mark Balcom did not initially set out towork in the hose and couplings industry: “I had an accounting job for a very short time, and I quickly realized I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. Eventually, I found my way to an industrial distribution position within Pooley Inc.” Although it seemed daunting at first, Balcom soon found his passion for the industry.
Having a successful business in the hose market requires an understanding of what every partner desires, along with great communication. “We have three number ones: our customers, our manufacturing partners, and our coworkers. We want to take excellent care of all three, because they are each a vital leg of the three-legged stool.
What that boils down to is as follows; I cannot help my customers without my coworkers. I cannot help my coworkers or my customers without manufacturing partners. We all need to work together in a cohesive manner.”
While Balcom’s niche is in risk mitigation and problem-solving, diversification, he strives to be at the forefront of innovation and progress, in order to provide for a community that often goes unrecognized for its essential services. “This is the mindset that hose distributors should have – we all need to help each other to succeed.”
The Importance of Hoses
Since working at Pooley Inc., Balcom is often asked the question: what is the big deal with hoses? Why are they so important, and what are they really used for? His response explained that a hose can be much more than a simple tool. “People think of a garden hose. A simple hose. They do not often think about what the other side of that coin is; without hoses, pharmaceutical needs are not fulfilled, food and water are not distributed, hydraulic machinery does not move, and the list continues.”
Hoses touch every single person’s life, even if they go unnoticed. “There are many applications and uses of hoses, some carry dangerous chemicals while others are responsible for conveying highly pressurized media. If a mistake is made in hose assembly, in one of these scenarios, someone can die. A hose producer may not be literally holding someone’s life in their hands … and yet, they are. That is why it is more than just a hose,” explained Balcom. The importance of hoses is clear, which is why it is important for distributors to be aware of the market, and the everchanging supply chain. This is why NAHAD and the Hose Safety Institute are so critical to helping the hose industry and all its members.
Efficiency & Reliability in the Supply Chain
For Balcom, the solution to nearly every challenge comes down to two things: efficiency and reliability. One way to increase efficiency is to eliminate redundancies. There are several redundancies in manufacturing and supply chains, and these can become very expensive. However, eliminating all redundancies is a double-edged sword, because, as Balcom explained, “redundancy speaks to resiliency. If supply chains are unstable, like they are now, and have been for some time, the industry needs more resiliency.”
In order to maintain that resiliency and reliability, there have to be some redundancies; yet, too many redundancies result in an inefficient system. “If people want to eliminate redundancies, they suggest that the manufacturer should go directly to the end user. This is not, however, the best idea, as resiliency in the chain is vital. The material should be stocked locally and sourced locally at the closest point to the demand.”
It is a fine balance between efficiency and resiliency, and one not always easy to achieve, but as the distributor and the middleman, Balcom understands the importance of maintaining this balance. “During the peak of supply chain issues, we increased our inventory levels to recover quickly from difficulties, and we were able to do so as effectively. I believe, although we still have supply chain issues, we are coming to a point where we are finding a new balance. This is due to individuals within the industry coming together to help each other,” said Balcom. “Throughout the whole hose community, there are good people who want to help, and want to supply excellent service levels.”
Newcomers to the Hose Industry
With over 32 years of experience, Balcom has developed a keen insight into the challenges of being a newcomer in the hose industry. Unlike most who are asked, he suggested that the knowledge gap is not as wide as some may think. “When someone is first getting into this industry, they will have to define their why. Only when they are able to answer that question, can they make progress. With this knowledge, an industry veteran can sculpt company culture and hire accordingly.” There is a well- known knowledge gap in many industrial sectors, including the hose and coupling industry. As with any trade, this is expected, because knowledge comes only with time and experience. While every industry must find a way to alleviate this knowledge gap somehow, Balcom believes that this gap does not have to be a bad thing: “There is always going to be a knowledge gap. But people ask the wrong question. For example, a person who has been in this industry for several decades is about to retire, and a brand new employee is about to start, who does not know anything. Can they do the same job? Of course not. The correct question to ask is: can that new person do an adequate job? And can they learn and be taught? The answer is often yes. There is a tremendous amount of value in every generation that comes with different skills than the last.”
Balcom has great respect for the next generation of the hose and coupling industry. He has noticed that they want to work hard and that from day one, they want to do important work. “People want to make a difference and work at a company that wants to respect them. The main obstacle we have to overcome, in this respect, is communication between old and new. This will make all the difference,” Balcom continued. “My advice is to meet new people, network, and go the extra mile in interactions with coworkers and customers alike. If someone is not already involved, get involved. This is the best way for individuals to learn best practices and have the opportunity to make mistakes; they can learn what not to do. Other people often have information which can help mitigate the risk of avoidable mistakes.
So, if you are not part of a group, become part of one.” Balcom’s next piece of advice is to go the extra mile during these interactions within a group. “Put in as much effort as possible. Write letters, pick up the phone, ask people to have conversations; it is surprising how far one can get by simply trying.”
What is Next for Hose Distribution?
The petroleum and energy industries are changing and have been for some time. Once again, it is important to remember that major changes can have an impact on reliability and resiliency and often come with their own disadvantages. “Distributors and manufacturers have proven their resiliency, and whatever comes to fruition, we will be ready to support and help because we have passionate people in this industry who care about their work; we will adapt and change.” “Manufacturers and distributors are partners, and always will be. Distribution has to deliver value in order to meet demand. As long as distribution delivers this value through fabrication, assembly, local inventory, and support for its customer base, it will continue to be needed. It may be consolidated in the future, but the need will never change.”