This year has proven to be anything but typical and has forced adaptations in all aspects of business and personal life. In an industry built upon customer service, networking and close-knit relationships, how has it adapted to serve the needs of the manufacturers’ representative?
The Association of Industry Manufacturers’ Representatives (AIM/R) is the go-to member organization to foster growth, development, and networking for rep agencies, and it has adapted its strategy in 2020 to serve its members, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. We sat down with AIM/R President Mike Mullen, CPMR, and principal of A.H. Deveney & Co., to discuss his year of presidency within the group, and how it keeps its members engaged, informed, and empowered.
The Wholesaler Magazine: Mike, how did you get started within your company, A.H Deveney & Co.?
Mike Mullen: The company was founded in 1916 by Arthur Hood Deveney and through the years, the agency changed hands and leadership. I was hired in 1992 as a territory manager and the opportunity arose to purchase the company in 1995. Today, alongside my business partner, the agency is headquartered in Baton Rouge, La. We have 10 field reps and seven inside sales support staff and maintain a 7,700-square-foot warehouse, plus+ a large, fenced yard. Our territory covers Alabama, Arkansas, the Florida Panhandle, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
I work in the best industry in America! The plumbing/HVAC industry is full of great, hardworking people. Our agency represents fantastic manufacturers. I enjoy being a problem-solver for our customer base, which includes the specifier, wholesaler and contractor. Our company motto states: “Providing Sales and Marketing Solutions since 1916.”
TW: How do you define success and how do you accomplish it?
MM: Success is providing solutions for our customers — being the go-to when the customer needs help. We are proud of our long-term relationships with our customers and manufacturers. When a contractor or wholesaler calls us first to find a solution, we know we are a partner in their business.
TW: How long have you been involved with AIM/R? How has it helped your professional growth in the industry?
MM: Our agency is a long-standing member; in 1995, I also became engaged within the group. I look forward to participating in the annual conference and meeting with the “best of the best” manufacturers’ representatives in our industry. AIM/R provides solutions to problems and challenges as a business owner, and the topics are relevant to the issues involved with running my agency. Being able to network at the conference or having experienced reps willing to take my call when I needed help or advice has helped me tremendously.
TW: What changes did your company make when COVID-19 transformed the business landscape?
MM: Changes for our agency were seamless, as we had gone through Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, as well as the 2016 flood in South Louisiana, and we were prepared for working remotely. Our outside sales team all have home offices. Our inside team works from home and remains in contact with the supply chain. Our phone and Internet are cloud-based, so we can work from anywhere we can pick up Wi-Fi. We kept our warehouse open for shipping and receiving with a skeleton crew on-site. I’m proud to have been able to keep our entire team employed.
TW: Are you taking any steps now to address any other crisis that might come up in the future?
MM: As an Eagle Scout, the motto, “Be Prepared,” always hit home. I don’t think anyone was prepared for what we have gone through in 2020. The hard part of this is what are we preparing for next? My partners and I have had many discussions about “What is next?” We are keeping our expenses to a minimum, communicating with our manufacturers, fellow reps and customers.
TW: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
MM: This came from my father, “Always treat others as you want to be treated.” I have tried to remain true to this throughout my career and in everyday life.
TW: What does AIM/R offer its members that they cannot find elsewhere?
MM: AIM/R is where our rep membership comes to succeed. We offer a unified voice to advocate the advantages of working with an independent manufacturers’ rep. Our members can network with others around the country who are dealing with the same issues they are experiencing. They can take advantage of the educational programs offered by AIM/R to further their career and standing in our industry.
TW: What interested you in pursuing a seat on AIM/R’s board?
MM: Two AIM/R past presidents influenced me. Frank Parks, Trim to the Trade, and Alan Guidish, Preferred Sales, had both approached me at separate times to apply to be a part of the board. Timing is everything, and the time was right in 2014. I knew I had the time to serve and give back to the organization that has helped me throughout my career.
TW: What goals and initiatives did you want to achieve during your presidency?
MM: AIM/R has always had a solid board of directors, with some of the best in our industry serving or have served. I wanted to continue the movement that my predecessors started with their vision. My main goal was to stay the course plotted for us and continue their initiatives. We were to have had our strategic planning meeting in March, but it was postponed due to COVID-19. We are determined to complete our Benchmark Survey of our membership and update the organization’s bylaws. The pandemic changed everything. We, as an organization, are evolving on an almost daily basis.
TW: How did the goals change when COVID-19 hit our shores?
MM: The board members are also agency owners, so when it hit, we were all in evaluation mode, trying to get a grasp on what was happening and how long it would last. Survival is probably what everyone was thinking in the beginning. We canceled our mid-year board meeting, surveyed the membership regarding our fall conference and made the decision to host a digital conference in 2020 and push this year’s conference venue to 2021.
TW: How has COVID-19 impacted the role of the rep?
MM: Can you say virtual? Virtual sales meetings, virtual sales calls, virtual happy hours. We are living in a virtual world now. The rep always adapts to the changing market and economic conditions. This year is no different. We still represent our manufacturers and we still have products to sell. Thankfully, our industry is essential, which has kept the supply chain open. Instead of face-to-face, we are all now masters of MicrosoftTeams, Zoom, Go-to-Meeting, etc.
TW: What changes were made to this year’s AIM/R goals to help members navigate through COVID-19?
MM: We set up a Coronavirus-COVID-19 Tool Kit on our website (www.aimr.net), which is a resource for our members and updated continuously. We have held multiple webinars for our membership, including Rep Panel discussions, vendor presentations, and wholesaler/manufacturer roundtables. CM Services (our management company) has done a wonderful job in making sure our members are receiving the communications to help them in a time they need it.
TW: What are the biggest challenges members face today in terms of the “new normal”?
MM: Communication with the entire supply chain. How do we do that effectively to keep sales coming in? With everyone online now, I see a fatigue setting in — we’re tired of webinars, online meetings, etc. We must find a way for our message to stay fresh with our customers. How do we communicate with the contractor owners and front-line workers? How do we communicate with our wholesale buyers, counter personnel, and their inside/outside sales team? How do we safely make in-person visits? How do we coordinate trips with our regional sales managers?
TW: What tools does AIM/R provide to help with the solution?
MM: Some of our resources are aimed at addressing these questions, above along with webinars we have held and those that are upcoming. Our rep members are only a phone call away from those of us who are willing to help each other navigate the turbulent waters of 2020.
TW: Do you see the rep role changing in a post-COVID-19 world?
MM: Changes will occur, but AIM/R will continue to be a problem-solver. I do think that we will continue to take on duties and responsibilities that in the past were borne by the manufacturer and wholesaler. I see fewer in-person customer visits, more frequent but brief virtual trainings. One thing that will not change: someone must be in the field to physically look at problems and develop solutions.
TW: Tell us about this year’s conference, how it went from in-person to virtual.
MM: Like many associations, AIM/R pivoted as things changed in our communities, countries, and world in the past few months. Every industry and business is re-evaluating its next steps, and AIM/R is no different.
AIM/R’s board of directors reviewed and discussed several options for the 48th Annual Conference (Sept. 16-19, 2020) in San Diego, Calif. The board surveyed membership with questions around participation levels, the economy, consumer confidence and travel restrictions. Those responses — along with additional factors such as fiscal responsibility, possible new outbreaks of COVID-19, the availability of speakers, the tenor of both the educational/social programming and other potential conference alternatives — were carefully considered.
As a result, AIM/R’s leadership determined to change the 48th Annual Conference to a virtual one to be held Oct. 22-23, 2020. We will return to the Grand Manchester Hyatt San Diego on Sept. 29–Oct. 2, 2021, for the 49th Annual Conference.
In terms of format for the 48th Annual Conference, we plan to conduct the conference in six-hour increments each day, with breaks incorporated into the schedule. We will have sections for our vendor partners in addition to our sponsors to be highlighted within the platform. We are trying to keep as much social interaction as possible in a virtual format.
TW: What are the topics and focus of the event?
MM: The purpose of the event is simple: Creating connectivity among our peers while we are apart. This virtual event will consist of manufacturer/rep content starting on Day One, with updates from key national wholesale partners, along with best practices for those calling on them in a COVID-19 world. We will also conduct the Rep and Manufacturer (RAM) Roundtables through a virtual meeting room format. Day One will include a virtual social event, and Day Two will be rep-on-rep content, with industry education tailored to how to operate and manage a rep business in a COVID-19 environment.
We will continue with the popular Rep Roundtables, aka Rep Information / Solution Exchange (RISE), along with video tributes to where we have been as an association and where we are going. Day Two will conclude with an agency membership Town Hall to address the business of the association as required by the AIM/R bylaws.
TW: AIM/R traditionally bestows its prestigious Golden Eagle award during the conference. Will that again be awarded?
MM: The AIM/R leadership determined that the award will pause this year. The AIM/R Golden Eagle is the signature award of the association. It is given to a manufacturer with a proven track record of supporting manufacturers’ reps as being the most efficient, cost-effective method of going to market. The AIM/R leadership agreed that assessing that criteria would be difficult due to the disruption of COVID-19. Leadership also whole-heartedly agreed that any recipient deserves a live, on-stage moment of recognition before an in-person audience of industry peers.
We look forward to a big roll-out of the AIM/R Golden Eagle in San Diego on Sept. 30, 2021!