When the world went virtual last year, AIM/R (Association of Manufacturers’ Representatives) doubled down on its mission to enhance the quality and value of professional manufacturers' representatives in the plumbing, heating and cooling industry. The group forged ahead as reps' staunch industry voice and advocate.
Continuing to deliver on educational opportunities (albeit virtual) to advance its member toolbox, the organization offered many opportunities over the last year for member engagement and learning.
At the helm is Charlie Parham, AIM/R’s president. He is also the CEO at Pepco Sales and Marketing, a rep agency headquartered in Dallas. The company's mission is simple and direct: "To drive value and opportunities for our marketplace and stakeholders as the most professional, efficient, tech-savvy, knowledgeable, and diverse team in our territory servicing the plumbing/mechanical, HVACR and waterworks segments in the construction industry."
Parham joined AIM/R as a member in 2008; a dozen years later, he started his term as its president. And what a year to lead — but Parham was up for the challenge. Never one to back down, he guided the association with his charismatic attitude and great aptitude. Earlier this year, the association announced it would meet in person for its annual convention. With a theme of “Mission Possible,” the event will be held from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1 in San Diego.
We sat down with Parham to discuss his entrance into the industry, his company and how he has led AIM/R through turbulent times — providing immediate solutions and takeaways to planning the organization’s first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Pepco Sales’ Core Values
Ease Of Doing Business
Ruth Mitchell: Charlie, how did you get started with Pepco Sales and Marketing?
Charlie Parham: As a family-run rep business, I started like many others — by working summers as a teenager. While that was a great experience, I did not think I wanted to be a rep until late in business school, when I began to passionately explain the business to my fellow supply chain and entrepreneurship students. I discovered that a rep business model could be lots of fun, which has proven to be true. Since then, I've sat in every seat in the organization, and that breadth of experience has served me well.
RM: What is your company motto?
CP: “Build it better.” With "build," we wanted to honor construction as the beating heart of our industry. The building is inspiring. Being able to drive past downtowns or suburban neighborhoods and recognize projects with the products we represent gives me a burst of fresh energy.
"It" is the universal pronoun and expresses that any individual in our company is free to bring that individuality to the organization. A salesperson's "it” could be to grow their territory, convert a particularly large customer or improve their selling skills. A customer service agent’s “it" could be to keep calm under pressure or improve their response time.
"Better" speaks to continuous improvement. So, taken together, "Build it better" is our cause at Pepco, whether it's a better building, relationship or future.
RM: How do you define success, and how do you accomplish it?
CP: Success to me is continuous improvement. That is one of Pepco's core values, and it drives me personally at work and to improve every day. I love to win. Closing a project, a customer or a product is amazing, but if we're not continuously improving our business, then someone will pass you.
RM: How long have you been involved with AIM/R, and how has it helped you in your professional growth?
CP: I’ve been volunteering for AIM/R since about 2008 and joined the board in 2012. My early experiences were helping my dad [Mike Parham] and Pete Lewnes of Preferred Sales start the Leaders of Tomorrow Today (LOT/T) group within AIM/R. I was there with Pete’s daughter Michelle forming the first LOT/T groups and making the first LOT/T presentations. It was fun. I still think of myself as the token millennial even though I’m no longer a Leader of Tomorrow Today.
RM: What interested you in pursuing a seat on the board?
CP: I was exposed to AIM/R early on in my career and saw service to the organization as a way to grow personally through associating with and learning from smart people who had been around longer than me.
RM: I can imagine the challenges leaders faced the last 15-plus months in our changing lives and business due to COVID-19. As CEO of your company, what changes did your company make when the pandemic changed the business landscape?
CP: Like many others, we had all but our essential staff stay home. We established a cross-functional Coronavirus Team that met at least weekly to discuss impacts to the organization and the steps we would take. We distributed decision-making to act quickly and had a series of all-hands Zoom calls to do everything from communicating new processes to having fun and drinking a few beers (remotely) together.
As a multi-location organization, we already had established remote capability with our customer service and other support staff, so many of them had to take their laptops, forward their phones and report to duty from the house. This planning ended up serving us very well.
Once our service team was at home or distributed throughout salespersons' offices, we used some PPP money to upgrade our customer service office suite to allow personal spaces and social distancing. We also invested in UV air cleaners throughout our buildings to circulate and clean the air. Whether through luck or these preparations, we never experienced an internally generated infection.
What we did not do was stay home for any longer than we had to. As early as June 1, our salespeople were free to make calls and have events where they could. The rules were: respect your customer's processes and restrictions; and make appointments — always. But even in March and April, we were still at jobsites doing training and providing support. Our industry never stopped entirely, and neither did we.
RM: Are you taking any steps now to address any other crisis that might come up in the future?
CP: We're aggressively building financial moats around the business, focusing on capital expenditures that replace recurring expenses, keeping ourselves diversified, and investing aggressively in our people, processes and professionalism.
RM: What drives your passion for being a part of the industry?
CP: Being a part of building things is inspiring. I love the mechanical aspects of a building under construction and the products we sell. Knowing how things work has always driven me to ask questions. We also have wonderful people in this industry. I genuinely believe that we have a sense of togetherness, passion and fun that you don't see in other industries.
RM: When you started your presidency, describe the goals/initiatives you wanted to achieve.
CP: My primary goal is to continue to add to our 24/7/365 efforts. We need to codify these efforts to become a core part of our organization and not something that dies out as soon as the current board moves on. I also want the organization to think bigger on membership. We do some great things, but we have market share left to grow in our core segments.
RM: How has COVID-19 impacted the role of the rep?
CP: COVID made the rep more valuable than ever in keyways. It forced us to stay focused on business and not use COVID as an excuse. Here’s how:
1. The on-the-ground and local resources became even more important. Some manufacturers still can't travel, which makes reps the only resource of information about the product and advocates for the customer.
2. We learned and adapted to the change and got more in tune with the virtual connection.
3. A manufacturer with reps can see many different ways to succeed. They can pick the best and scale it to their teams. That rapid influx of new ideas and tactics is even more critical in a crisis.
4. The deployment of technology to connect with customers became more of the norm.
RM: What are the most significant challenges members face today regarding the ‘new normal’?
CP: Finding product! The supply-chain disruption has been challenging to the point that we help wholesalers that rely on us to find a product we don't rep. This will pass, though. The megatrends of omnichannel, talent and increasing consolidation will be back into the forefront as challenges.
RM: What tools does AIM/R provide to help with the solution, and how are you taking steps now to address the next crisis?
CP: AIM/R has so much to offer! AIM/R on Tap. Legal services. Conference/rep mentoring. Roundtables for sharing information and networking.
The monthly AIM/R on Tap series created by Jon Wiggs, Wiggs-Haun and Bohan in Nashville, has been very aggressive in sharing best practices and solutions among our members. We realize that iron sharpens iron. AIM/R members who lean into networking throughout the organization are the ones who thrive.
We also amplify the voice of reps to the industry so that solutions can be presented to a larger group. AIM/R as a group often works with the American Supply Association as a group, for instance, to exchange ideas and share platforms. Mike Adelizzi (CEO), and his team at ASA, continue to be a big supporter of AIM/R by offering us exposure and a platform at their events. We appreciate it.
By building up our resources, we can handle the storm. We must work to be prepared to be engaged with our membership to get feedback rapidly. We’re amplifying our communication to the membership and engaging more with past presidents to not lose our tribal knowledge.
RM: Tell us about this year’s conference. What is the focus, and what can attendees expect?
CP: The key part of the conference (www.aimr.net) is that we're able to network and get back together in person. Reconnecting as our first face-to-face event in two years is extremely exciting. Brian Morgan (with The Morgan Group in Toronto) has worked hard on this year's program. We wanted to identify key challenges reps are facing and get together, network and share ideas with each other, but with our manufacturer partners as well. We have added in extra time and functions for networking so we can accomplish this goal.
We have great sessions on demand planning. We look forward to hearing directly from some of our customers' regarding demand generation and being the local expert in your market. I'm excited about a client (manufacturer) roundtable on key topics to improve rep and manufacturer go-to-market.
Finally, we have our keynote speaker, Eric Kapitulik, founder and CEO of The Program Corporate. Eric is a former special operations officer, and I'm really excited to hear his story and insights on our business.
RM: AIM/R bestows its prestigious Golden Eagle award during the conference. Will that again be awarded, and if so, to whom?
CP: Good try! You will have to wait, along with the rest of us, to see who gets awarded the Golden Eagle award at the conference in San Diego. Come to San Diego so you can be among the first to know!
RM: What does AIM/R offer its members that they cannot find elsewhere?
CP: Access to the best reps in the country! We are constantly sharing best practices and ideas for success. We have a unique fellowship that is extremely valuable to our success. We also provide rep-centric learning opportunities. Again, iron sharpens iron. If you are a rep or manufacturer that wants to improve your business, your team and yourself, then associate with the best and join the AIM/R team.
RM: Charlie, any good tidbits about what is to come down the line?
CP: Thank-you for supporting us and shining a spotlight on AIM/R and our conference plans.
One final thing I’d like to share is AIM/R’s focus on long-range planning. We are in the middle of a strategic planning program where we've identified three primary pillars that will support our growth moving forward: strong outreach, improved resources and premier events. These pillars of growth will drive AIM/R’s vision to cultivate the most progressive reps in their markets while advocating for reps' value to our industry.