One of my favorite vacation stories is a trip my wife and I went on to the Florida Keys right after the birth of our daughter.

It sticks out in my mind because my wife basically gave the middle finger to her doctor who advised her against traveling via plane days after giving birth. In her typical bull-in-the-China-shop fashion, we got on that plane.

We found Key West uniquely enjoyable during our stay — from the sunset snorkeling cruise to oddly watching the movie “Burn After Reading” in the local theatre (and laughing our heads off).

That trip came to mind after chatting earlier this year with Sheri Newman and Jessica Schussler of Miami-based Lion Plumbing Supply in San Diego during the ASA Women in Industry event.

You see Lion Plumbing Supply’s reach goes well beyond the immediate Miami-Dade/Broward County areas. Lion, a member of ASA and the IMARK Plumbing/Luxury Products Group buying groups, also has customers up and down the Keys.

Lion’s investment in its Keys customers run so deep that it holds a well-received vendor/customer appreciation event every other year in Key West. The first event had 34 vendors and the most recent installment (the third such show) maxed out at 40 vendors last winter.

“It’s a small clientele, but it’s a very good clientele,” Newman says.

Newman explains that after a local distributor sold his business, local distribution support to the area’s contractors and kitchen and bath professionals was just about non-existent. “I kind of feel like the clientele down there was ignored for a long time,” she says. “With our show, our customers down there get to come and learn about new products, meet our vendors and meet members of our team. The only person they usually see is the truck driver. They have never been to our headquarters so they don’t know if we are the size of a hotel or the size of a closet. It shows them we are a player and we always are there to support them. These guys are hungry to learn, to meet the vendors and get all their questions answered. They don’t usually get to see reps like this.”

Schussler, who runs Lion’s Kitchen & Bath Design Studio showroom arm, notes Lion encourages its customers to bring staff members and spouses to the show, which is held on a Friday night at a Key West hotel. Lion hosts numerous fishing charters for its customers the next day.

“We make a whole weekend out of it,” she says. “It’s a big commitment for some of them to come down there if they live in Key Largo and Marathon. It’s a great opportunity to say thank-you to our customers and get to know them better.”

Lion also played a key role in Hurricane Irma relief in 2018, driving in supplies and donations along with its regular deliveries.

“We weren’t bringing in our regular deliveries for a while because everything was stopped, but we were able to send a truck down there with food, water and clothing, Newman says.

Newman notes Lion runs a truck down to the Keys twice a week that makes about 25 stops on the way. “We also have an outside salesperson that goes down to the Keys at least once a month,” she explains. “He will go down there and talk to everybody. A lot of folks tell us they will buy from Lion solely because we are down there all the time.”

The next Keys show is scheduled for Dec. 4, 2020, and the Lion crew already is in anticipation mode. “It’s a very small community,” Schussler says. “At our show you will see these people dressed in different shirts with different company logos and they give each other hugs. They may be competitors, but everybody is close. It’s a way of life there. We love it and it’s why that show is so perfect.”