ANNAPOLIS, Md.—When Molly Alton Mullins, executive director of NAHAD, looks at her calendar, she sees five months of blank spaces. That's anything but normal.
As the head of an association management company, NAHAD: The Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution is one of 13 full-service association clients her team services. And, thus far, she has had to cancel seven conventions, including the NAHAD event that had been scheduled for late April at the Atlantis hotel in the Bahamas.
When all of the talk about the novel coronavirus began, she said NAHAD leadership thought there was no way they would have to cancel the event that accounts for roughly half of the group's annual revenue.
"It was a gut-wrenching decision for us to do it," Mullins said. "And we waited as long as we possibly could to make sure we were making the best decision for our members. But, obviously, it was one we had to make."
The financial impact of the cancellation was eased, she said, when NAHAD was able to schedule its 2023 convention at the Atlantis. "We're lucky as an association that we are in a financial position that we can handle this," Mullins said.
The group did hold a virtual meeting of membership May 13, and one proposal was for the officers and board members to remain in their spots for another year. That would allow Sam Petillo, president of Singer Equities Inc. and NAHAD president this past year, to preside over the San Diego convention in 2021.
Surveying the damage
NAHAD members took part in a COVID-19 impact survey conducted by Industry Insights. Answers from those in the hose association were similar to others in the overall survey. All distributors responding said they had been deemed essential and were continuing to operate, with 86 of the manufacturing members reporting they also were classified as essential.
Most said the negative impact on revenues thus far has been between 10 and 20 percent, though some were still forecasting figures similar to 2019. "I would use the term 'cautiously optimistic,' " Mullins said. "Most said they think they've seen the bottom, and trends are starting to go up for them. They're also starting to understand how to work in this climate as well."
Roughly 40 percent of NAHAD respondents had seen no impact on the number of employees, although 10 percent had made major staff reductions, according to survey results. Of members she had spoken to, about 30-45 percent had taken advantage of the Payroll Protection Plan stimulus program, while others either hadn't qualified or said they didn't need it because their losses weren't that substantial.
Mullins said the main thing NAHAD members had to adapt to was learning to do business in a different way. That includes figuring out how to accept deliveries without allowing people in your facility; flex timing who is in the office on which shift; and keeping the same people on a shift in operations, so if someone is exposed or tests positive, it's easier to take the whole crew out instead of trying to figure out who the person had been in contact with.
About 5 percent of NAHAD members reported they had an employee test positive for COVID-19, with most of those in manufacturing. The key is knowing how to handle it.
"Most immediately shut down the facility so they could clean it, send employees home, and have them quarantined and tested," Mullins said.
In terms of being deemed "essential," NAHAD is a member of both the National Association of Manufacturers and National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. Both national groups let members know about the parameters for being essential, including the differing criteria from state to state.
Among lessons learned, Mullins said businesses that were E-commerce ready and technologically savvy are the ones doing the best right now. It also will change the way companies and their sales reps connect with customers.
"There is always going to be face to face, you're always going to need that," she said. "Does someone need to spend hours going from location to location anymore? Do our customers need that anymore? And the answer is probably no."
A percentage of NAHAD members said in the survey they have at least "mild concerns" about the long-term viability of their businesses as the pandemic impact continues.
"You take a hit and you don't have the infrastructure in place to help you compete with the people who are ahead, and you're not going to be able to make up that lost ground," she said. "I think you'll see doors close. I think you'll see smaller distributors look at (mergers or acquisitions) because they're not going to be able to be viable on their own anymore."
And that would hurt NAHAD, because it needs a strong membership base. "We want the independents to stay in business, and we will help them and give them the tools they need to keep doing that," she said. "People have to be willing to make those changes, and that's hard."