Supply House Times 2014 Manufacturers Rep of the Year: Tim Morales & Associates
Strong leadership and innovation help Tim Morales & Associates exceed its customers’ needs.
A Q Score measures the familiarity and appeal of a brand, company, celebrity or television show in the United States. According to its definition, the higher a Q Score is, the more highly regarded the item or person is among the group that is familiar with them.
If Tim Morales had a Q Score, it likely would be on the level of rock-star status.
Morales, the owner of Mobile, Ala.-based Tim Morales & Associates, is held in high regard by employees and customers alike. His strong leadership skills and unwavering commitment to go above and beyond for those same employees and customers has resulted in a tremendous run of success for the 19-employee firm, which is the recipient of the 2014 Supply House Times’ Manufacturers Representative of the Year honor.
“Tim is an above-board guy as far as being a business owner, man and father,” Customer Service Manager Karen Wheeler says. “In my world, that means a lot.”
Bookkeeper Lauren Logan adds: “Tim cares about us as people. He keeps morale high and he looks out for us. That makes you work harder.”
That loyalty to his employees is evident to those outside the company. “Tim fosters a family environment among his team members and extends that level of concern to his team’s families,” GROHE Sales Director Sandy Diraddo says. “This type of a trusting relationship encourages true partnerships. Tim Morales & Associates has pure intentions and a long-standing reputation that ensures follow-through, outstanding service levels and commitment from people who care about what they do and how they impact others.”
Morales’ fondness of the rep business dates back to his childhood when he would hang out at Nashville-based J.H. Morales Sales Co., founded by his parents, Joe, and Grace Morales, in 1957. “Big Joe” Morales died in 2005.
“I could send Tim out to get a small order when he was seven or eight years old,” says 88-year-old Grace Morales in the back seat of her son’s vehicle on the way to the company’s headquarters in Mobile. “When he got older, he would bring two or three of his friends over and help get the truck unloaded.”
Morales founded Tim Morales & Associates as a spinoff of his parent’s rep firm in 1997. His company now represents 14 lines and covers the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The company headquarters in Mobile features 8,500 sq. ft., including a 6,000-sq.-ft. warehouse space that serves as a distribution center for industrial valves and accessories, and parts for the company’s major lines. The well-kept warehouse is under the capable direction of Warehouse & Facilities Manager Lashly White.
“I enjoyed being with my brothers,” says Morales of his childhood beginnings in the business (he’s one of 10 children). “I loved to work. I still enjoy working. Work is not labor for me.”
Morales’ employees marvel at his work ethic. Wheeler recalls a situation at a recent Kitchen and Bath Industry Show where Morales was out entertaining a customer and the evening stretched well into the next morning.
“Tim ended up staying out late and he was right back at the show the next morning and then talked about going home and cutting the grass,” she says. “Good grief. He’s like the Energizer Bunny. He always is on. He outworks us all.”
Corporate Sales Manager Richie Sherer adds: “Nobody outworks Tim and he owns the company. He leads by example.”
One industry executive labeled Morales as “an out-of-the-box thinker.” Morales downplays that title. “There are not many new ways to approach an opportunity or obstacle, but there are often options beyond the obvious,” he says. “It’s important to listen to those around you, to reach out to your network and to surround yourself with smart people who feel comfortable speaking freely. The biggest value-asset a business can possess today is the ability to adapt, to recognize and accept change, and to look for opportunities therein.”
One prime example of Morales’ innovative mind is in the use of a group of longtime industry stalwarts respectfully called the Gray Squad. Jim Purvis, Raymond Guy, Hoyt Gilbert and Mike McClain bring more than 100 years of wholesale distribution and rep experience to the table.
Tim Morales & Associates Lines
Representing Manufacturers of Fine Plumbing
“Change in our organization has been tempered by these men who remain our grounding rods,” Morales says. “These men work at their leisure and bring more than a century of industry experience to our agency. This tempers our younger staff and provides a level of wisdom very rare in today’s world.”
Alabama Territory Manager Barry Burton adds: “Tim implements things unique to the industry. Mr. Hoyt works two days a week and when he’s in the field, he’s getting after it. Each of those guys on the Gray Squad has 30 or 40 years of experience in the business.”
The firm’s Product Champion strategy involves certain staff members focusing on particular lines rather than basing sales strategies solely on territories.
“The Product Champion system has a person both inside and outside who is specialized in a particular line,” says Louisiana Territory Manager Gigi Fink, lauded by Diraddo for her expertise on the GROHE line. “It allows people to develop specific product knowledge. It’s worked well for us.”
Morales also is a strong believer in equipping his staff members with the latest technologies that will help them do their jobs to the best of their abilities. On a recent spring day, the headquarters office in Mobile was in the midst of getting a new accounting and CRM system installed. Morales’ son, Andrew, is involved with the IT department while also attending the University of Tennessee.
“The status-quo is never good enough for Tim,” says Sherer, who oversees the outside sales team. “He constantly invests money back into the company.”
Customer Service Specialist Kelly Bradley made an off-hand comment one day about how it would help her job to have two computer screens to work off. “I had the second screen in a week,” she says.
“If technology changes and it helps us work better and do our jobs better and helps our customers, Tim will invest in it,” Accounting and Operations Manager Jessica Kolaitis says.
Sioux Chief Executive Vice President Rex Baer says his company appreciates Morales’ willingness to embrace technology. “They invest in technology to work smart,” he says. “Tim Morales always is open to new ideas and looks for the most effective way to market our products.”
Morales takes a different approach educating customers on products the firm represents. “We identify and focus on the contractors, designers and end users who are the movers and shakers, especially those that understand their true cost of operation, their labor and the ramifications of their decisions,” he says. “We prefer to host a small group of key contractors in the back room of a nice steakhouse to review a new product launch. Such gatherings don’t cut into their workday and we tend to get a better focus.”
The agency also is involved in industry counter days, open houses and other events, and is not afraid to head out to a jobsite to continue the education process. “Our outside sales team and market-development personnel keep steel-toed boots and a hard hat nearby,” Morales says. “We learn more on jobsites than anywhere else we travel.”
In addition to agency-fueled educational sessions, Morales is a big proponent of sending his staff to learning sessions at manufacturer plants and facilities, whether it be plant tours at TOTO, Sioux Chief or one of the many product knowledge classes conducted at Apollo Valves’ foundries.
“The Apollo classes give us the opportunity to learn with our customers,” Industrial & Utility Market Development Specialist Emmitt Fagerstrom says. “You are with your customers for three or four days at these classes and you get to know them better. Everybody has back-flow preventers and valves, but at the end of the day, people buy from people. You are able to learn things that will help you be more effective in your day-to-day duties.
Morales and his staff also are heavily involved in numerous industry-related best practices organizations, including the likes of ASA, Southern Wholesalers Association and ASPE. Morales specifically tipped his hat to the firm’s involvement in the Association of Independent Manufacturers Representatives.
“I can’t say enough about how much we have benefitted from our association and involvement in AIM/R,” he says. “Karl Grabowski (J&K Sales) says it best, ‘AIM/R is a place you go to find solutions that would not be possible left to your own resources.’ If you and I are taking a test and I get a 98 and you get a 97, it’s high-fives because we both pass. In the real world, I get the order and you don’t. I firmly believe AIM/R gives us an edge and makes us a better agency.”
Tim Morales & Associates took on the Apollo Valves line in Alabama in 2012. Apollo Valves Director of Sales Operations John Welles notes the firm has enjoyed a sales growth of 39% in just two years.
“Tim and his team have taken on the line with a total commitment to all the products we offer,” Welles says. “They have used our training classes as the focal point for their learning curve and obviously have learned the lessons well. The rapport that exists between Tim and his customers is very evident when we meet visitors from Alabama. They echo the themes Tim has championed: technical expertise and service to the customer and manufacturer.”
Distributors and beyond
Tim Morales & Associates’ main thoroughfare of doing business is through wholesale distribution. “It is essential to maintain good working relationships with our wholesale base,” Morales says. “We’re extremely fortunate to work in a humble industry loaded with great people, especially our wholesale-distribution partners.”
However, Morales has watched the landscape in the rep business significantly change in recent years. “It has never been more important to operate throughout the food chain,” he says. “The days of simply keeping up distributors’ catalogs, high-fiving counter staff and calling it a day are long gone. Today, maintaining a downstream relationship with key contractors, specifiers, end users and developers is essential to success.”
In terms of wholesale distribution, something as small as keeping a price file up to date can go a long way. “This means providing Excel files promptly and to the proper individual within an organization,” Morales says. “Sometimes a printed version is preferred. These little nuances, as obvious as they may seem, are essential to success.”
Morales adds being as prepared as possible with a wholesale customer could mean the difference between whether a sale is consummated or not. “I personally have sat down and loaded part numbers into customers’ computers to complete a sale,” he says. “Being easy to do business with is key at the wholesale level.”
Morales’ staff is more than prepared to provide customers with solutions both upstream and downstream. “Today, you have to hit all angles,” Mississippi and west Tennessee Territory Manager Alex George says. “Every day here is different. One day you could be meeting with an engineer and the next with the director of facilities at a hospital or a distributor. We want to make our customers the experts and make them as comfortable as possible with the products we represent.”
Burton recalls some difficulties an Alabama university was having with a 6-in. pressure-reducing valve in one of its dorm buildings. “They still were getting full-on pressure,” he says. “We went out to the jobsite in boots and hard hats and with the manufacturer tech on the phone disassembled the valve and fixed the problem.”
Sherer recently received a call from a Florida wholesaler who needed products delivered to him on a Monday. “He called me Friday night,” he says. “I met him in Pensacola on Sunday to get him the materials so the job would stay on schedule.”
TOTO Vice President of U.S. Sales Jason Fitzsimmons says Morales’ forward-thinking vision helped foster the two companies’ long-term relationship.
“Tim was there with us from the beginning,” he says. “Tim had a vision of where TOTO could be if we worked a sales program and channel-development strategy. We look for people who can see in the future how we can capture market share. Tim has that vision.”
Sherer and the rest of the staff takes pride in how the company withstood the recent economic collapse and emerged even stronger. “We didn’t stop what we were doing during the downturn,” Sherer says. “We continued like it was hunky-dory. If I can’t hold your hand during a tough time, I can’t expect you to hold my hand. We believe in partnerships here in good times or bad times.”
Meet the MVPs
Morales stresses the true movers and shakers in his company are his employees. “No doubt it’s our people,” he says. “We have a collection of Alpha types. They are smart, passionate and try very hard to get things done correctly the first time. They sincerely care. I wouldn’t trade our team for any other out there.”
Tim Morales & Associates benefits from a strong working relationship between its outside and inside sales forces. “We look at our outside salespeople like they are the customer and we are the manufacturer,” Wheeler says.
Bradley adds: “It doesn’t matter if it’s the inside, outside or accounting people. We all are focused on the customer and what we can do to help them succeed. The outside team needs us and we need them. Our relationship works very well. Sometimes we can offer ideas they never thought of.”
Customer Service Specialist Walter Dunlap, who is one of the firm’s newest hires after coming from the carbon-steel industry, says the synergy between staff members makes a huge difference in providing customers with the solutions they need.
“Speed in this industry is the name of the game,” he says. “Customers are not only asking you, but they are asking other reps. You can lose business like that if you take too long to get back to them. They already are on to the next guy who has the information they need.”
On the rare occasions an error or delay occurs, the staff has one thing on its mind. “All we care about is making it right,” Customer Service Specialist Kim Brannon says. “It’s not about making a mistake. It’s about how you fix the problem. Our customers appreciate that.”
In the little-known trivia department, Tim Morales & Associates has a Eugene, Ore., division. The highly respected Kolaitis moved from the Mobile area to Oregon when her husband got a coaching job on the University of Oregon softball staff. Morales valued Kolaitis’ work so much that he invited her to continue her position — from Oregon.
“Extension 210 puts you in Eugene, Ore.,” Bradley says with a laugh. “Jessica is like Jesus. You can’t see her, but you know she’s there. We’re glad she’s still with us.”
Kolaitis burst into tears when talking about the fact Morales allowed her to remain an integral part of the company as one of its four top executives. Her words further cement Morales’ reputation as a company owner and the firm’s commitment to excellence.
“If I did not have Tim Morales as a boss, I would not have this job,” she says in the company’s lunch room. “I would have a job somewhere in Oregon. It means a lot to me. There is nowhere in the world I would rather work.”