Starting The FER E&S Market Forecast And Remembering Joe Larson

Mid-June is an exciting time of year for us: We begin pulling data together for our annual equipment and supplies market forecast. Yes, I’m crazy enough to think that’s fun. It will all be presented at our annual President’s Preview E&S Market Forecast meeting scheduled August 9 at the Westin O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill. (You can find details and registration info here on our website.)

My forecasting partner John Muldowney, principal at Clarity Marketing, and I keep an eye on things all year long, as most of you know. When we need to, we revise the forecast during the course of the year. But the E&S market has been extremely stable the past couple years and we haven’t had to revise during all that time.

Since the beginning of 2015, the worst gain for the MAFSI Barometer has been 4.7% in the first quarter of last year. The Barometer came in at 4.8% first quarter this year. and the market in the U.S. was up more than 5%, as a weak quarter in Canada, which is suffering from the crash in commodities prices, pulled down the total. The reps forecaste a 4.6% increase for the second quarter. That 4.6% increase is exactly what is called for in our current, full-year 2016 forecast. Right now we don’t see a lot that changes our opinion about the year, other than some upward pressure on materials prices and a bit of slowing in jobs growth. But that’s why we do all the work every summer. We hope many of you will join us in Rosemont.


Every once in a while, we discover we missed something big. In early May, I received a letter from Jan Larson that her husband Joe, who built the Sparta Brush Co. into one of the largest brush companies in America, passed away April 3, 2013. He was living in retirement in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 93. She was writing to say we could stop sending the magazine.

Joe was one of the most gracious, honest and beguiling people I have met in my nearly 40 years covering this business. He came from a hard-scrabble background in rural Wisconsin—his father died during the Great Depression, when Joe was 11—and through talent and hard work became one of the most polished and outgoing executives this industry has ever seen.

As I usually do when I hear such things, I wrote Deirdre Flynn at NAFEM to check on Joe’s service to the association. Here’s what she wrote back: “Joe was the definition of industry relations. He travelled extensively for NAFEM, building relationships with our 40+ allied associations, bestowing Doctorate of Foodservice honors to industry leaders, and sharing his passion for sales, marketing and leadership training.  We will long remember his contributions to and love of our industry.”

Public speaking was one of Joe’s passions. He was a charter member of the National Speaker’s Association,  its fourth president, a recipient of its Cavett Award and in 2012, was inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame. He was very supportive of me early in my career, dubbing me a “natural” after hearing one of my presentations. It was very kind praise and meant a lot to me as a young editor.

That Joe was extremely nice was a given. But he was also a very intelligent business person and one of the best salespeople this industry ever produced. He was tough too. He got through the death of his first wife Esther and rebuilt his factory in Sparta, Wis., when it burned to the ground. At the end of his career, he sold Sparta Brush to Carlisle Foodservice, then retired to Arizona where he was a whirlwind for charities and social groups.  It was a remarkable career and life.

Sorry we missed your passing, Joe. You are probably talking St. Peter’s ear off upstairs. Bless you, friend.


Robin Ashton


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