The energy on display at the 2016 AIM/R Conference at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., was as persistent as the Miami sunshine.

After an all-day AIM/R Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 18, the organization held a one-hour reception for first-time attendees before the full cast of veterans arrived. AIM/R President Stew Chaffee, of Aston, Pa.-based rep firm and sister publication pme’s 2014 Manufacturers Rep of the Year Rich-Tomkins Co., said attendance was 400, including 66 manufacturers. That comes up just short of the 2015 AIM/R Conference totals and Chaffee notes Zika virus scares might have played a factor in the slight dip in attendance.

“This is the second-highest turnout in 44 years so that’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Chaffee noted.

The next day, attendees got to work and filled The Biltmore’s Anastasia hall and listened to speakers discuss business practices, the economic outlook and other important topics.

John Thomas, president of Cockeysville, Md.-based N.H. Yates, opened the speeches and discussed the rep evolution. “If you don’t adapt and you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be miserable,” he said to the assembled crowd.

Thomas told attendees about the time in 2004 when N.H. Yates acquired another rep firm and spent $80,000 updating its phone system. But because cellphone technology changed at such a rapid pace, it’s a decision he’d like to have back. “Our industry is slow to change,” he warned.

Up next was the high-energy Jeffrey Hayzlett of The Hayzlett Group and his keynote address. He followed up on Thomas’ thoughts on change. Hayzlett said businesses need to be relentless regarding change. Considering the baby boomers are approaching retirement age, businesses are heading toward an interesting transition period.

“In the next 10-15 years, we’re about to go through the biggest wealth transfer in the world,” he noted.

Hayzlett said it’s imperative to “test the team.” He told a story about how he once changed the clocks in his office 20 minutes ahead and watched his team check their phones and discuss what the issues were.

“After two weeks of complaining, a woman went and fixed the clocks,” he said. “I named her my chief of staff and now she’s the head of a billion-dollar company.”

Hayzlett wrapped up his frenetic and funny keynote address talking about the time he got to meet one of his childhood heroes, Jacques Cousteau. The late, famed underwater adventurer told Hayzlett about a dive that became dangerous because Cousteau had to surface at a rapid speed or risk getting “the bends” – a painful and potentially fatal outcome where too much air enters in the bloodstream.

Cousteau was saved by the quick-thinking of his fellow diver and was able to surface safely. Hayzlett asked Cousteau if he was ever scared during that incident and other dives. “He said to me, ‘One should never be scared when you’re in good company,’” Hayzlett recalled.

And businesses, he added, shouldn’t be scared to evolve when they’re in good company such as AIM/R.

After Hayzlett, economist Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group, presented his James Bond-themed industry forecast. Basu revealed the United States is expected to see continued, slow economic growth. The rest of the world also is growing slowly with the exception of Russia and Brazil which are in recessions.

“Global economic growth has been disappointing,” he said. “World oil demand is about one-third of what it used to be.”

Basu added, “There’s no reason to not think the American consumer won’t move the economy forward.”

A panel discussion entitled “Driving Your Agency to the Next Level” was moderated by Brett Specht, principal with the Lipp Co. The panelists were Daniel Davenport, principal of Davenport Associates; Wayne Orr, president and owner of contractor firm Orr Plumbing; Chip Devine, vice president with national distributor Ferguson Enterprises; and consulting engineer Eric Slay with Bard, Rao + Athanas.

Orr was blunt in his comments to a full house of reps. “It’s tough to get inside our doors unless we know you,” he stated. “You must have something worthwhile to sell to us. Ten to 15 minutes should be enough time to push what you’re selling.”

Slay was asked what the best engineers wanted to receive and he mentioned updates to spec catalogs. Slay noted he still appreciates getting paper manuals, but others might want online materials. “Work with your individual engineers to see what they want,” he stressed.

Jeff Young, director of engineered service and sales with Manchester, N.H.-based rep J&K Sales Associates, believes one of the biggest takeaways from the conference is how rep firms are being pressured to perform more activities on behalf of customers and manufacturers.

“We all need to improve our internal systems with the use of technology and continue to earn our spot within the channel,” he stated.

Millennials continued to dominate a lot of discussion at the conference. Young took home a lot of advice on how to find and hire new workers into the business.

“The amount of change coming to the rep world with the changing of the guard (is going to be interesting),” he said. “A lot of millennials are coming into companies and offering the next generation for firms.”

Nick Woods, an outside salesman with Rayville, Mo.-based Half Penny Sales, attended the AIM/R Conference for the first time and found it informative and took note of how the best practices group pushes the industry forward.

“I was impressed with the spirit of camaraderie and the desire for reps to genuinely help others to succeed,” he said. “It was a motivator to see the pride and professionalism my peers have in their respective businesses.”

AIM/R announced three inductees into its AIM/R Hall of Fame. Inductees in the Class of 2016 include Larry Hobbs of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Carr Co., Paul Lunsford, of Westfield, Ind.-based Manufacturers Marketing, and Jay Schechter, of Middlesex, N.J.-based Focus Sales. All three are former AIM/R presidents.

The 2017 AIM/R Conference is set for Seattle with dates to be announced later.


This article was originally titled “Changing ways” in the December 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.