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Russ Rose, formerly of Heatway and Watts Radiant, would jokingly call the manufacturer’s representatives he worked with reptiles. Chances are, you have met a great and a not so great rep in our industry.
I recently left Shamrock Sales to take the position as the manager of the REHAU Construction Academy in Virginia. I had the privilege of working for one of the best firms in my time at Shamrock Sales Inc. in Colorado.
What a good rep should do is save you time. Manufacturers generally have the answers you are looking for through their technical support chain of command, but the very difficult questions may not get an immediate answer. Reps should step in, take the contractor’s call, and then run the question up the chain faster or to a specific person. Best case, the reps have heard that question before and will save you the time on the phone with a quick answer. However, the most helpful reps I know may or may not be super technically savvy, but they provide great customer service.
When my dad was an installer, Mike Lundquist of Lundquist Associates would help him figure out new or different ways to install radiant heating systems. Mike would research something, explain it to my dad, he would install it, and they would go back and see if it worked. This amount of support made it easier to try new system designs and controls. Mike helped my dad improve his product offering; my dad helped sell Mike’s products.
Sometimes, problem jobs require a physical job site visit, and getting someone from the corporate headquarters may take a while. Overall, the best contractors I know have relationships with reps not because they necessarily need the help, but because they trust they will get a quick resolution to problems they may run into. There is no perfect product on the market, but a good rep should help make the best out of a lemon product or bad situation.
A trend I have noticed with reps, and with our industry in general, is the amount of seasoned, wise and sage employees I see at trade shows like AHR. An advantage of the seasoned workforce is the amount of long-standing product and system knowledge they have. The disadvantage of the seasoned workforce is that they are rapidly retiring.
What is the best way to start to mixing in young, eager talent into your business?
If you are a company owner, how do you hire and keep temperamental, special snowflake, attention-loving Millennials like me? How do you direct the younger generation of workers without hurting their feelings and having constant turnover?
In the August 2015 article, “How to Retain Millennial Employees Through Workplace Equity,” in Entrepreneur magazine it states, “People work for rewards. Think of this as balance — what you put in you get out. This doesn’t have to be true day-to-day, but, overall, employees need to feel like they are fairly compensated. This compensation is not just monetary. Giving employees increased responsibility, availability of resources, collaborative opportunities, continual feedback, managerial support and professional-development opportunities are all ways to reward employees. At the end of the day employees want to know that they are getting just as much as they are putting in, and that they’re making a difference in the workplace. Make this the case, and you’ll be on your way to higher retention.”
This concept isn’t new. But, Millennials may be more eager to be told they are part of the solution than previous generations.
I will personally miss Steve Duggan, Neil Duggan and the rest of my friends at Shamrock Sales. Leaving Shamrock isn’t something I thought I would do. Beyond personally liking Steve and Neil, their management style suited my temperament very well. Good managers don’t just boss people around, they empower their employees to make decisions that benefit the company and the customer.
In 2014, Duke University conducted a survey on companies’ efforts to attract Millennials and achieve diversity targets. The survey result showed that, “Nearly 60 percent of U.S. chief financial officers say their firms are not adapting to attract millennial workers.”
If you have difficulty getting your younger generation of employees to follow the game plan you have been using for 30 years, maybe they are just difficult; alternatively, maybe they are pushing you in a good direction. The same survey results found that, “More than 70 percent of CFOs say an advantage of hiring millennials is the technology savviness they bring to the job.”
If you have a younger employee that keeps bugging you about switching from the old fax machine to something new, maybe they aren’t needy, maybe that would be a good idea.
Not all Millennial employees are misunderstood creative geniuses. If you have an employee leave your company because you won’t put in a ping pong table and let them work from home four days a week, that person is a prima donna, whether or not they are a Millennial. Entitlement isn’t exclusive to young people, however.
One of my favorite Steve Duggan moments was when we were walking around the AHR show a few years ago. He told me that he should check in with one of our manufacturer managers before we left for the day. As we walked toward the booth, Steve and the factory manager made eye contact from 20 away, slowly nodded at each other as if this was the exact agreed upon time they were going to start some sort of “Ocean’s Eleven” heist, and that was that. We turned right and continued walking. Communication complete. Both men had shown a quick, but genuine signal of respect. I perceive this interaction to be the same thing as explicitly telling a millennial employee they are doing a good job, just approached differently.
It is always beneficial to whatever business you are in to show your employees that you appreciate them. This can be a ticker tape parade for your 22-year-old social media intern or a slow nod to 22-year colleague. Humans like to be acknowledged for doing well. Take five seconds or an hour and let your team know they are valued. It becomes easier to take address and correct bad behavior when employees know they will be acknowledged for getting something right.
Steve and Neil made it really hard for me to consider taking a different job. They showed an enormous amount of trust in me from day one. I remember asking them on my first day, “How much should I spend per month on my expense report?”
They said they trusted my judgment and didn’t give me a dollar amount. Instead of taking advantage of that flexibility, I spent what I thought was a reasonable amount of money in areas I was confident that would help our business. That is what we all wanted. It gave me the chance to get creative and gave them more time to do something other than micromanage my every credit card transaction.
I will miss living in Colorado and my contractor and wholesaler friends. The Rocky Mountains have some of the most innovative contractors and system designers in the country. I also have a deeper appreciation for what a good rep firm can and should do for their customers having worked at Shamrock Sales.
Training was always my favorite part of being a rep. This new position will give me opportunity to learn and train as an occupation. With any luck, I will be able to train your next special snowflake millennial employee on the beauty of hydronics.
Max Rohr is a graduate of the University of Utah. He is the REHAU Construction Academy manager in Leesburg, Virginia. He has worked in the hydronics and solar industry for 16 years in the installation, sales and marketing sectors. Rohr is a LEED Green Associate and the Radiant Professional Alliance (RPA) Education Committee chairman. He can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter at @maxjrohr.