PALM DESERT, Calif. The Association of Steel Distributors (ASD) is determined to regain the critical mass that it has lost over the past 15 years, and is looking to the younger generation of family held service centers to help meet its goal.
"Were definitely struggling with our membership, but its on the upswing," ASD president Lisa Goldenberg told AMM in an interview at the groups annual conference in Palm Desert.
Consolidation among distributors has taken a toll on membership, but other factors also have played a role. One of ASDs best-known benefits among service centers previously was that business was encouraged and actually done at meetings, where steel buy-sell lists were circulated, but these activities were dropped due to antitrust considerations, she said.
ASD membership peaked at 160 to 170 from 1995 to 1997, according to the association. Goldenberg noted that membership dropped to less than 70 at one point, but it recently breached the mid-70s with the addition of about half a dozen new members, although it is still about "50 percent of where wed like to be."
The biggest potential for ASD growth is in what Goldenberg calls "our core group," which are small to medium-size service centers and a few larger family held companies that are bringing in second and third generations who dont have easy access to a "peer group" outside their "fathers and uncles" who have run the companies for years.
Goldenberg, who is president of Fort Washington, Pa.-based distributor Delaware Steel Co., knows about family owned companies. A third-generation service center executive, she was the only one of nine cousins to choose steel distribution as a career, starting with Delaware Steel in 1978. Her father, Jerald Brownstein, as well as her late grandfather, Bernie Brownstein, headed Delaware Steel and were ASD presidents, each also being named the organizations "Steel Man of the Year."
She thinks the key to rebuilding ASDs membership roster lies in a new generation of managers who in the years ahead will take the reins of their family companies and who want to meet with their counterparts in other companies.
"My take is that theres nothing in this world that can replace eye-to-eye contact," she said, noting that a business where people increasingly spend their working hours online runs the risk of reaching whats known in her own family as "e-mail disconnect. ... You can sit at a computer all day, but theres an element thats missing."
Instead of carving out a data-gathering role for ASD, as some other trade organizations have done, Goldenberg wants it to become a forum for face-to-face contact in a business environment where that is becoming less frequent. "Were a network. In this day and age, this is the answer," she said.
But ASD isnt ignoring the internet. Goldenberg pointed out that about two months ago the group established a presence on business-oriented social networking site LinkedIn, where ASD now has 450 participants, including a Canadian customs broker who also became an ASD member in recent weeks.
ASDs new executive director, Marc Saracco, who succeeds Ron Pietrzak in the role (amm.com, April 3), is expected to play a critical role in adding new members. One of Saraccos initial tasks is to "meet with as many service centers in the Chicago area as possible," Goldenberg said.