Evan Hackel, CEO and founder of Ingage Consulting, challenged attendees to risk “good” to become “great” during his keynote speech last week at NCBA CLUSA’s 2015 National Purchasing Cooperatives Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The event brought together close to 100 industry executives to The Big Easy for three days of networking, learning and critical conversations on building connections within the purchasing and shared services co-op sector.
This year’s focus on member engagement included well-received presentations—including Hackel’s keynote—on building member loyalty, creating new revenue opportunities for members and improving the member-supplier relationship.
During his speech, Hackel drew parallels between skiing and best business practices at purchasing co-ops. In the mid-70s, a professional skier only had to ski well to succeed; today, “you have to do everything,” he said. Hackel’s teenaged son Alex not only skis, but also shoots and edits video, blogs, posts on social media and maintains his own promotional website to attract sponsors.
Likewise, purchasing co-ops can no longer afford to just “buy well” and expect success. “The world is getting tougher and more competitive,” he said, urging attendees to reconsider whether their best practices really are best, whether their goals are on target and—most importantly—whether they provide real value to their members.
A critical element of success is putting members first, Hackel said. “Improvement of your members’ profitability is the single most important indicator of your co-op’s success,” he said. “If you can’t measure that increase, you can’t measure your overall success.”
To spur member success, purchasing co-ops must come together as economies of scale to provide services members need to compete and succeed in today’s environment, but can’t provide themselves, such as standardized online training in best practices. Hackel encouraged attendees to document member successes so each member can benefit from proven best practices.
“The stronger the co-op members are, the stronger the cooperative is,” Hackel repeated throughout his keynote.
Hackel also urged attendees to invite an outside advisory group to their respective board meetings and remember that strategic planning should begin with member-level buy-in, not at the board level. That requires direct involvement with each member, Hackel said. In fact, the “i” in his company’s name, “Ingage,” is a constant reminder that true engagement requires involvement, he said.
Another way purchasing cooperatives can prioritize their members is by making sure their communication is not one-sided or request-heavy. “No one likes to be constantly asked for things, but most of our communication is, ‘Do this, this and this.’ We don’t share enough of the positive; we don’t thank, congratulate or ask our members’ for their opinions enough, but it is so important. You want your communication to be culture-building, energizing and inspiring.”
Circling back to the skiing analogy, Hackel shared a story about a skiing accident that left his son with 400 stitches on his face. When Hackel suggested he ease back on the competition and just ski for fun, Alex said, “Dad, I just paid my dues. Why would I stop now?”
Transitioning to the purchasing sector, Hackel said, “My point is, be willing to risk good to be great. If you have some failures, know that you’re paying your dues—you’re learning—so have these discussions with your boards, management teams and membership. It’s the working together that creates success.”
The most important aspect of any co-op, he added, is to constantly ask, ‘What can we do to be better?’
Hackel brought considerable experience and insight across cooperative sectors to the conference. He previously served as president of Carpet One and, before that, oversaw CCA Global Partners’ purchase of the then bankrupt Flooring America franchise system, where he increased business from $700 million to $2 billion in just four years.
The National Purchasing Cooperatives Conference is NCBA CLUSA’s premier annual event for the purchasing and shared services co-op sector. Next year’s conference is scheduled for September 19 – 21 in Miami, Florida.