Part 2: Catching up with Bond Construction’s Karen Hubacz-Kiley

By |  December 7, 2020


With a number of trade shows canceled or pushed back in 2021, it’s clear that industry events and how they’re approached and handled will be vastly different going forward. Bond Construction Corp. vice president Karen Hubacz-Kiley, who serves as first vice chairman of the board for the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), visited recently with P&Q to discuss the future of industry trade shows, among other topics. The content presented here represents Part 2 of P&Q’s two-part interview with Hubacz-Kiley. Read Part 1 of P&Q’s interview with her here.

Are you surprised AGG1 2021 was canceled?

Given everything with COVID-19, I was disappointed but not surprised. A lot of it is the large producers. They send a lot of people to this, they use a lot of AGG1 for training and they’re still under a shutdown and won’t allow people to travel. A lot of that had to be taken into consideration if nobody was going to go.

I think trade shows are important, but for the most part, we all know who our people are. If we need something, we call them. For me, it’s very interesting to see the new and upcoming equipment. You get to see your equipment dealers all in one place. I don’t know how ‘necessary’ a trade show is for producers, but I know that we like them. For us, it’s a perk to go.

It’s exceptionally disappointing that we’re losing the whole educational aspect of that because we all utilize that. For me, I get a schedule from NSSGA and I know the things I’m mandated to attend. But I look to see if there is something I’m interested in going to while I’m there. That’s the whole point. A lot of [the speakers] are my friends and associates, so I want to go because I want to hear what they have to say at that level.

Do you think producer attitudes toward attending trade shows will shift in the coming years?

I think we’ve always kind of felt that way [about trade shows]: Is it really necessary? No.

If I inquire about a piece of equipment, the next thing you know is it’s just coming in on a lowbed because they know ‘Karen called, she’s really interested and get it out there now before she changes her mind.’

It’s just a whole other aspect that we enjoy. We all work so hard. When we get to go out and see stuff like that – the big equipment – we enjoy it. A lot of times, you see something new that you didn’t even know was out there. That’s another great aspect of a trade show – it gives you ideas, things you hadn’t thought of.

It’s also being able to reward [employees] for doing well for the business, to get some additional training and to say thank you.

Were you planning on attending AGG1 in 2021 if it was still on?

All the small producers, absolutely. The large producers, no. I think a lot of it is they have so much more liability for their employees, whereas for smaller employees, we don’t. We’re more game. We’re more, maybe, risk-takers. And that’s the way it was for ConExpo-Con/Agg. There weren’t any large producers there, but it was all small producers and I think it would have been a similar scenario.

When things get back to ‘normal,’ do you think the industry gets back on track like it was and attends trade shows per usual?

I do. But I also think they’re (show management) taking all of this into consideration and that there’s another learning curve from this. I think, maybe, from now on, it will always be hybrid. With AGG1 and other events, you’re going to also allow people to virtually attend. That’s one of the positive things we’ve taken from this. You don’t necessarily have to attend. If something’s come up, you can do it virtually and get a pretty decent experience out of it. We’ll go back to the way things were eventually, but I think it will always be hybrid.

With [NSSGA’s] Young Leaders, they weren’t able to attend. But there were so many other people that were able to attend because it was at no cost [and] they got to do it from their office.

We’re hoping, going forward, that all of those people were like: ‘That was great, but now I want to be able to attend.’ So, hopefully, we’ll see an increase just from being able to tap into a lot of people that we weren’t able to get to before.

Karen Hubacz-Kiley Pit & Quarry Roundtable 2020

Bond Construction Corp.’s Karen Hubacz-Kiley, pictured here at the 2020 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, envisions trade shows offering both virtual and in-person experiences in the future. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Do you think equipment suppliers are even more eager than producers to get out there and exhibit their products?

I think so because I think they’ve been hurt more than the producers. We were deemed essential – all of us kept our head down and we worked.

People asked: ‘Well, how do you handle COVID-19?’ We all socially distance every day. I drive around in my pickup, I see people, I do my thing, everybody comes in and they know what to do. We just do extra cleaning and make sure everybody is healthy. Other than that, people come in, and then they go their separate ways and do their work.

For M&S, we’re concerned what [2021] is going to bring. The states were shut down, and they didn’t get the same tax revenue. So how much money is going to be out there? Maybe if we have extra money right now, we’re not going to buy anything because we need to hold to see what [2021] is going to bring.

So if we’re not buying that piece of equipment – that loader, that excavator, that screen – or we’re not upgrading something, that hurts M&S. And they’re in a spot where, if [producers] are unsure, then they get nothing. They’re only getting it if we’re down.

How is NSSGA feeling about this, and what are expectations going forward?

Well, it hurts us. We’re a trade association, so not having AGG1 is a big loss for our association. Just like everybody else, you’re tightening your belt and hoping we make it through with our head up and we can continue to move forward.

Everybody is trying to learn from this at this point. We all got caught. We weren’t ready for anything like this. None of us have ever experienced anything like it. So what’s positive that we can get from it and grow to be better for it?

Our team at NSSGA is the best that has ever been there. Sometimes, going through really bad times like these makes you so much stronger, and I can say that about NSSGA. Those people put their boots on and their head down, and they made stuff happen.

We’ll get through it somehow. We’ll get through it, and when you come out the other side, you’re stronger because of it.

Editor’s note: Bond Construction’s Karen Hubacz-Kiley contributed periodically to P&Q in 2020 through the magazine’s Road to Recovery series. Read Hubacz-Kiley’s July 2020 commentary on the aggregate industry’s essential status here, as well as her pre-2020 election assessment here.

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