I had a call recently from a young distributor looking for a part. I had met him at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week this year. After taking care of his part need, we discussed the upcoming HDAW '09 event.
He told me he was uncertain whether he would attend because of the economic conditions and the impact on his business. At the time, I wasn't quite sure what to say, so I wished him well and hoped things would improve.

About 25 years ago, I faced a similar situation. I was a young distributor, had a lot of debt, and we were struggling with a bad economy. At the time, I actually contemplated leaving CFS (the Council of Fleet Specialists, our industry association at the time). I had the product lines I needed for my business, and I felt that the association meetings were nothing more than social get-togethers.

Fortunately for me, the CFS president invited me to serve on the organization's board of directors. I accepted, and through my work on the board, I developed friendships with many industry leaders. I quickly learned a fundamental reality: There are many really smart people in this industry. And they were more than happy to share their knowledge.

From that moment on, I attended every industry meeting I could. I was very lucky to learn from the greats like Harvey Peterson, Joe Honek and Phil Raymond. There are many greats today, like Pete Pasdach, John Minor, Bill Ryan and Paul Raymond (runs in the family) - too many for me to list in this limited space.

Industry meetings have taught me how to implement technology, produce a positive marketing program, develop profitable pricing strategies, manage business problems along with opportunities, and so much more. Certainly, marketing group meetings have provided similar opportunities to network. However, they only include the members of that group. If you want the best education, you need to attend an all-industry event, and you must make an effort to network.

HDAW '09 is going to be a can't-miss event. There will be great business and technical sessions along with workshops. There will be one-on-one meetings where distributors and vendors can get together to form strategic relationships that will bear fruit for years to come. There will be a trade show where distributors and vendors can find ways to grow their businesses.

But to me, the main reason HDAW '09 will be so valuable is the opportunity to meet with fellow distributors and get advice on new ways to make my company more successful. My target for this year is three new ideas and maybe an extra discount or two from our good vendors. I am so sure of the payback that I am bringing additional people to the event, hoping to infect them with the passion that abounds in this industry.

This networking over the years has produced great friendships I treasure. It will be wonderful to see old friends. It will be also good to see new friends, like the young distributor I mentioned. Now I can call him back and give him better reasons to attend HDAW '09.

Marc Karon is president of Florida-based Total Truck Parts and co-chair of HDAW 2009.