Hose + Coupling World was thrilled to speak with Molly Alton Mullins, Executive Vice President of NAHAD, about the importance of identifying and adapting to changes in the industry, including direct-to-consumer business models, an aging workforce, dwindling interest in the skilled trades among youths, and the consolidation of the industry in the form of mergers and acquisitions. NAHAD is a partner in the upcoming Hose + Coupling World Conference & Expo, which will take place on October 16-17 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.
By Jody Hewitt, Editor
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you came into the role?
A: I joined NAHAD two years ago and recently took over as Executive Vice President from Joe Thompson, who served as NAHAD’s EVP for nearly 25 years. I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to apprentice under him for the past two years, which was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the business. My background is in association management, and not necessarily in the hose and coupling industry, so having Joe around to facilitate that transition was enormously helpful.
Q: Would you say this industry suffers from a general lack of mentorship opportunities?
A: I see this across many industries. My company manages ten different association clients, most of which are in industrial distribution and manufacturing, and the amount of clamouring young people have for mentors is astounding. They want to learn about sales tips and techniques, new technology and just about anything they can get their hands on. We do quite a bit of work with NAHAD in terms of workforce development because it is the number one concern among my members. They simply can’t find enough young people to fill all the roles they have available. My members often ask me what they need to offer to attract young people; across the board, young people say that they need mentoring in order to understand the business and stay in it for the long term.
Q: What can companies do to provide mentorship to young professionals?
A: I would say that the number one thing they could provide is the opportunity to work with modern technology and machinery. From what I have heard from young people, and by this I am referring to professionals who are maybe five to ten years into their career, they want a job with long-term potential. They want to know that the skills they’re learning are relevant, and they can’t get that if they are working with machinery from WWII.
I recently visited a plant that had made a significant investment into updating its machinery as part of their workforce development strategy. We are seeing this more and more because if a company is unable to attract talent, they simply will not have enough people to run the shops. Training sessions and professional development courses are an important part of it as well, but new technology is an increasingly important element in many recruitment strategies.
Q: What attracted you to NAHAD?
A: At the risk of sounding cliché, I have been working with the members of NAHAD for some time now and have found them to be some of the most hard-working and thought-provoking companies that I have ever worked with. Our board of directors is comprised of competing companies but you would never notice that in a board meeting. Members come forward with new ideas and ways to improve the industry; they are incredibly committed and they want the industry to do well. It is really refreshing to see that from a business perspective and invigorating to be around their passion.
Q: What are a few of the major trends you are seeing right now?
A: To name a few, I would say mergers and acquisitions (M&A), workforce planning and direct-to-consumer sales.
Mergers and acquisitions are very prevalent, and it can be challenging to navigate those waters. Acquired companies, and the companies doing the acquiring, want to know the best way to merge the two companies. Does the acquired company stay an independent brand or do they become a subsidiary of the larger company? How can the acquired company keep hold of their market share when they become absorbed? For my smaller members, they often worry how they can compete with the larger conglomerates taking bigger and bigger slices of market share.
Workforce is another frequent conversation I have with my members. Young people don’t go to trade school as much anymore, which is a huge problem in the industrial sectors across the board. Finding qualified forklift operators or warehouse supervisors is becoming increasingly difficult. Members ask me: how can we get people to work in the hose business for the long term? How can we find qualified candidates? Some of our members are even starting to recruit at the middle school level, trying to teach kids that distribution is a viable career path where they can make lucrative salaries and have a job that they love.
The increasing phenomenon of direct-to-consumer sales, which we call “the Amazon effect”, is also doing nothing but growing. Many hose manufacturers sell standard hose products online in bulk. For now, this is largely limited to standard products that don’t require much assembly because buying something customized is not really a point-and-click operation. It is something that more and more people are adding to their business model, so it is something we have to be aware of and prepared to evolve alongside of.
To read the full interview with Molly Alton Mullins, please contact the Editor.