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This month we celebrate the 34th annual directory of manufacturers representatives issue. For 34 years, “The Wholesaler” has been highlighting an astounding group of advisers and resources that make our industry one of a kind. A symbiotic relationship, manufacturers representatives serve as the go-to source for product knowledge and business insight dealing directly with both wholesalers and manufacturers. The core goal is to create demand for the manufacturer and solving problems. Driving specifications and provided solutions to customers is of utmost importance. Aiming, in essence, to make the process as easy and smooth as possible.
I spoke with the key leadership group from Vernon Bitzer Associates, the premier manufacturers rep agency in the Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, and Delaware area. Since 1951, the company has kept tradition while adapting to modernity. And now with a succession plan for it’s new owners, the future has never looked brighter.
Steve Krumm, president
Krumm came to Vernon Bitzer in 1973. He started out as an inside customer service rep. In 1975 he moved out on the road as a salesman and then became president of Vernon Bitzer associates in 1996. Krumm continues to work with the company as the principal, currently in the position of vice president. He stresses “we must exceed our customers expectations and make every attempt to put a wow factor in every phone call. That’s what makes us stand out from other manufacturer’s reps in our territory.”
David Steele, president
Steele started with Vernon Bitzer August of 2003 thinking it would be temporary role. Around June of 2007, he was promoted to outside sales and in January of 2013 became a partner in the business, buying out Bob Wexler’s shares. He shares his nostalgia of humble beginnings — “I grew up in a third world country that did not have plumbing codes to speak of and now I am educating people and selling items that enable us to in part drink water out of our faucets at home without worrying if it is safe.”
Patrick Daly, partner
Daly recently started with Vernon Bitzer on September of 2015. Seeing as Vernon Bitzer is in a transitioning period as far as ownership of the agency is going, this is kind of the succession plan that Steve has laid out for them. “One of the opportunities that I was afforded was to come to the Vernon Bitzer agency and to buy in as a partner in the company” notes Daly.
Daly started his career in Chicago with Guardian equipment and Watersaver Faucet Company in 1996. He worked for 10 years with guardian equipment as a regional sales manager. Then started in inside sales and then worked his way up to regional sales manager for the east coast. He was a regional sales manager for the east coast for another company for about eight and a half years before landing with Vernon Bitzer.
Rich Tarr, partner
Tarr started in the business in the summer of 1988. He was hired right out of college by a plumbing wholesaler named Danco Supply in southern New Jersey. He started his training process and a year and a half into that training process his supervisor passed away and Tarr was left, with a year and half experience, to run the commercial department for that supply house. He stayed there 19-and-a-half years growing that business prior to leaving and starting at the end of 2007 beginning of 2008 with Robert Burns associates which is a manufacturers rep in the Philadelphia market. “I spent 8 years at Robert Burns before coming on board the first week of May with Vernon Bitzer associates. I was offered a partnership with David Steel, Steve and Patrick and I am also buying into the company.”
Breaking New Ground
The tools that they use from the manufacturers, the training centers at the manufacturers office i.e. the Watts training center that was just invested in. Those are tools to strengthen industry relationships. Moreover, Vernon Bitzer just invested in training center at their own facility and feel especially proud, as this new generation of workforce comes into it, that it’s their responsibility to make sure that they’re trained appropriately. They rely a lot on the manufacturers to help assist in those tools and become the subject matter experts for that product line and therefore cascade that down into each person’s own territory.
“One of the things that we’re really excited about is we're just finishing up our training center and the goal is to bring all the parties involved whether its a wholesaler, a contractor, a specifying engineer, in and do the seminars and training right at our facility” comments Daly. When it warrants it, when they can, Vernon Bitzer Associates would love to get people out to their different principle manufacturing companies to make sure that they’re seeing what they have to offer. They’re very blessed in the sense to have worked for Watts and Chicago Faucets office. Those two companies primarily manufacture everything here in the states and Vernon Bitzer Associates feels the need to celebrate that more often. Watts has invested and reinvested in the United States so Vernon Bitzer Associates wants to drive that home to the wholesalers and contractors and get them up to training as much as possible.
The Vernon Bitzer Associates training facility has lecture style training and hands on physical training portion. The lecture style portion can afford to have more people than the training center. They plan on capping the number of students at 12. There’s also a small wet bench area where they can turn on the back flow or turn on a faucet. Then there’s a dry bench area where students can physically take apart a back flow device. It all depends on they structure the class for that given training operation. “We want it to be lock step with Watts, our biggest partner in this, and make sure that we’re training all of our people within our territory” further explains Daly.
When each of their new employees comes in, Vernon Bitzer Associates tells them that if they meet the customers expectations today then they have done nothing more than our competition has done. Vernon Bitzer is built on exceeding their customers’ expectations and making every attempt to put a wow factor in every phone call.
“I think we’re the brokers of information” says Daly. And they certainly are providers of solution based equipment and engineering help. With the education and information to be had, there will always be a role for the rep in this industry.
When Steve first started in the business, the first thing ingrained into his mind was that the customers first phone call should be the last. “So if an engineer calls up for helping them write a spec, a problem, a contractor or anyone else, you just respond quickly,” Krumm explains. And that allows the reps to drive business for their manufacturers and it also allows them to be in control from the very beginning through the middle to the end and then they fix any problems that are out there, which then starts the circle all over again.
It’s no secret that innovation wins in any competition. Vernon Bitzer Associates just gets it! They’ve taken business as usual and turned it into an industry force whilst keeping a finger on the modern pulse.