The HARDI Education & Research Foundation announced the kickoff of what it describes as a “major research project” to study and define distributors’ role in the demand creation process. Michael Marks, managing partner of Indian River Consulting Group, and his team have joined the HARDI Foundation to lead this research effort, the results of which will be presented this December at HARDI’s Annual Conference in Phoenix, Dec. 7-10.

Marks and Indian River Consulting Group will conduct primary and secondary research, and develop an analytical framework for evaluating channel performance and effectiveness. The company is a boutique consulting firm that only works with manufacturers and distributors in business-to-business markets.

“This is a big deal for us and for HARDI. We have done a lot of this kind of work and the tool set we are using is pretty mature,” said Marks in a video interview with HARDI. “This study is really focusing on making markets and demand creation, and the role of the distributor. We have never had an opportunity to change the entire conversation in an industry and that’s why we’re so excited about this.”

The project begins with distributor and manufacturer companies who have agreed to let the Indian River research team do a deep dive into their company’s data as a starting point for the research. Distributor participants include: Johnson Supply, Houston; Standard Supply & Distributing Co. Inc., Dallas; Meier Supply Co. Inc., Conklin, N.Y.; GW Berkheimer Co. Inc., Portage, Ind.; Gustave A. Larson Co., Peewaukee, Wis.; and Mingledorff’s Inc., Norcross, Ga. Manufacturer project team members include: Honeywell, Nordyne, DuroDyne, Allied Air Enterprises, Heatcraft, and M&M Manufacturing.

“We are going to do some deep diving with a project development team comprised of several distributors and manufacturers where people have agreed to share confidential and financial information,” explained Marks. “We are also going from the top down with some broad-base surveys with the whole HARDI membership, both manufacturer and supplier side and the distributors and reps as well. We are going to cross tie it together so we actually understand the entire cost in the entire system.”

For its part, the HARDI Foundation and its governing trustees are enthusiastically supporting the effort, including raising the funds to cover the cost of the research.

“We’re ready to make an impact on the industry,” said Bill Shaw, CEO of Standard Supply and HARDI Foundation chairman. “We are very excited about the possibility of what we will find.”

Shaw explained that Marks and his crew will be at his company for probably 1 ½ days. During that time, they will go through the business and its processes.

“Anytime that you have someone come in and look at your processes and look at what you’re doing and how you go about it, you always learn. Even if no study came out of it, we would learn just by going through that process with Marks’ team,” explained Shaw. “But the study and the facts and the conclusions they are going to reach after they have done it, not only with our firm but also with five other wholesale firms, is going to come out to be an amazing industry discovery as a whole.”

According to HARDI, the excited tone is resonating with all the participating distributors and manufacturers. Shaw indicated that the project is already about 75 percent funded, and fully expects to see the rest of it funded quickly. Nordyne, a HARDI supplier member and manufacturer of indoor comfort systems, was one of the companies that signed on right away to participate in the research as a manufacturer project team member.

“Independent distribution has long been the lifeblood of our industry and participating in the HARDI Distributor Demand Creation project was too good of an opportunity for Nordyne to pass up,” said Philip Windham, vice president of sales for Nordyne. “Working hand in hand with HARDI, HARDI members, and Michael Marks will most certainly deliver substantial results that will benefit all facets of the HVAC channel. Spending time drilling down into the value of distribution and quantifying the significance of resources, relationships, and results made the decision to participate one of the easier ones we will make this year.”

The results of the study will be presented during the HARDI 2013 annual conference.

“This study is certainly going to be interesting and I hope we have a couple surprises for everyone,” said Marks. “December is going to be fun.”

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