AIM/R is an organization representing many of our industry’s independent rep agencies. For years a spirited debate has taken place within the group as to whether to allow manufacturers into the group, and that was finally resolved last year with an associate manufacturer membership category. This year’s annual AIM/R Management Conference, held May 14-17 in Palm Coast, FL, was the first in which manufacturers were invited to attend, along with selected wholesalers. It led to some frank, though civil, discourse on a range of industry hot button issues.
The highlight of the conference was a panel discussion with the hot seats occupied by manufacturers and wholesalers who participate in buying groups. Panelists included wholesalers Jeff New, president of Mid-City Supply, Elkhart, IN, and ASA; Fort Worth, TX-based Morrison Supply President Darrell Hawkins; and Randy Boyd, president of A/C Supply, Fort Worth, TX, and HARDI. Manufacturers speaking up were Bruce Carnevale of Bradford White, NOMACO’s Scott Edwards and Kendrick Reaves of Cash Acme.
Despite the buying group focal point, the only discussion about buying groups concerned some reps complaining about being unfairly “bashed” at those meetings without opportunity to respond. Panelists generally agreed with Carnevale’s assessment that “rep bashing is a myth” at buying group meetings. “Most of the time the evaluations are done in a productive way,” he said. “We (manufacturers) get evaluated as well.”
Edwards added that “95% of the time you guys get rave reviews.”
In concluding the session, a question was posed to the panelists: “What have reps done lately that has ‘wowed’ you?” It generated some interesting responses.
New spoke of one rep enthusiastically participating in a Habitat home build with his team, and another who managed to get him a line he didn’t normally carry for a commercial bid job in which the builder wouldn’t accept his company’s line. “That’s becoming part of our organization and helping us sell,” he noted.
Carnevale spoke of being impressed by the pre-planning of one rep with whom he traveled. “It was a detailed summary of who we were to visit, what the issues were and so on.” He added, “Plus, I’ve been wowed by some training centers reps have built.”
Hawkins said he was most impressed with “how hard everyone is working. It had been a pretty easy market, but now things have changed and I see more feet in the marketplace. Reps are putting forth tremendous effort with our salespeople and our customers.”
Reaves said he was cheered by “the lack of negativity with reps. I’m not getting e-mails complaining about housing starts. They’re out there trying to make things happen.”
Reps' concernsA highlight of all AIM/R conferences is the traditional “Townhall” meeting in which reps share their ups and downs with one another. One hot topic at this year’s conference was the price of gas. It was bumping up against $4 a gallon at the time of the meeting, which may seem like the good old days by the time this gets printed. Several AIM/R members advised they were opting for smaller cars.
One rep warned of the encroachment of third-party logistics companies being hired by builders to avoid the distributor channel. It’s a minor concern now with home building slumping so badly, but a system is already in place for items such as siding, doors and windows, and some builders want to extend the 3PL solution to plumbing as well.
Call reports were a source of some griping by reps. “When times are good, we send orders. When times are bad, we send reports,” quipped one.
AIM/R Executive Director Bryan Shirley cautioned his members about potential legal consequences of call reporting. “You cannot submit all reports manufacturers may want, because it could indicate you are an employee,” said Shirley. “It has to be useful information requested, not just contact info.”
Another noteworthy occurrence at this year’s conference was the first-ever programming by a recently formed “Leaders of Tomorrow” (LOT) group. About 30 agency heirs belong to the organization, which is spearheaded by Michelle Lewnes (Preferred Sales, Hermitage, PA) and Mark Creyer (L & R Associates, Hatfield, PA). The group sponsored a couple of breakfast programs on techniques for calling on builders, builder and contractor showrooms, and another on “Optimal Thinking.”