Gilbert, Ariz.-based manufacturers rep firm Southwestern Mechanical Sales was started thanks to some good, old-fashioned elbow grease.
Founder Jim Farney got things rolling in 1988 simply by selling Delany flush valves out of the back of his car. “Jim went out peddling and started to grow the line,” Southwestern President Jeff McBride notes. “Manufacturers started to notice how hard he was working from the time he got up until the time he went to bed. Jim would sell anything. He was a go-getter.”
Farney’s hard work spawned the company’s first physical headquarters in 1992 — a 2,000-sq.-ft space in the Phoenix suburbs. As the company continued to grow in size and scope, Farney started thinking about the future.
“Jim had taken a CPMR class that was very big on succession planning,” Southwestern Executive Vice President Val Galvan Jr. explains. “He came out of it with a succession plan.”
Farney, who had a rep background prior to venturing out on his own, first approached McBride about eventually taking over the company. McBride, a rising star in the firm, joined Southwestern in 1993 starting “basically from ground-zero.”
Galvan Jr., who previously had worked for several rep agencies in the area and for Mountain Country Supply on the distribution side, joined the firm in 2002 and was approached two years later about joining Farney’s vision for the future.
On July 1, 2006, Farney’s succession plan was put into place with McBride and Galvan Jr. taking over the company, which today has blossomed to 20 employees with office/warehouse locations in Gilbert (24,000 sq. ft.), Tucson (22,000 sq. ft.) and McBride’s home base of Las Vegas (9,000 sq. ft.).
Carrying on the torch of company founder Farney, McBride and Galvan Jr. direct a firm that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the customer service it provides the well-known industry lines it represents. For its efforts, Southwestern Mechanical Sales has been named the 2015 Supply House Times Manufacturers Representative of the Year.
“They absolutely deserve the recognition for all their hard work,” Sloan Valve Vice President of Business Development John Aykroyd says. “They keep the customer at the forefront of everything they do. That commitment to customer service as well as their integrity has been key to their continued success.”
Charlotte Pipe Western Regional Sales Manager Jim Simpson adds: “They represent some of the finest manufacturers in our industry. With offices in Arizona and Nevada, they provide excellent coverage and services for those manufacturers.”
Southwestern is dedicated to traditional distribution channels serving wholesalers, mechanical engineers, contractors, architects and end users. McBride says the company’s relationship with distributors continues to be paramount. “Our mission statement says we will not sell around distribution,” he says. “Without distributors we no longer are in business. We believe we can help the distribution channel by acting as an extension and promoting our manufacturers’ products through distribution. We lean on each other.”
Galvan Jr. adds: “We want to make sure our wholesalers are competitive in their marketplace. They close the deal. Our job is to make sure they know the features and benefits of the products we represent. And if there is a question or issue on a product, they have the backup of our agency.”
Southwestern also has earned a reputation for the work it does on the specification side with its engineering and design customers. “Engineers are different than wholesalers,” McBride says. “They get product specifications and it has to be the right product for that certain project. The job starts there. If it’s not specified, you are not getting on that job. Being specification-driven always has been a huge emphasis for us.”
The firm now represents 19 lines throughout the PHCP-PVF realm and its line card is filled with industry-leading manufacturers in their particular product categories. “They know what it takes to be a successful manufacturers representative in today’s very competitive marketplace,” Bradford White Vice President of Sales Jim McGoldrick says. “They are dedicated and focused on their manufacturers, know their products well and understand how to translate that information to their wholesale customers.”
Elkay Vice President/General Manager Traditional Plumbing Channel Mark Whittington adds: “The relationships they have developed in Arizona and Nevada are outstanding. They know what is going on in their markets and that drives a lot of great information back into Elkay.”
Training for the future
Southwestern’s core principals center on being leaders in integrity, professionalism, product knowledge and current technologies. The latter two have heavily factored into the firm’s recent sales growth, which McBride and Galvan Jr. state was in the low double-digit category in 2014.
In terms of technology advances, Southwestern’s outside sales personnel (which includes the likes of Richard Galvan, Val Galvan III, Chuck Shenker, Matthew Kondrath, James McMannus and Jim Tegano) now are armed with iPads and iPhones. “As more and more manufacturers moved to online submittal sheets and catalogs, it’s important our guys have that information at their fingertips,” Galvan Jr. says. “This allows them to answer questions on the spot whether they are dealing with a wholesaler, a contractor or an end user.”
The three Southwestern offices also have gone paperless. Instead of a traditional fax machine, faxes now go directly into the company’s computer system. “People are seeing orders quicker and orders get entered faster,” McBride says. “With a manufacturer, you want to be the first order in and the first order out. You are competing against every rep in the country. It speeds up the process.”
Additionally, the company, which has a policy phones must be answered in two or less rings (there is no voicemail), had a customized ERP system developed that makes the sales process even smoother. “We had a special package designed for us and for our manufacturers,” McBride says. “We do things differently with our quotes where everything we send out is list price instead of net.”
A comprehensive and continuous training program for Southwestern customers and employees generates long-lasting benefits. The company’s suburban Phoenix location in Gilbert includes space to host as many as 40 customers and educate them on the various Southwestern lines. “One day it could be water heater training and the next its faucets, drains or flush valves,” Galvan Jr. says. “We’ll have anybody in here from contractors to engineers to municipalities to school districts.
“It’s a key opportunity for us to connect with our customers, do training and show them our inventory and the support they will get with us. We are an extension of the manufacturer. We are there every day for our customers. They look to us for our expertise.”
McBride adds the onsite inventory the company has in its three locations has made a big difference in recent times, particularly in the Tucson location where will-call business consistently is robust. “During the economic slowdown, manufacturers had full-freight requirements that made it tough on distributors,” he says. “The distributors see we have the material and they can come over and pick up that one piece and not have to worry about the freight. Even in the tough times we were their backup.”
Every Monday, the Gilbert location holds a sales meeting that includes time where the sales staff discusses market trends, as well as opportunities and concerns they are facing in their particular areas. The last 10 or 15 minutes are dedicated to product training delivered by Southwestern employees.
“It keeps everybody in the company working in the same direction,” Galvan Jr. says. “With our salespeople doing the product presentations, everybody is engaged and it forces them to prepare and learn because they will get asked questions from the group.”
Kathi Shreeve, who came from Ferguson and now works inside sales, adds: “Those meetings keep us balanced. The outside people tell us what they hear in the field and we work off that.”
Quotations Manager Al Beckom, who has been with the firm 1 1/2 years, also is a firm believer in Southwestern’s training. “I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here,” he says.
Southwestern also benefits from a cohesive relationship between the outside salespeople and their inside counterparts. “We back each other up,” says Richard Galvan, Val’s first cousin who works out of the Gilbert office. “It’s all about teamwork. Everybody is on the same page. We all know our goals and we all know what we need to do.”
While Southwestern’s salespeople may have particular lines they are more invested in, the staff has the ability to sell all the company’s lines. “It’s natural for people to gravitate to certain lines,” Galvan Jr. says. “It’s about opportunity. We believe in synergy here. If you are on a project, the door could open to sell other items on our line card. If there is an additional opportunity to sell flush valves, you need to do it.”
Jomar Valve President and CEO Paul Craig adds: “Their sales staff excels at added-value selling while building long-term relationships.”
Galvan Jr. notes the company is aided by having talented and dedicated employees. Warehouse Manager Dave Santiago walked into Southwestern’s office 15 years ago looking for a job and quickly got a sense of how the company operates. “They called me the same day about the job,” he says. “From day one I’ve loved working here. You get to do a multitude of things. We all have our strong suits.”
Terri Galvan, Val’s wife and part of the accounting team with Dawn Morano, says longevity such as Santiago’s gives the company a leg up in the marketplace.
“We have a lot of people who have been here a long time. There is not a lot of turnover,” says Terri Galvan, whose son, Val III, joined the company in outside sales in 2008. “You have to have good people to be able to support your manufacturers. The greatest assets you have are your people.”
Inside Sales Representative Alex Jaramillo adds: “We have great people and we take care of our customers very well. The lines we have makes that even easier.”
Choose with care
Southwestern has repped half its lines for more than 20 years each. Woodford Mfg. has been with the company 26 years, followed by Sloan, Elkay, Watco and Church.
But adding lines, McBride and Galvan Jr. say, never is done for the sake of expanding the company portfolio. “We look for lines that complement our current sheet,” McBride says. “Is there market acceptance for the product? If we take on the line will it be a top dog in our territories? If it doesn’t meet those criteria, it’s not doing the manufacturer or Southwestern Mechanical Sales any good. It has to be a good fit. We’re very fortunate to represent the manufacturers we do. They are the best top to bottom.”
Those manufacturers Southwestern represents are seeing their products and systems go into many high-profile projects in Arizona and Nevada. Southwestern recently completed work at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz., the spring training home for the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Southwestern currently is involved in projects with Intel, Marina Heights — a lot of five mixed-use buildings in Tempe — an arena construction at Grand Canyon University and rehab work to the football field at the University of Arizona.
Business is brisk in Nevada as well; Southwestern is involved with the construction of two condo towers at the University of
Nevada-Reno and numerous casino projects on the Las Vegas strip as well as the Mandalay Bay Convention Center and remodels at McCarran Airport.
“They are highly knowledgeable about our products as well as the plumbing industry as a whole,” T&S Brass Western Regional Sales Manager Teri Cain says. “Their relationships in the industry bring opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Southwestern has its pulse on its local markets and what is occurring industry-wide. McBride is optimistic about the projected growth of new home starts in Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix-Tempe area. However, he cautions a labor shortage could bring that good news to a screeching halt.
McBride adds the firm has worked through the challenges of the increasing green initiative, as well as the more recent government-mandated low-lead and water-heater regulations. “Everything is going to low-flow and high efficiency,” he says. “As a rep firm we have to make sure we are learning about these things. For us, low flow hasn’t been a big issue. With the water-heater regulations, we made sure we were ahead of the game and are staying on top of it.”
Galvan Jr. notes on commercial specification projects one major adjustment in recent years has been the increasing number of stakeholders involved. “It could be the owner, architect, operations person and the designer who are involved,” he says. “If you have a relationship with nine of the 10 people involved in the project and you don’t have one with that 10th person, it could cost you.”
AIM/R member Southwestern, along with other rep agencies, continues to combat the proliferation of Internet commerce. “You may spend six months trying to get a product specified and a contractor could go buy it on the Internet because they know they can get it cheaper,” McBride says. “That’s where we see the issue.”
Like Farney did, Galvan Jr. and McBride have their eyes on the company’s future. “We are working on the long-term right now,” says McBride, who notes the company is forecasting further sales growth over the next year. “We want to get the next generation in line. Val and I still have a lot of years left, but something such as a succession plan doesn’t happen overnight.”
Galvan Jr. adds: “We have young talent in all three locations. Short-term we will continue to train them and provide them the opportunity to possibly become the next Jeff and Val.”
Ultimately, McBride and Galvan Jr. believe it’s not just the technology advancements and uber-commitment to training that have propelled Southwestern to the heights it has attained. Instead, the firm’s leadership duo stresses relationships with its customers are ultimately what have resulted in a prosperous rep firm working with industry-leading lines.
“It’s not hurry up and get the customer off the phone with us,” Galvan Jr. says. “We are not order takers. We are a relationship-driven company and we make sure all our customers’ needs are met to maximum efficiencies. It boils down to relationships. That’s what sets us apart. We are the guys who can help you.”
|Southwestern Mechanical Sales Lines|
|Armstrong, Bemis & Church Seats, Bradford White, Charlotte Pipe, Elkay, Guardian Safety Equipment, Halsey Taylor, Intersan, Jomar Valve, Lawler Mfg., McGuire Mfg., Metcraft Industries, MIFAB, Mission Rubber, Sloan Valve, Stern Williams, T&S Brass, Woodford, Watco|