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Plumbing and piping wholesale distributor Northland Reps (www.northlandreps.com) evolved in 1992 from roots established by Douglas Greig & Associates, a manufacturers’ rep firm formed in 1960. Matt Shearman, head of Paragon Sales & Marketing and a member of the AIM/R Industry and PR Task Force, spoke with Northland Reps co-owners Kevin Barta and Al Fracassi about their experiences with AIM/R, their future and everything else moving forward.
Matt Shearman: Please introduce yourselves.
Kevin Barta: I’ve been in this industry for more than 25 years, starting on the wholesale side and moving on to the rep side years ago. We cover the states of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.
Al Fracassi: I started six years ago with Northland after also spending time on the wholesale side and manufacturing side. Kevin and I are extremely proud U.S. Air Force veterans and continue to bring those values to our business daily. We recently moved to a larger building with more warehouse space to better serve our market and manufacturers.
MS: Tell me when your company started with AIM/R, how long you have been attending and what you have learned.
KB: As a company, we joined and started to attend the AIM/R conferences in 2014 at Lake Tahoe. We’ve had at least one individual attend each conference since. Every conference over that span has taught us a few different business approaches that we may not have thought of. It has been very beneficial to use the new methods to gain business and to help serve our market.
MS: Does any specific approach or method stand out from your time with AIM/R?
AF: The one avenue that seems to come up with times changing is customer service. Basic customer service seems to have fallen over the years. We need to get back to the customer in a timely manner and not ever lie to them, even if it’s not the news they want to hear. You will get more respect with the correct answer versus trying to untangle the lie.
Answering the phone, sending detailed emails and getting information promptly (to the correct people) sometimes falls behind the wayside. These things should never change.
MS: As you mention customer service being paramount, what else would you say is needed to be a successful rep agency?
KB: We would not be successful without the help and support from our inside staff and manufacturers — being united as a team and not as individuals. There may be times when there may be too much information/communication, but it’s always better than little to zero of each.
MS: Getting back to AIM/R as an organization, what do you value most?
AF: AIM/R has been great. It’s allowed us to connect with large and small reps throughout the country and build relationships within that group. Being a part of AIM/R has opened some great opportunities for us and allowed us to grow. We continue to reach out to members on a daily basis when needed. We would not have known most of these reps if we were not a part of AIM/R.
MS: As your business continues to grow, with moving to a larger location and additional warehouse space, where do you see the business moving to in 10 years? And what would you say to the newer generation getting into the business?
KB: We hope to see the industry grow as it has, and manufacturers continue to use local reps. We hope the manufacturers see the value we all bring with all the relationships we have built over the years.
AF: The younger generation has more technological advantages than most. If we can combine all the knowledge between us, the sky is the limit. Many times, people will want information presented along different media: phone calls, email and text.
Matt Shearman heads up Paragon Sales & Marketing and is a member of the AIM/R Industry and PR Task Force.