To many participants, the most absorbing program at the 35th Management Conference of the PHCP industry Association of Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives (AIM/R) was a panel discussion shortly after the opening session featuring a Ferguson executive, a large plumbing contractor and a manufacturer telling what each expects from the reps who call on them. This was not a gripe session, and all spoke respectfully of reps, but none of the participants pulled any punches in stating what they believe reps ought to be providing.
Steve Grosslight, senior vice president and general manager of Ferguson’s Western operations, set the stage by telling the reps forthrightly that “Ferguson will be adding more items to our own brand (PROFLO), yet we are still the largest single customer of most manufacturers … 95% of what we sell are items you represent.”
“We need reps to call on our stores, which I realize is not fun to do when you’re not writing an order,” Grosslight told the reps in attendance. He shared with them some of Ferguson’s growth strategy, noting that “we’ll do $11 billion in the U.S. this year, and five years from now will double that. I guarantee it!”
According to Grosslight, Ferguson has grown 34-36% for the last three years, helped in large measure by aggressive acquisitions. He indicated acquisitions are likely to slow down for awhile as the nation’s largest PHCP distributor embarks on a “sweat the bricks” initiative to digest acquired companies and get more out of existing supply houses.
The vendor representative on the panel was Ned Atkins, vice president/commercial sales, wholesale channel for The Keeney Manufacturing Co. His down-to-earth presentation was notable for confronting supply chain difficulties head-on without rancor.
“Last year, Ferguson bought four of Keeney’s best customers, and PROFLO bothers us,” he stated. “Ferguson is both our biggest customer and largest competitor. These are the realities, and we don’t need you reps to run away from the problem. We need you to help us deal with it,” said Atkins.
Atkins also addressed the increasing problem of line conflicts due to manufacturer and rep consolidation. “We prefer to partner with people who have complementary lines, but conflicts are all over. What we’re looking for is a way to navigate through the waters.”
Busy AgendaHeld April 19-21 in Newport Beach, CA, the annual conference attracted 225 attendees. That included representation from 93 of AIM/R’s 318 member companies, an attendance ratio that would be the envy of most trade associations in this or any other industry.
A distinguishing feature of AIM/R conferences is the group’s penchant for programming in which members share best practices for running a modern rep organization. This year’s meeting featured four such presentations:
A panel program on “Salesman Compensation” by Mike Parham (Pepco Sales Co., Irving, TX), Kelly Michel (Michel Sales Agency, St. Paul, MN), and Sig Schmalhofer (Signature Sales, Corona, CA).
A signature event at each year’s AIM/R conference is a “Townhall Meeting” in which members sound off about association business. It was announced at this year’s session that the group has resolved an often-debated controversy by inviting associate member manufacturers to next year’s conference. That will be held May 14-17, 2008, at the Hammock Beach Resort, Palm Coast, FL, near the town of St. Augustine.