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The Association of Manufacturers’ Representatives (AIM/R) (www.aimr.net) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. A monumental accomplishment by traditional means but add in weathering the last few years of unprecedented change and uncertainty, the celebration becomes sweeter knowing it has helped its members do the same.
Brian Morgan, principal of The Morgan Group, a manufacturers’ representative company based out of Ontario, Canada, is president-elect of AIM/R and will take the helm at the upcoming convention, Oct. 12-14 at the Gaylord Rockies Resort in Colorado.
As president-elect of the group, he understands that challenging times require groups to work together, and the enthusiasm and energy from AIM/R members are palpable. We sat with Morgan to talk about how his career path veered into the rep world and his approach to leading a stellar industry organization.
Ruth Mitchell: Tell me how your career path led you to the manufacturing rep field, and eventually as principal of The Morgan Group.
Brian Morgan: Upon graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, my first full-time position was with an experimental marketing company. For six years, I worked with Fortune 500 companies developing sales programs for them in the United States and Canada. My father, Gary Morgan, was a sole proprietor manufacturers’ representative specializing in commercial water heating focused in the Greater Toronto Area.
In 1998, he convinced me to join him; with my marketing background, it was a great fit. Over time, we added more synergistic manufacturers that helped us provide a systematic approach to selling. In 2006, we formed The Morgan Group with a total of five partners. At this time, we expanded our geographic reach to include the entire province of Ontario, driven by the need of some of the manufacturers we represented to provide one clear voice and one clear message for the market we serve.
Today, The Morgan Group has 13 employees focusing on sales and business development in the communities we serve — the wholesaler, engineer, developer and contractor. We use an account-based selling approach to create the demand for the products we proudly represent. Our product is our people, and we are fortunate to have a great team. Time flies, and I could not be happier working in such a rewarding industry with great people.
RM: The Morgan Group’s mission is strong in education and partnership. Please describe how the company accomplishes mission success.
BM: The Morgan Group focuses on a synergistic approach to selling. We concentrate on piping and supports, commercial heating and residential HVAC. We look to work with manufacturers providing the components that are part of the systems we sell. This allows us to work to become the trusted advisors to the communities we serve.
The demand for our manufacturers is created by educating our accounts on the benefits offered by the products we represent. This creates a strong relationship between our market, manufacturers and sales team.
RM: How long have you been involved with AIM/R? How has it helped your professional growth in the industry?
BM: It all started while taking my CPMR course in Arizona, where I was fortunate to meet some fellow plumbing and HVAC manufacturers’ representatives who asked if I was involved in AIM/R. Oddly enough, my old university roommate told me about CPMR as he was a manufacturers’ rep in the plastics injection and molding industry! During our college years, we never thought we would both take over our family businesses.
I attended my first AIM/R event in San Destin, Fla.; at the time, I was the sole Canadian to participate. The AIM/R membership welcomed me with open arms, and I became one of the initial Leaders of Tomorrow Today (LOTT) members, which met for the first time at this Florida annual conference. Since then, AIM/R has provided an environment that has helped me grow as an individual, grow my business, empower my team and give back through involvement in the industry.
RM: We all had to become masters of navigation during a global crisis. What changes did your company implement to help your customers that are now standard practices moving forward?
BM: Switching to a virtual environment was not new as we cover large geography in Ontario, Canada, and many of our team members were remote already. So, we had to implement all of the tools now needed but not used, such as video conferencing. The initial pause in business allowed us to rework how we did things. We invested in technology to support our sales team and manufacturers to assist in the sales process with our customer base.
We have come through this experience so much stronger. From the first day of the shutdowns and through the COVID-19 pandemic, we focused on a team-first philosophy and had minimal changes to our core team. We even added new members to The Morgan Group during this time!
RM: The biggest challenges we see today are supply chain and labor shortages. How is The Morgan Group addressing these issues?
BM: Communication. Representing various manufacturers, we could see what has worked well and what has not been working so well. This has allowed us to put together strategies to keep our customers informed with the information they need to move their businesses forward during these difficult times. If there is a clear line of communication, it is far easier to manage the situations we face. Understanding what is in our control, out of our control, and our ability to influence are the keys to success in navigating through these tumultuous times.
RM: What drives your passion for being a part of the industry?
BM: My father warned me that people rarely leave once you enter into this industry. This has been true in my experience and has helped fuel my passion for this industry. Through membership in AIM/R, I found the support of understanding my business needs and challenges and helping my company adapt.
Through the manufacturers we represent, we have innovative products and first-class training on how the industry is changing and adapting. Our account-based selling approach has built long-standing relationships with people and companies we work with daily. This has developed a global network of contacts over time.
This industry has supported our company and gives me the passion for making sure I am giving back to it. We all invest heavily in our careers, and I would be remiss not to thank my wife, Lauren, and two boys for their love and support.
RM: What interested you in pursuing a seat on the AIM/R board?
BM: Being the first Canadian to join AIM/R and attend the annual conferences, I felt there was an opportunity and need to have a voice at the table to grow the membership on both sides of the border and provide a chance to give back to the industry. The president position is a one-year term as you transition through the AIM/R Executive Committee. In October of 2022, I will become the first Canadian to be president of this incredible association that reps run for reps.
RM: Tell us about your goals/initiatives for the group.
BM: During the tenure that I have been on the AIM/R board, there has been a move to be more inclusive of the industry that we serve. My goal is to continue this work and ensure AIM/R takes a more active role in advocacy for the manufacturers’ representative function in the industry while continuing to ensure that the association increases membership and provides the education necessary to elevate the rep role.
RM: AIM/R has helped the manufacturers’ rep succeed by developing and curating its member toolkit. Tell us what has been used most over the last 18 months and the impact it has made.
BM: The AIM/R Tool Kit is an ever-evolving resource center for what our membership asks for to succeed in their business. The board of directors develops a strategic plan every three years to focus on items that the membership requests. The goal of the tool kit is to make AIM/R 365/24/7 for our members to ensure they have access to the tools and resources. For every rep it is different for what they need, which is great!
Whether it be access to legal counsel who understands our business, aligned vendors committed to rep-focused software and services, to manufacturer white papers and services through Manufacturer Agents of North American — the box of tools continues to grow. The board has never been more robust with a group of dedicated people looking to help our association. AIM/R is in a very fortunate position.
RM: The group just launched a new monthly connection with its members called AIM/R on Tap. Please tell us more about it.
BM: Unfortunately, like many events, the pandemic forced AIM/R to cancel its annual conference in 2020, which typically was the banner event for our members to get together to become educated and socialize as a group. The board of directors was looking for a way to connect virtually with the membership, so it launched AIM/R on Tap.
Its success exceeded expectations, and now is a staple event every third Thursday of the month. It’s a one-hour session on what’s important to our membership, hosted by other rep firms, which allows us to learn best practices from each other. These are can’t-miss events for our membership!
This one-hour-a-month investment can help make your business better. It also allows others in your business to engage with AIM/R and learn from peers across North America.
RM: The association is celebrating a milestone this year — turning 50! What an incredible accomplishment. How will the association be celebrating the anniversary at the annual convention?
BM: Each annual conference keeps getting larger and larger, which speaks to the health of the association over the past 50 years! I cannot give away too many secrets, but we are returning to where we started — Colorado. We adjusted our schedule to include a closing night 50th Anniversary Gala, which is James Bond-themed and -styled. It will make for a memorable night, for sure!
RM: Can you give us a glimpse of the event’s focus and any new programming?
BM: With our James Bond-style theme, attendees will be in for some fun and presented with topics directly gleaned from their needs and industry interest. The event has grown so large and the planning investment so detailed that several years ago, the association formed a Conference Committee to plan this event.
Under the leadership of Katie Hubach, CPA, Signature Sales, the annual conference ensures that membership feedback is heard, and the topics covered are directly tied to the feedback we receive. There will be interactive opportunities to include the Rep and Manufacturer Roundtable discussions to rep-led sessions on writing specifications and synergistic line cards, to name a few.
RM: What are some of the defining moments the association has had in its first 50 years?
BM: From humble beginnings — that of a small group of reps forming AIM/R to a membership of nearly 400 rep agencies and manufacturer members speaks to the growth and need for the association. For defining moments, it isn’t easy to highlight a few.
However, from the time that I have been on the AIM/R board, there have been several initiatives that have created defining moments for the association. It has worked very hard to be more inclusive of the industry as a whole. This has been accomplished through memorandums of understanding with other associations such as the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating, the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association, and the American Supply Association.Wow, so much is taking place, and with the channel’s support, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished! Thank you, Brian, and thank you, AIM/R — we will see you in October!