Brent Hoskins is the closest thing to a ninja in the print industry. He possesses a Zen-like calm and has flourished in part due to his steely focus—and when it’s time to work, to use his knowledge of the print industry and to challenge the status quo, he delivers: Dealer education leading to channel success. His tenure at the Business Technology Association (BTA) began in 1986, and two decades later he rose to the role of Executive Director. With a degree from the prestigious University of Missouri School of Journalism and his background in news reporting, Hoskins has been the editor of BTA’s monthly Office Technology magazine for an unprecedented 32 years and he does his fair share of the writing, too. Always curious and inquisitive, he and his wife enjoy exploring little towns in the Midwest, studying the architecture, dining at area restaurants, and, more than anything else, speaking with the local people.
Carl Schell: You’ve obviously been through a lot of peaks and valleys in your time at the BTA, but nothing like this pandemic, I’m sure. Has it affected membership and the overall health of the organization?
Brent Hoskins: Early in the pandemic, the question of how the new challenges all business owners faced and how that would affect our membership certainly entered my mind. However, as it turns out, our dealer membership count was not affected in any substantial way—in fact, many dealers almost immediately turned to us for guidance. We developed an online COVID-19 Member Resources page, with links to relevant BTA webinar recordings, questions asked and answered by dealers, and documents provided by BTA General Counsel Bob Goldberg.
We did have some vendors go on membership hiatus, given that it was necessary for us to cancel four events during 2020 where vendors had planned to exhibit their latest products and services. But now that we are hosting events again, essentially all of them have returned. Plus, we have added many new vendor members in recent months.
BTA is doing very well, thanks in large part to the leadership of our elected member dealer volunteers who work diligently to keep the association on track. As you know, we are celebrating our 95th anniversary in 2021, so the legacy of great volunteer leadership stretches more than nine decades.
CS: Dealer education is a primary focus at BTA, and you lost valuable event time in 2020 due to COVID. Can you tell us how you made up that deficit and how that will impact the organization’s future?
BH: BTA began hosting monthly webinars in January 2008 as part of our Building My Business series. Each is intended to provide insight, guidance, and practical steps to help dealers strengthen their businesses. With the arrival of the pandemic, it quickly became apparent that we needed to ramp-up education. So, during the year, we had 25 webinars rather than 12, with total attendance of approximately 3,800. Our focus on hosting regular webinars continues, and by the end of December we will have hosted 18 Building My Business webinars this year.
I have been using GoToMeeting for many years, but I had never used Zoom until 2020. While mowing my yard one day in the spring of 2020, it occurred to me that I could use Zoom to bring non-competing dealers together to help one another. The result was the launch of several BTA Dealers Helping Dealers discussion groups, two of which meet every two weeks. This began with an almost singular focus on pandemic-based challenges. Today, topics range from best practices in managing an office technology dealership to product and diversification strategies to hiring methods.
|Brent Hoskins, Executive Director of the Business Technology Association|
CS: Working our way up the ladder, let’s talk about shows. What happened last year, now this year, and what’s in store for 2022 and beyond?
BH: For many years, each of our four geographic districts has hosted an annual educational and networking event, with BTA Southeast having two per year. We had plans to hold five in-person events during 2020, but we were only able to host BTA Southeast’s Spring Break in Orlando. BTA Southeast held its second event for the year virtually, drawing around 500 attendees.
We held three in-person events this year, two hosted by BTA Southeast and the 2021 BTA National Conference, which was hosted by the other three districts. Looking at the National Conference in August and the Fall Colors Retreat in October, it was clear that many dealers were very eager to resume attending in-person events, as both had good turnouts.
For 2022, we have four in-person events planned: Spring Break in April, to be hosted by BTA Southeast in Orlando; the 2022 BTA National Conference in June, to be hosted by BTA Mid-America and BTA East in Chicago; Capture the Magic in August, to be hosted by BTA West (location to be determined); and the Fall Colors Retreat in October, to be hosted by BTA Southeast in Asheville. We may very well be back to five in-person events in 2023.
CS: Like you, I have a passion for the written word and am intrigued by where dealers go from here. How has that omnipresent word “diversification” impacted the editorial side of the BTA?
BH: The need for dealers to diversify is a recurring theme in BTA’s monthly Office Technology magazine. This year, I wrote five successive cover stories that each featured a profile on three dealerships in terms of diversification into a certain product or services category. The five strategies highlighted were managed IT, document management, wide format, production print, and VoIP. I greatly enjoyed interviewing representatives of the 15 dealerships, as they were all forthright in sharing guidance with fellow dealers.
BTA was founded by a group of typewriter dealers in 1926. Today, the typewriter is a relic from the past, yet the dealer channel endures. Why? Because successful dealers know that while the management of information, documents, workflow, and collaboration will forever remain at the heart of what they do, they also know that the technology used to help users facilitate those tasks changes over time. The decline in print volumes and the rise in the focus on digital transformation points to another transition in technology. My advice: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and always keep your focus sharp so you are better prepared for whatever is coming next.
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