Industrial Distribution: Let’s start by digging into the
background of STAFDA. What can you tell us about the
Georgia Foley: STAFDA was started back in 1977
by 18 distributors who knew each other through a common
thread, which was my father, Morrie Halvorsen. All of
them were looking for an organization to bring distributors
and manufacturers together in the construction and
They bought the name Specialty Tools & Fasteners
Distributors Association because, for the most part, they were
construction fastener distributors, although they represented a
lot of other markets and channels. But, after they bought the
name, they didn’t know what to do next.
My father had finished 23 years as vice president of sales
and marketing for Milwaukee Electric Tool in Brookfield,
Wisconsin, and then he accepted a position with ITT Phillips
Red Head, which was based out of Michigan City, Indiana. He
commuted from our home to Michigan City for four years and
wanted to get back to the area. He went to his 18 distributors
and said, “I’m going to take on STAFDA, on a 100 percent
commission basis because I see the potential for this group, and
I’m going to grow it.”
It started in the basement of our house. I was his first
employee at the ripe age of 13. He had countless industry
contacts and quickly began building the organization. Today
we’ve got nearly 2,500 members. We’ve gone from being a
primarily domestic association to an international one with
more than 70 programs and services.
ID: How do you approach your role as CEO of STAFDA?
GF: I don’t see myself as a CEO. To me, the CEOs of
STAFDA are the members who belong to this organization—
I’m merely the caretaker. It’s up to me to offer them quality
services and programs through education, and deliver
them a high-end convention and trade show every year.
Our annual meeting attracts the best and brightest, not
only in North America, but also globally. It’s an event with
educational programs led by business experts, and where our
distributors and rep agents can make new contacts, strengthen
relationships, and find new lines or products. I see my job as
being STAFDA’s “CEO Caretaker.”
ID: What is it like to have literally grown up with
GF: One of the great things about STAFDA is that the
majority of members, particularly the distributors, are
still family-owned businesses, whether it’s a son or
daughter, cousins, in-laws, or other relatives. Most are in
their second to fourth generation, and a lot of the people
who are in the position of CEOs or presidents of those
companies are people I grew up with. We were the kids
running around the STAFDA convention when our parents
were attending meetings.
After I graduated college—and even when I was in
college—I always went to every STAFDA convention. I
worked the registration desk, my dad had me do whatever
needed to be done.
After college, I managed an association in the trade show
industry for seven years. When STAFDA went from a table top
format to a trade show in the early 1990s, my dad would ask
me trade show-related questions over the dinner table. I never
thought I’d end up working for my father, but he brought me on
in August ‘94. I took over the member services area and one of
my duties was to cultivate and expand STAFDA’s trade show.
ID: Does your background make it easier for you to relate to
the challenges family-owned business are facing?
GF: I certainly hope so. Associations are no longer regarded
as a “good old boys club.” That image went away in the
1980s. Associations today are run like a business. We have
the same challenges as our members, whether it’s finding
quality employees, dealing with healthcare issues, or
handling mergers and acquisitions. An association truly is a
business, and I can empathize with what our members are
ID: What are some of the leadership challenges you see in the
field right now?
GF: One of the biggest issues is that our industry is graying
out. There are a lot of transitions going on right now within
company leadership, whether they’re selling out to a regional
player, making a quiet acquisition to expand their footprint,
or transitioning it onto the next generation. The quickening
of mergers and acquisitions over the past 12 months is also a
challenge as the industry continues to consolidate.
ID: When you survey the field, what are some of the big
opportunities right now?
GF: Technology will continue to change the way our members
do business: how they make deliveries, how they manage
internal operations, how they handle social media.
Everyone cites Amazon as the game changer in nearly all
industries. No one’s ever going to out-Amazon Amazon, but
watching them and their innovations, then thinking about how
to replicate the best of them to better serve customers, is one
way to keep up with Amazon.
What I love about our industry is that it’s ever-changing.
Even if you see the regional powerhouses flexing their muscles
or companies selling out to them, it’s going to keep the industry
pot stirred. The smaller independent distributor will adopt
the same philosophies as the online players or the national
distributors. STAFDA members are always on the move,
always ahead of the curve, and one step ahead of what the
customer wants or demands.
More information about STAFDA is available at the
organization’s website: www.stafda.org.