The success of any business or organization doesn’t just hinge on one person. Rather, it can usually be traced back to the contributions of many. Today’s AIM/R members wanted a way to honor the dedication and efforts made by members who came before them — especially those who drove the group’s inception and helped build a strong foundation.
In 2015, AIM/R established a Hall of Fame to formally recognize — and memorialize — all of those contributions. Fourteen have already been honored, and two more were inducted this September at the group’s 47th Annual Conference in Orlando. During the Awards Luncheon, AIM/R Board Member Michelle Lewnes-Dadas, CPMR, of Preferred Sales Inc., introduced Sam McCullough and Dave Watson as the newest inductees into this prestigious group.
Sam McCullough, McCullough & Associates, AIM/R president 1981-82
McCullough was born to be in sales. His first job was washing dishes at a drugstore on the Jersey Shore when he was a teenager. After only two weeks, the owner pulled McCullough from the kitchen area and put him on the counter saying, “I want you to be up front selling to my customers!”
McCullough earned a degree from Franklin & Marshall, and took a sales position at Lancaster Pump. Newly married, he and his wife, Patty, lived in several eastern cities as his territory changed before moving to Chicago where he would manage the Midwest market.
While working Lancaster’s booth at trade shows, McCullough was intrigued by the presence of the well-dressed men who seemed to know so many people and had multiple booths. That is how he learned about the role of independent manufacturers’ representatives.
“When my former competitor from Wayne Pump approached me about representing their line, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to form my own agency,” he said. “They gave me a choice of several cities and Patty and I thought Minneapolis would be the right spot for our growing family.”
S.D. McCullough & Associates was founded in February 1962 and his first year’s sales were $80,000. McCullough represented lines in six Midwestern states, and when he sold the agency in 2002, sales had reached $19 million. He said the tremendous growth was primarily fueled by his decision to get involved with PVC during its early years.
“Timing is everything in this business,” he said. “Beyond traditional plumbing wholesalers, I was fortunate to capitalize on the growing DIY market by selling plastic pipe to the major hardware wholesalers in my territory. No one had ever called on them before, and hardware stores had not been able to generate much in plumbing sales. But PVC began drawing in that business. Before long, they started buying and stocking other plumbing products from me.”
Threatened with the banning of plastic pipe inside homes by the state of Wisconsin’s Fire Chief Association, McCullough decided to meet this challenge head-on by quickly securing a spot on a Milwaukee television station. Along with an associate who wielded a blow torch, he demonstrated how fire would continue to burn ABS black pipe after the torch flame was removed. The same demonstration was performed on PVC pipe, and when the torch was removed, the PVC pipe stopped burning. It was a brilliant move, and PVC pipe was accepted for Wisconsin’s building construction.
McCullough was involved in AIM/R as president and gave several presentations at AIM/R conferences sharing information about the opportunities in the DIY market. His company made the cover of Supply House Times’ August 1977 issue under the title “The Professionals.” Twenty-three years later, they were featured in an article headlined “The Multi Market Rep.” A third article in the magazine several years later was entitled, “Is There a Role for the Manufacturers Rep?”
McCullough’s legacy of entrepreneurship and out-of-the box thinking continues to be recognized within AIM/R. And although he sold the agency almost 20 years ago, it continues to bear his name.
“I’m very pleased to be recognized in this way,” he said. “Success is a constantly moving target and it sometimes takes sacrifice. You can’t ever stop looking for new opportunities and you must be willing to change your strategy and approach when necessary. It’s also important to build relationships with integrity and fulfill your promises, because what you’re really selling is the reputation you’ve built.”
Dave Watson, Dave Watson Associates, AIM/R president 1996-97
Watson quite literally crashed right into a career as a manufacturers’ rep. While he was home for Christmas break during his freshman year in college, he wrecked his dad’s car. As Watson described it, “my dad blew a gasket and told me I was going to have to work off my debt for the repairs.” So instead of heading back to college, he began working at his dad’s office, Dave Watson Associates, in January 1971.
Established in 1966, Dave Watson Associates represents manufacturers of plumbing, heating, PVF, irrigation, fire protection and OEM products. The agency covers Michigan’s lower peninsula and Northeastern Indiana. Watson’s dad was handling all the sales and his mom answered the phone calls. Watson was the first full-time outside sales employee.
“It was a different world then,” Watson shared. “I’d head out on Monday and make calls all over the state before coming home on Thursday night and doing all my paperwork. One of the biggest tasks was keeping the catalog up to date — something dad was very particular about. There were no computers or Internet, and nowhere else to turn for information. Our catalogs were the only resource for us and our customers.”
Early on, Watson was primarily making cold calls. But even though that could have been an intimidating situation for a kid who hadn’t gotten out of his teen years yet, he used his humble nature and determination to quickly build relationships.
“I would tell them up front that I didn’t know a lot but I would do my best for them,” he said. “Most really went out of their way to help me. These were men from ‘The Greatest Generation’ and I had so much respect for them. I think these gentlemen would have helped anyone who was trying. Maybe they even saw some potential in me.”
The agency’s ownership transitioned from the late 1970s into the mid 1980s. Rather than making a singular announcement that Watson had become president, the agency progressively made him the face of the company. It is doing the same thing now as Watson transitions the business over to Rick Johnston, a long-time employee.
“All of our factories are pleased with our plans,” he said. “They want stability and to know that you have a plan for the future. We’re also bringing new young talent. Rick’s son has interned with us during his summer breaks from college, and will be joining us full time when he graduates.”
Watson said that being part of AIM/R and the plumbing industry has been rewarding both personally and professionally.
“I’ve really enjoyed participating in the group for all of these years,” he said. “The things I’ve learned and connections I’ve made through AIM/R have helped me make a good living for my family.
“While some people may not think that plumbing is a very exciting career, it’s been a great experience for me. I feel good about the products that I sell, which are designed to make people’s lives better. And the success of our industry has led to the creation of jobs and continued employment for many. You’ve got to work hard, but it’s a fun business that is filled with some of the best people I know.”
In accepting this honor during the conference, Watson addressed the attendees, saying, “I am very flattered to be recognized like this, but don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it,” he said. “I know one thing though — I didn’t do it by myself. A lot of fine people and organizations made any contribution by me to AIM/R possible. Each of the men who banded together to form AIM/R is a Hall of Famer in my eyes. They had to overcome the very negative stereotype of reps among others in the industry, without any formal organizational structure or management — and no money to run it. There was pushback from the industry and on several occasions, it looked like AIM/R might not make it. The 16 founders provided the seed money and moral courage to sustain AIM/R in the early days.
“AIM/R has brought well-deserved recognition and respect for the rep function, which no individual rep could have done on their own. The saying ‘those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it’ also applies to the rep function. AIM/R must continue emphasizing the value of independent reps to every segment of the industry so the next generation in this industry won’t forget it. We never want to take for granted the accomplishments of AIM/R.”