In early 1980 Reggie Hickmanwas working in a hospital as a certified respiratory therapist when he saw a newspaper ad for a sales position at PHCP wholesalerBrock McVeyin its Prestonsburg, KY, branch. He felt ready to make a change. “When I researched the company, I felt it was a fit for me,” Hickman says.
Unbeknownst to him, he was working with a nurse whose husband was a Brock McVey manager. Hickman joined the wholesale firm in March 1980, covering eastern Kentucky as an outside salesperson.
He was promoted to branch manager in September 1984. After a number of years, he was named branch coordinator and worked at the Lexington, KY, headquarters.
He left for a few years to return to the medical field, serving as director of materials management at a regional medical center. He returned to Brock McVey in 1999 as executive VP and was named president/COO in January 2005.
“I really enjoy the people aspect and the challenges inherent in wholesaling and distribution. The concept of keeping all the plates spinning appeals to me. I like the service we provide and enjoy being a part of this industry.”
Here are excerpts from a recentSupply House Timesinterview with Hickman:
Supply House Times: How did you get involved with SWA?HICKMAN:As a wholesale firm, Brock McVey has been an active member for years. In the early 1980s I was invited to attend an SWA Profit Enhancement Institute and that was my first contact with the association. I’ve been attending regional activities ever since. I served on the board of directors and was invited to move through the chairs, but first I wanted to be sure I could give it the time it required. SWA has a great group of people. Those who are serving on its board and executive committee are tremendously talented.
Supply House Times: What strengths do you bring to your role at SWA?HICKMAN:It’s really important when you head a trade organization that you have the ability to get people together, keep focused on a common goal and be inclusive. Everyone should feel welcome and a part. I’ve learned a lot coming through the ranks of an independent wholesaler. Independent companies like Brock McVey provide a critical link in the supply chain.
Supply House Times: What do you consider Brock McVey's competitive edge?HICKMAN:Our people provide our competitive edge. We have developed a really strong team. Another of our company’s strengths is the diversity of our product offering. As difficult as it is to manage being in several supply channels, it has been a real blessing during the last couple of years. We’ve been able to service a broader scope of the customer base and that has served us well.
We are the only one in this market that carries in-depth electrical, HVAC, refrigeration, plumbing, lighting, appliances and restaurant equipment. Being in so many different markets helped us during the downturn.
Supply House Times: How was 2009 for the company and what were some of the big events?HICKMAN:We fared pretty well. Our decline was less than most, but more than some. We attributed our performance to our diversity of product and a very aggressive inside and outside sales staff who brought us some new business and new customers. Those new customers helped offset the decline and should serve us well as we come out on the other side of this recession.
Our big events in 2009 were our annual Customer Appreciation Day, Golf Outing, and our Yard Sale to sell overstock, distressed and damaged inventory, plus many lunch-and-learn product training and sales training activities, as well as SWA activities including regional meetings, the annual convention and the Profit Enhancement Institute.
Supply House Times: How does the Brock McVey of today compare with what it was five to 10 years ago?HICKMAN:We have undergone substantial changes in that period. In terms of personnel, there have been quite a few retirements and we have a bit of a youth movement underway. Our investment in training is much different than it was five to 10 years ago. Employees respond well to the investment we put into them. It makes them feel valued by the company. During the past 10 years we have been proactive in consolidating vendors. We use the same computer system but understand it better now and do some different things with it. We have been able to refine our applications. We also have achieved some economies by using Citrix. Instead of installing a PC at every workstation, we have a small Citrix box at each station that is connected to the server in our computer room. We have also added document imaging.
During this period we have also made some good hiring decisions and improved our hiring practices. We want to make sure the employee is a good fit for the job he or she wants to move into. We have formalized our interview process, which is helpful for both employees and the management team.
Our understanding of our purchasing system has improved over the years. We haven’t changed it that much, but we work more diligently to understand its various components and how it works.
Our management of accounts receivable has also improved tremendously. That has become as important as it has ever been.
We continue to use SWA and ASA training materials and events. The Profit Enhancement Institute is a required event for everyone on our management team and selected members of our sales staff. We send people to regional SWA meetings as much as possible. We find that the ASA literature is extremely well done.
We focus more on training in sales skills vs. product training, especially with our outside sales staff. We’ve found that to be very successful. We send them to boot camps, bring trainers in and have done some webinars. Over the last five years we have put more effort into ensuring our people are professional salespeople, not just professional at the product level. However, we still do product training with counter days and lunch-and-learn sessions.
Brock McVey is a state of Kentucky-approved CEU provider for HVACR journeyman license and also offers state of Kentucky-approved HVACR masters license CEUs through the Bluegrass RSES state association.
Supply House Times: What is projected for Brock McVey in 2010?HICKMAN:We are not yet on the other side of the downturn - there is still another year or so to go. We anticipate 2010 will be very similar to 2009, maybe up one to two points. If we can achieve flat sales for 2010 we will be grateful. So far we are ahead of last year’s numbers. We are still continuing to do our best to find new business but we also need to take care of what we have, trying to get more out of existing customers.
Supply House Times: Who will cover for you while you serve as SWA president?HICKMAN:We have a strong management team, including Lee Kerr, sales manager, and Brenda Holdren, director of finance. John M. McDonald III, chairman and CEO, still comes to the office everyday. Our department heads at the distribution center and our branch managers have a lot of experience. They know what to do and how to do it. We raised our expectations for those folks and they have responded.
Supply House Times: What are the biggest issues you deal with in your position at Brock McVey?HICKMAN:Time management is one of the bigger issues - how to get everything done. There are always personnel issues and the unforeseen. Everyone tries to manage the day rather than being managed by the day. It’s difficult to balance. A close second in terms of big issues is profitable sales. We see tremendous pressure on margins. Everyone has gone through the pain of personnel cuts, cutting expenses down as far as we can manage. We still need enough resources to maintain day-to-day operations and prepare for future growth. We have to fight off competition, keep current customers and gain new customers.
Supply House Times: What is the current status of SWA?HICKMAN:We are on the button, really strong right now in what we are offering and trying to do for the membership. We have more gold sponsors than I can remember for the 2010 SWA convention. Anyone who misses this convention will be really disappointed.
More wholesalers and vendors have signed up to attend vs. the same period last year, so we are hitting the right hot buttons even in a down economy. Folks are seeing our value. This convention has something to fit the needs of any member.
The keynote speaker is Ron Jaworski, known for his NFL experience as a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, a sports analyst and successful businessman.
SWA’s Leadership Development Council is moving forward, headed by Travis Elrod of DeVore & Johnson and Eddie Agee of Kenny Pipe & Supply. This group will meet at the convention at a workshop featuring Hooper Hardison of Charlotte Pipe.
We will also have a Best Practices workshop with breakout sessions to further enhance networking opportunities. We see networking as a key benefit of this convention for members, prospective members and vendors.
The convention’s industry forum speaks to where SWA is today in terms of staying relevant with “down in the trenches” information and addressing what is important to members.
Vendor support is tremendous and our Vendor Advisory Council continues to give us good advice and great ideas.
Supply House Times: What is the biggest issue facing you as SWA president?HICKMAN:The biggest issue for SWA is to stay relevant to the membership and stay in touch with their needs. We are listening to our members. In the last year or so we have changed the format of the annual convention to ensure that we provide all the tools a wholesaler distributor needs to be successful. SWA’s education and training, the Profit Enhancement Institute and its regional meetings have always been outstanding. Everything we are doing is positive. When you add in best practices and benchmarking, we are answering the call to stay relevant to our membership.
Having profitable sales and margins that are acceptable to make a profit, maintaining a workforce and investing in training are all critical issues that have become even more important in this economy. I’ve seen the owners of SWA member companies agonizing over personnel decisions when they must downsize in response to market conditions. Everyone is down to their “A” players.
We are exactly where we need to be for membership but need to get them active. They have to do more than just buy in - we want them to participate in as many of the SWA functions as possible. They will get good ideas they can implement for their businesses. Participation is the key.
Supply House Times: How are business conditions for wholesalers in the SWA region?HICKMAN:We are all over the place - in some areas folks have held their own and weathered the storm. Others are mired in sales declines ranging from 25 to 35%. They face a long, slow crawl back. I saw some numbers at a purchasing group meeting that predicted about 600,000 housing starts nationwide. The industry has considered housing starts of 1.8 million as healthy. Current predictions are for 1.5 million housing starts by 2014 or 2015. This will revise our concept of what is a healthy number for housing starts.
Supply House Times: What are your projections for 2010 and beyond for wholesalers in the SWA region?HICKMAN:Most people in the industry are predicting a flat 2010 compared to 2009, with many hoping for continued growth by mid-year 2011. Currently the residential housing side has been driven by rebates and tax breaks. If those expire, we’ll see a flattening on the residential side. We need to keep a leaner and meaner attitude to survive in today’s environment.
Supply House Times: How can an independent wholesaler survive today?HICKMAN:The people who run independent wholesaler firms are crafty and innovative. They keep their heads up and continue to look for opportunities to improve relationships, enhance service levels and perform better overall compared with the competition. Independents can survive, but they need to know what they have in their toolbox that will help them more effectively approach their day-to-day business. That is what makes SWA such a shining example of what can be if people participate and take advantage of what it has to offer.
Supply House Times: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?HICKMAN:I want everyone to know how passionate the board of directors and executive committee is about SWA. Those members who don’t participate and those who are considering membership need to see what they are missing. The SWA package, including the ideas and networking opportunities available through its various activities, training events and annual convention, is tremendous.
I would particularly like to thank the SWA executive committee and board of directors for their time and participation, and express my gratitude to all of the vendors who support SWA activities. To those who do not participate in SWA, please consider this an open invitation. For information, contact Terry Shafer, executive vice president, at 615-771-3131 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visitwww.southernwholesalers.org.
About Brock McVeyBrock McVey operates a 168,000-sq.-ft. facility in Lexington, KY, that houses its headquarters office, distribution center and the Fixture Gallery, the only Kohler Premier showroom in Kentucky. It also operates branches in Frankfort, Corbin, Maysville, Prestonsburg and Bowling Green, KY, all of which have showrooms.
The wholesaler belongs to two buying groups: WIT & Co. for plumbing and HVACR and IMARK Group for electrical.
Brock McVey operates three separate counter areas at the distribution center for HVACR, electrical and industrial/plumbing. Plans are underway to convert all of the counter sales departments to more of a self-service format, similar to the current design of the HVACR counter area. Each counter sales area is complemented with its own inside sales staff and associated inventory.
Dan Brock and Frank McVey founded Brock McVey Co. as a plumbing supply house in 1935. The Frankfort and Maysville branches were added in 1952. The company expanded into refrigeration products in 1953 and relocated its headquarters in 1956. A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing of Dubuque, IA, acquired the company in 1964 with plans for continued expansion. In 1971 the Lexington showroom, The Fixture Gallery, was added as well as the Prestonsburg branch. The company acquired Wilson Machine for industrial supplies in 1972. The Bowling Green branch was added in 1976 and the Corbin branch in 1981. Its current headquarters/distribution center was opened in 1985.