Rogers, Minnesota-based manufacturers’ rep firm, FourMation Sales was built from scratch. Twenty years later, it is celebrating success through challenging times by charging ahead, focused on building up the company for decades to come.
In 2001, Dean Corrigan used his 28-plus years of experience in the plumbing industry to start a brand new rep firm to cover the Midwest.
Corrigan was joined by Dean Zumwalde, who is now one of FourMation’s four principals and the vice president of sales. Zumwalde brings 34 years of industry relationships built both by being a plumber and from working in sales at Canadian-based Westburne Supply (later acquired by Ferguson).
In 2005, the company’s third principal came onboard — Ryan Crowell. Crowell also brings industry experience from the distribution side, as well as the manufacturers’ rep side.
The “fab four” was completed in 2007 when Jim Ingle joined the team as his own successful rep agency — ESS — merged with FourMation. As principal and vice president of sales, heating, Ingle brings distribution and manufacturing experience, as well as a specialization in heating.
Each principal offers a unique set of skills and industry experience to the agency, all sharing the goal of making FourMation an industry staple that’s committed to selling exclusively to wholesaler-distributors.
“We’ve been adapting to survive since day one. We’ve had to earn and build our reputation in the industry from ground zero, and I’m incredibly proud of that.”
— DEAN CORRIGAN
Ingle points out that while FourMation spends a lot of time building relationships with contractors, the distributor relationship is vital. “Our relationship with wholesaler-distributors is first and foremost,” he says. “We strive to be a technical resource for our distributor partners at every level — both management and their inside and outside sales teams. Distributors have thousands of products to keep up with, so if we can provide resources and tools to use out in the field, it helps grow their business and strengthens our relationships.”
Crowell agrees, pointing out the large salesforce distributors bring to the table. “We need their 50-100 salespeople out promoting our product lines,” he says. “We can’t do it alone, so we work to have solid relationships with every distributor we come in contact with.”
It comes from inside
The FourMation team knows how important communication and service are. Crowell notes the staff of five inside sales representatives strives to be the quickest to answer the phone.
“The goal here is to answer the phone and get back to people quickly,” he says. “The inside of business today is crucial. There is so much technology today and plenty of ways to reach us, but if we don’t answer, it doesn’t matter. So our passion is to be the fastest to react and add value to our customers.”
FourMation currently has 12 employees and is growing. Corrigan points out that the company’s first hire of more than 20 years is still on the team.
“We rarely — and I mean rarely — have any turnover. We retain great employees by providing a flexible place to work. We have a very high level of respect for our associates. It’s actually their company to run — they have total autonomy to bring suggestions forward on how we can build a better company,” he says. “Building and growing an agency is a day in and day out job. We give our team a lot of latitude to satisfy the customer and get the job done.”
Nick Trojan, inside sales, demonstrating the in-house drawing services FourMation offers its customers. Photo courtesy of Yuppy Photo.
A unique edge
FourMation has a master plumber and master pipefitter on staff — Ryan Swanson and Jay Baar from outside sales — helping the team bring hands-on product knowledge and plumbing experience to its customers.
Ingle notes that having these seasoned people on staff who can speak the contractor lingo provides a unique edge for FourMation. “We saw the value in having experienced contractors on staff who could connect with contractors and it’s been really favorable to our success.”
Corrigan says the team is diverse, allowing the company to provide the best technical assistance out there. “Last year during the pandemic, we rose the occasion by doing video trouble shooting calls on site for some of our clients, which was a big success, not just for the client, but for us as an agency to be able to offer that level of service to our clients,” he says. “We even offer in-house drawing services for all types of systems including hydronic heating systems, mechanical plumbing systems and more. “
“ We don’t want to be the biggest; we want to be the best. We’re building something — this will be a 100 year company, not just a 20 year company.”
— JIM INGLE
A major turning point for FourMation came in 2004 when Uponor asked the company to represent its plumbing segment. “We did so well that Uponor asked us to take on the heating side of the business which opened the door for us to expand into heating which now represents 40% of our revenue,” Corrigon says.
Crowell adds that most contractors do both plumbing and heating, but they can come to FourMation for products and knowledge on both sectors. “We leverage our relationships on both sides and try to be a one-stop-shop for both plumbing and heating,” he says. “We can answer questions on everything from radiant floor heating to tub, showers and the showroom side of things.”
Corrigan agrees, mentioning the breadth of expertise has proven invaluable to the company’s growth. “Being able to offer expertise and grow both sides of our business has been incredible,” Corrigan says. “It’s pretty unique to find a rep that does both plumbing and heating, so branching into the heating side and growing has been great for our business.”
FourMation is proud of the diverse group of manufacturers it represents including Apollo, Armstrong, Bemis, Gerber, Raypak, MAAX Bath, Uponor and others.
“We’ve become IBC Technologies largest representative in the states, which is pretty incredible for us,” Corrigan says.
Adapting to survive
Since its inception, FourMation has had increasing sales year after year. Corrigan notes the company never felt the effects of the 2008 crash. “We have achieved record sales growth from 2007 through 2021, despite the tough economic times,” he says. “Back in 2007 when the economy started the crash, we never took our foot off the pedal. It’s pretty impressive what we’ve built from the ground up, and it’s our cohesiveness as a team that has allowed for this success.”
Zumwalde, too, credits FourMation’s success to its people. “I’m proud of the ownership group,” he says. “Having four owners is not always the easiest thing, but we’ve had very few hiccups. We each bring something different to the table; we work well together and view this as a completely equal partnership.”
Over the past year and half, reps have had to adapt to new ways of selling. When it comes to technology, FourMation knows there’s a balance.
“We as an agency have embraced technology and the digital age. Over the past year, we have been beefing up our online presence and creating digital content for the markets we serve,” Corrigan notes. “Working in the PVF industry means most business is done between folks we know, or know of us, so it’s easy to keep those relationships strong virtually when there is a long history and solid foundation.”
Ingle agrees, saying the company is always striving to be forward thinking, but interpersonal relationships are key. “Maintaining our core group of relationships will always be our biggest asset,” he says. “Everyone on the team brings relationships to the table and you can see it when we’re all together and in how we interact with customers.”
The team points out that LinkedIn is where the highest level of B2B engagement happens. “Most of our manufacturers are active on every channel but we get our highest interaction on LinkedIn,” Corrigan says. “And for most of us, we are friends with those we work with — so the interpersonal relationships are well established. The fact that those may collide in the digital age is just a bonus.”
FourMation has also adapted its training strategies to fit the needs of busy contractors. “We’ve had huge success in bringing the training to the contractor,” Ingle says. “Bringing trucks to their shops with live-fire equipment and the ability to train remotely has helped us avoid too much screen-time during the height of virtual training options.”
FourMation created a traveling training station for contractors with live-fire equipment. The company plans to expand these training offerings over the coming year. Photo courtesy of Yuppy Photo.
Corrigan mentions involvement in industry associaitons — AIM/R, ASA, ASHRAE, ASPE and local PHCC chapters — helps the company continuously adapt and build key relationships.
“The investment is definitely worth the participation. By aligning ourselves with these type of organizations, we get to gain other ideas of how to run our business better. We talk to other reps weekly about what is going on in our industry and we do plenty of information sharing. They know they can call me any time to ask me a question that they know I can help with, and vice versa,” he says. “It's been definitely worth every penny of the investment to attend as many of these association meetings as we can.”
The next 20 years
Over its first 20 years in business, FourMation has received numerous awards, including the Top Hitter Award from Apollo Valves, Rep of the Year (several times) from IBC, Outstanding Service awards from Uponor and in 2020, it won the South Dakota PHCC Rep of the Year award.
The team is rightfully proud of the growth, success and impressive line card FourMation has achieved throughout its first 20 years, but the Principals point out, they are just getting started.
“We will continue to put ourselves in a position to add value to customers and provide information that people can’t find on a Google search,” Ingle says. “We will keep up with the changes in our industry; success is going to be more about service and we’ll keep working to provide the best in that area.”
Zumwalde agrees, saying adapting to change will be key to the company’s next 20 years.
While all four men are close in age, Crowell says looking for young talent is an ongoing goal for the company. “We look to trade schools and contractors for potential talent that can come on board to prepare for the future.”
Simply put, Corrigan says he wants the next 20 years of FourMation to continue the successful momentum the company has achieved thus far. “I'm most proud of is the team of professionals that we've assembled, and the product lines that we represent; we are very fortunate to represent some of the best product lines in the industry, and we did all that from the ground up — without inheriting lines or purchasing a company,” he says. “For the next 20 years we hope to continue that pace of sales growth for our manufacturers and our distributors.”