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What happened in Vegas…

Last year’s Summit was underway when the severity of COVID-19 started to become apparent. While the event went off without incident, the industry – and the whole world – dealt with the effects of a global pandemic for the rest of the year.

Nervously planning this year’s Summit in Las Vegas, AED carefully prepared for every scenario to keep attendees safe. That including postponing the gathering – not just once, but twice, due to fallout from the novel coronavirus.

Finally, representatives from the heavy equipment industry could  assemble in Las Vegas in May for the 102nd Summit.

Together again
It was the first show many industry professionals had attended in person for over a year. And that mattered. “I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to go out and meet people face-to-face,” exclaimed Ryan Makris, president of WTD Equipment, when talking about his first time at Summit. “AED did a great job keeping everyone safe. I welcome the return to normalcy.”

It’s a sentiment echoed throughout the group. “We were so excited that we could attend in person,” said Chase Wagner, marketing manager at Senzit, a digital solutions company offering predictive maintenance telematics for the aftermarket industry. North Carolina, where Wagner’s company is based, recently lifted its mask mandate. “I know the Zoom world has been fantastic for some things – webinars and things like that,” he admits. “But we are super excited to actually interact with our partners, meet new members here and get to know what those pain points are that we can help with, and establish new relationships in the industry.”

His excitement to leave Zoom behind was shared by many. “After more than a year of utilizing Zoom, I think everybody seems jovial to be in person in Vegas,” observed Greg Bennett, director of sales for HBS Systems, which offers a web-based management software system to track inventory, parts, service, labor, accounting, and other aspects to maximize dealership efficiency and profitability.

“AED does a fantastic job hosting worthwhile events,” Bennett continued. “It’s more about what AED represents for our industry: trying to improve the industry for the next generation. We appreciate the opportunity to support AED and its dealer members.”

For many, face-to-face opportunities to connect are critical. Geoff Pace, marketing manager for e-Emphasys Technologies, a software platform to help dealers manage accounting, service, parts, rentals and other aspects of business, said meeting customers in person is essential to their business. Because e-Emphasys worked with its customers to develop the platform, checking in to see how they’re doing and to hear their suggestions for improving the software is vital to the way they do business.

“This has been a great show for us,” Pace said. “It is our most important show. We only work in the heavy equipment space, so this is the best show to go to, to get in front of those dealers.”

The same, but different
Ten-year Summit veteran Bryan Heinrichs, branch manager at Burris Equipment, didn’t notice significant differences from the previous Summit, other than the extra distance between tables and some additional room in the educational sessions.

“There were precautions taken,” noted Joe Rexin, president of Rexin Equipment, “but it was hosted in the correct spot – politically and socially: no masks.” The three-year AED member felt that his second Summit was more casual and relaxed than the first one he attended, but the location may have had something to do with that.

The crowd may have been a little smaller than in years past, commented Jeff Brown, president of Global Machinery, who has attended sporadically for 15 years, but “overall, things felt very much like old times.”
It may have been a little less crowded than usual, agreed Jody Beasley, director of national equipment sales at EquipmentShare, an innovative equipment services company. 

Having attended Summit for 12 years, he said it was “fantastic” to be back. “It was good to see industry partners and acquaintances in an open setting.”

For Freeman Walker Jr., senior business development manager at Arrow, it’s valuable to have everyone together in one place. Arrow’s CRM tool combines all systems into one to expedite processes. “It’s important because now we get a chance to actually mingle and converse a little bit, and then we can build from there. The quality, especially this year, is amazing,” he added.

Summit brings people together after hours, not just on the exhibit floor. “As is the case with most events like this,” Makris said, “the most beneficial time is spent in the evenings, networking with people over dinner.”

For Rexin, it’s over a beer at The AED Foundation Fundraising Gala.

Wherever attendees gather to get the most out of Summit, many agree with Chris Fackler, service manager/partner with Asphalt Care Equipment: “It was great to be back with live crowds again. It gave me a confident feeling that we are starting to come out of all the COVID craziness.” Taking a bigger role in his dealership and sitting on the Emerging Leaders Council made him even more excited to meet others face-to-face at his third Summit. 

Networking is always a highlight of Summit. Beasley believes “being able to speak with manufacturers and other dealers in person … being able to share best practices, challenges in the marketplace, ideas …” is essential.

Some of that networking takes place on the CONDEX floor. Beasley spoke with several companies he’s interested in exploring business opportunities with.

Although Rexin thought the CONDEX floor “seemed more conservative than last time,” he appreciated the fact that it “showcases opportunities and vendors you don’t normally see.”

CONDEX allows attendees to see several different vendors at one place in a short time frame. Although Heinrichs said, “it is more geared to solutions to help you run your business than to equipment,” he managed to find a few attachment and equipment dealers, making it a worthwhile experience.

Similarly, Brown met with manufacturers that his company represents. “I also spoke to some of the ERP companies, as we are looking to upgrade our system. It felt good to be back.”

Some attendees make new connections; others renew established relationships. Makris met with Bandit Industries and Avant Tecno USA, for whom his company is already a dealer. He was also invited to a suite meeting with the JT Bates Group. “We live in a digital age,” he stated, “but nothing beats face-to-face interaction. Take it from me, a millennial.”

Ongoing education
Summit is about more than just networking. AED knows that education is essential to remaining current on the latest technology. 

The AED Foundation supports high school and college-level programs to arm technicians with the skills necessary in today’s heavy equipment industry. And even during Summit, education takes the spotlight.

“One thing that was clear through all the classes and breakout sessions I participated in was communication,” Fackler said. “It’s sometimes an underrated topic; however, I have some great new tactics I’ve already begun implementing since the Summit.” The sessions that had the most impact on him were about infrastructure legislation and a service course called “Work in Process.” Fackler said, “Both had a ton of great information by the speakers, as well as some things that I have been able to implement in my dealership.”

Learning about different aspects of leadership was a top takeaway for Heinrichs. He praised the “out-of-the-box insights on leadership by Todd Cohen in the Management to Leadership session. “It’s not all about the numbers. Leaders lead; they do not demand.”

The technology session about Amazon Business was “eye-opening and informative,” Rexin thought. He also gleaned a lot from the Executive/CEO roundtable. One thing he learned was that his company needs to improve its outside financing offerings.

Makris got a lot out of his first Summit. “One of the initiatives we’re pursuing this year is expanding our equipment rental program. After listening to Larry Kaye’s talk, ‘Your Rental Department Needs to Grow Up!’, I realized that my projections for utilization and gross profit were way off the mark. Using this new information, I was able to redo our business plan for equipment rental.” He urges other dealers interested in growing their companies and becoming more profitable to attend future Summits.

“It is beneficial from the standpoint of carrying your business not only through these challenging times but also into the future,” Beasley said, adding that he considers the seminars and the relationships he cultivates at Summit to be “priceless.”
Let’s talk about it
For attendees who haven’t been to as many Summits as Beasley has, the general session panel discussion was informative and provided insight on different aspects of business that could be advantageous to implement. Each panel session offered a different perspective, thanks to participation by various leaders of the industry’s major manufacturing companies.

“It is very beneficial to hear large companies are dealing with similar things that a smaller dealership does,” Fackler pointed out. “I got some great tips on how to combat certain issues and continue to grow.”
Growth was an important topic. “It was eye-opening for me to hear perspectives from the OEM panel representatives,” Makris said. “The No. 1 takeaway was how important it is to embrace technology. The companies that will succeed in winning clients for the long term are the ones that embrace technology and add value in every part of the process. Embrace technology or get left behind!”

Bring a friend, tell a friend
Is attendance at Summit mandatory? Rexin thinks so. He considers it “an opportunity for a small dealer like myself to interact with other small and large dealers on a level generally not available to the small guy.” It’s a learning experience and a networking opportunity that is hard to put a value on. “If taken advantage of correctly, it can help a business, manager, owner or any part of a dealership grow.”

The heavy equipment industry is strong. Brown believes now is the time to invest in the dealership in order to take advantage of growth opportunities and make improvements for the future. Investment ensues at Summit. “If you are a construction equipment distributor, you can’t afford to miss this.”

Others concur. “Dealers attending AED Summit and investing time in themselves is important,” Bennett said. “The continued education offered here will provide an ROI on that investment.”

The education is “excellent,” Heinrichs added, but the networking is “second to none. It gives you a chance to meet a lot of people and make some good contacts in the industry.”

Virtually all the attendees appreciated the face time with manufacturers, colleagues, dealers, and others and the information gleaned from the education sessions and panel discussions. “It’s a great way to stay up to date,” Fackler said. “You never know when you are going to find the next big thing for your dealership, whether it’s a new vendor or new software.” But he suggests doing a little legwork before attending to make the best use of your time and not miss out on any critical connections. “Contact your OEMs to schedule meetings. Use the AED Summit app to plan your schedule and the classes you want to take.”

The last time many of this group assembled was at CONEXPO last year. “It’s great to be back together with everyone, seeing our peers within the industry,” said Marshall Anderson, executive vice president of RDO Equipment Co. “Whether we’re competitors or not, we’ve got to stick together. AED brings us together to be able to do that. Getting back together at Summit is phenomenal. It’s great to be back.”

It won’t be first-timer Makris’s last Summit, and he’s hoping it won’t be the last time for other AED members. He happily says, “I’ll see you next year in Orlando!”

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