Building Relationships
at Convention
by Deborah Ragsdale
IAPD President

he textbook definition of a convention is: A gathering of individuals to discuss a certain topic or participate in activities related to a shared interest or field. Conventions are often held to bring business or industry professionals together to discuss important issues or topics in their fields. That might be accurate, but it sounds pretty boring to me! The IAPD convention is so much more. It’s an exciting time where industry professionals meet with their peers who have also become their friends and discuss all that is going on in the plastics industry. Let me try to tell you what the convention means to me.

I can still remember the first IAPD convention I had the pleasure of attending. It was in Toronto, ON, Canada and to a southern girl who had never left Alabama, much less the United States, just the idea of going to Toronto was exciting. We arrived in Canada and were swept away to the car to take us to the hotel and convention center. Upon arriving at the hotel, we noticed a group of picketers. What were they doing? They were picketing against the Americans who were coming to Canada! Beyond that, I had no idea. The only thing that stuck with me that day was that I was an American, and I was in Canada. They were picketing against me! We went upstairs to our rooms and quickly unpacked and left for the opening party. Imagine my surprise to find it was located in a castle!

After a few awestruck moments of looking around me in disbelief, I concentrated on the job at hand. I eagerly searched for all the people I had spoken to for years and spent the next few hours putting names to the many faces who quickly became friends. As I wandered through each room in that castle, I was warmly welcomed by many people who were members of IAPD and were dedicated to making me, Deborah Wright from Polymer Industries in Henagar, Alabama, feel welcome to my very first convention. It was a night I have never forgotten. It is way up there with all the best moments in my life, like meeting my wonderful husbands, giving birth to my son and meeting Clint Eastwood face to face (but that’s a story for another day)!

A headshot portrait photograph of Deborah Ragsdale smiling
The next morning it was down to business. There weren’t meeting rooms back then, so we had informally asked customers for meetings and would sit with them either in the bar or in the lobby or any corner we could find that had even a semblance of privacy. We took this time to tell all our customers or customers to be of the newest equipment, the plans for growth and the many new products we would be producing in the coming months and even plans for growth in the coming years. It was two days full of excitement over new business opportunities, but most of all the opportunity we had to start that wonderful adventure of building relationships within the industry. Relationships that would span customers, manufacturers’ representatives and, yes, even competitors. I can remember meeting someone who struck me as just as famous and just as well-known as Clint Eastwood. His name was Bernie Willms with our competitor known as Quadrant at the time. Those first meetings gave me a desire to reach out even further, to tell everyone I knew about Polymer Industries and the many opportunities we could develop working together.

The highlight of the convention for me was the speaker. I had read the book Into Thin Air by author Jon Krackauer. It was the suspenseful story of loyalty, hardship and the desire to live that I enjoyed to the last word. It was based on the adventures of Dr. Beck Weathers. The speaker for this convention was none other than Dr. Weathers. When he stepped to the microphone to start speaking, I can remember the brief “I know him” feeling you get sometimes but then became so wrapped up in his story that I found myself holding my breath at times. He is the greatest speaker I have ever heard. At the end of his presentation, everyone was on their feet and, I would venture to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It undoubtedly struck a chord with more than just this girl from Alabama. The feeling carried through the rest of the convention. I stood for one and a half hours to have my copy of the book autographed and as my turn came and I stepped up to Dr. Weathers he looked at me and held out his hand to shake mine and said, “Well hello again Deborah.” On the flight out, I had sat beside him on the plane and we introduced ourselves to each other, using his first name of course. I didn’t realize who he was at the time, and he had even told me about his frostbite!

Lasting relationships
The relationships that began at my first convention many years ago were relationships that have lived on in my heart to here and now. From the opening reception to the closing party, I experienced many exciting adventures that made me look forward to the next year. Many customer relationships were formed at that convention and many more have been formed since. This is the one opportunity above all others where all the major players from a manufacturer can sit with all the major players from a distributor in private meeting rooms and plan for the future. This is the one opportunity above all others where everyone is of one mind and one accord, be it manufacturer, distributor, fabricator, manufacturers’ representative, anyone that wants to see the performance plastics industry grow and flourish, the one opportunity to make it happen.

I have had so many wonderful experiences in my 33-year career in the plastics industry, but that first convention was definitely a game changer for me. It can be for you as well. All you have to do is be there, everything else will come naturally. It’s all about relationships!