It was an epic conference in an epic setting where I was honored to be invited to speak to the manufacturers, agents and distributors that make up the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating. The Jasper Lake Lodge provides one of North America’s premier locations for a large conference and CIPH took full advantage, offering tours of the surrounding national park by boat, mountain bike, on foot and even by motorcycle sidecar.
Attendees were treated to lots of wildlife including moose, black bears, elk, deer, foxes and even a grizzly bear that walked up to the swimming pool behind the lodge and then stood up to see if any pesky humans would feed him or challenge him. Fortunately, none did, and he eventually lumbered off into the nearby forest.
Most conferences have at least one “business” speaker (me in this case) and one professional keynoter whose message suits a variety of audiences. At CIPH, we were treated to one of the smartest and most entertaining keynote speakers I’ve had the opportunity to listen to at any conference (and I attend many): self-professed “high-level geek” and co-founder of the Tool Shed Brewing Company, Graham Sherman.
While building secure telecommunications networks for the U.S. and other militaries in Afghanistan, Sherman met his future business partner. First, they competed to develop the world’s best coffee, then invented a high-tech smoker that Tweets you when the meat is ready. Ultimately, they launched a brewery in a regulatory market that made such an accomplishment very difficult. While broke. They’ve since put Alberta microbrewing on the map, and his amazing story of perseverance, community building and customer loyalty is only exceeded by his incredibly entertaining telling of it.
I spoke the day before Sherman (thank heavens) and then facilitated a workshop on how industry incumbents should compete against disruptors and troublemakers. As usual, I learned at least as much from the attendees as they did from me; the group summed up much of my message in the simple phrase, “Embrace the complexity.” If you’re curious, you can watch this webinar or download this free ebook we published in conjunction with the NAW to get the gist of my views.
Resolving Issues with Mutual Respect
While all nations have their share of political strife, Canadians still share national pride. Every event began with a toast to Canada, “from coast to coast to coast,” with none of the negativity and cynicism I see in the U.S. The plumbing and heating industry there collaborates up and down the channel while tackling real issues and tough topics about disruption, sharing data, digitalization and more. Americans often accuse Canadians of an overabundance of politeness, but I thought the mutual respect actually facilitated more direct and productive conversations versus a conflict-oriented style that introduces the fog of emotion into the equation.
Before I spoke, someone asked me if I was going to agree with the popular notion that distributors don’t need sales reps anymore. He was relieved when I told him I thought outside sales still plays a key role for most distributors. This was one of the topics we explored during my talk and the workshop, and I told them that while I agreed with the sentiment that there is no place for “professional visitors” anymore, I also said that I thought that reps who didn’t add value didn’t do very well in the 1980s or 90s, either. Sure, the bar for performance has gotten higher for sales reps, but that’s true for most jobs.
As in many industries, plumbing and heating distributors in Canada have struggled to figure out winning digital strategies that make big investments in technology worthwhile. We talked a lot about what digital success really looks like; how to measure your technology investment ROI accurately; and how to differentiate from disruptors like marketplaces.
Because it was an annual meeting, CIPH took care of a lot of business, including recognizing Matt Robinson of B.A. Robinson as the new CIPH Board Chair and Nancy Barden on her 30-year anniversary with the association. Harald Prell and Bill Palamar won Honourary Life Membership Awards, and CIPH President and General Manager Ralph Suppa was surprised by a very nice speech and plaque delivered by outgoing Chairman Bill Hooper of Uponor for his 20 years’ service in his role.
Barbara O’Reilly of Rheem Canada received the first-ever CIPH Woman of Distinction award for her contributions to the industry. Fred Albert of Bibby-Ste-Croix and Joe Desjardins of Boone Plumbing & Heating Supply Inc. were awarded CIPH’s Lifetime Service Award for serving the industry for 40 years.
Entertainment and Takeaways
CIPH threw a western-themed barbecue with live music and, for the Chairman’s Banquet on the closing night, brought in a duo called, “Luciano Paparazzi,” which blended opera themes and popular music thanks to an amazing combination of musical talent and comedy.
I’m not always invited to stay for an entire conference, but I was grateful that CIPH included me and my wife, Penny, in this one. Everything about the event was first rate – from the destination to the food to the quality and productivity of the meetings.
Thanks to CIPH for putting in so much hard work to produce such a great conference. I hope you invite me to the next one since Penny will probably go on her own regardless.