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Exciting times are in store at the upcoming AIM/R Conference, Sept. 12–15 in Napa, Calif. AIM/R (www.aimr.net) is expecting a record turnout and for a good reason. The association continues to grow in membership, has added more value to its offerings and enhanced its annual convention to be more inclusive to channel partners.
We sat down with Michael Hobbs, president of Carr Co. and the current AIM/R president, to discuss his involvement in the industry and the exciting future for manufacturers’ representatives.
The Wholesaler: Carr Co. is celebrating 50 years in business and 75 years in the industry. How did you get started within the company?
Michael Hobbs: I grew up with the company. As a child, I would go to work with my father on the weekends and help with the computer or paperwork. My real motivation was the candy hidden in the Sanitary Dash boxes in the warehouse! During college, I worked in the warehouse in the summertime. Since a lot of my friends had interesting internships in the summer, I always asked to work inside and do something in accounting or finance but never quite made it into the air conditioning. My resume listed certified forklift driver and assistant warehouse manager.
In hindsight, it certainly built character, but those titles also made me a unique and interesting candidate during the interview process my senior year. After college, I went to work for Bank of America as a commercial lender. I left banking and joined Carr Co. in 1994 as a territory manager. I then worked my way up through sales and operations.
TW: What drives your passion for being a part of the industry?
MH: This industry has been so good to me, my family and our employees over the years. I want to pay it forward. I feel it is incumbent upon our generation, which has received so much from this industry, to give back and to be actively involved. I also enjoy the people in our industry and have developed many true friendships throughout the country. Also, it is very satisfying to see a project you have worked on from the inception go through to occupancy.
TW: What product lines do you carry?
MH: Advance Tabco, Apollo Backflow, Bradford White, Eastman EZ-Flo, Fernco, Gastite, KWC America, Speakman, Toto, Viega, Maax/Aker, Swan, Speakman, Empire, Cello and KFLEX.
TW: The company’s core competency is building demand for its manufacturer partners. How is that accomplished?
MH: We first focus on who is making the decision. The decision-maker may vary depending on the product line or the project. In some cases, it is the wholesaler, in some the contractor, in others it may be the owner/developer or the engineer. We get in front of that individual or group and demonstrate the value-add that we and/or our manufacturers provide and get the spec. It is incredibly challenging, but I think our team does a great job at that deep level.
TW: How do you attract new talent to the company? How do you encourage interest in the trade?
MH: Even with unemployment hovering around 4 percent in Florida, we have been fortunate to have a strong network and able to recruit with the help of our employees. I have done job postings online but somehow always end up hiring from an employee referral.
I am concerned, like a lot of people in our industry, about the lack of young people in the trade. We support our local PHCC chapters and ASA as much as we can with their respective initiatives.
TW: How long have you been involved with AIM/R? How has it helped you in your professional growth and stature in the industry?
MH: Carr Co. has been involved with AIM/R almost since the inception. My first conference was in Naples, Fla., in 1996. Like most first-timers, I was in complete awe of the quality of the participants and how relevant the content was. I was a true believer from that point on. I graduated with the CPMR designation in 1998; my first board nomination was in 2008.
It is so important to give back, but AIM/R also has allowed me the opportunity to network with a lot of very smart people that I can learn from. There is such a high level of business acumen within the organization. I try to listen as much as I can.
TW: What is the best piece of advice you have received?
MH: This is tough since I am a big fan of business/historical quotes and I have received a lot of good advice over the years. My favorite is: “Do or do not. There is no try,” from Yoda. There are many great sales plans and marketing concepts but at the end of the day, execution is what matters.
TW: Professionally, what is the hardest lesson you have learned?
MH: That sometimes outside influences can affect your local business. Maybe a management change at a manufacturer or a code change out of Washington. You must be nimble as an agency and be prepared to adapt.
TW: To what do you attribute AIM/R’s steady growth over the past several years?
MH: First, let me say that I believe we are in a golden age for manufacturers’ reps. I think of how our role has changed over the last 20 years. We are engaged with so many more decision-makers now and cover the channel so much more. We are creating demand and growing market share for our manufacturers in ways we have never done before. Reps are much more engaged and involved, as evidenced by AIM/R’s growth over the last five years. Today, we are sitting at 292 rep members and 99 manufacturers members for a total of 391, an increase of about 20 percent.
I believe AIM/R is putting out a good product in both our annual conference as well the value we provide throughout the year. There are a lot of changes going on in our industry, and I believe we are aggressively addressing them while still providing a great venue for networking and education. We have included manufacturers in our conference now for 10 years. The result is a lot of open dialogue and a tremendous experience for reps and manufacturers. I believe the manufacturers and reps who are active in AIM/R are operating at a different level and experiencing a much deeper partnership.
AIM/R is a proactive association, meaning with all the changes in our industry and the fluidity of our channel, it’s either leading the conversation or carrying a big voice within that conversation. We are doing more and accomplishing more than ever before, and reps want to be part of that.
TW: What new initiatives has AIM/R undertaken this year?
MH: We had a very productive strategic planning meeting this past April with the assistance of Dirk Beveridge. We got very deep into AIM/R’s value proposition and discussed what we need to do to keep the association relevant. In addition, we examined what we must do to assist in enabling our members to evolve to meet the changing market. We came away with three major “pillars” which I cannot reveal yet, but they will be the foundation of how the association moves forward.
TW: What was the key initiative the organization wanted to accomplish this year?
MH: We have been moving forward on several fronts. First and foremost, we launched our new AIM/R website. That took a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and I am so proud of the team for completing that initiative. It looks great and has so much more functionality. We also held our strategic planning meeting, came up with our plan and then developed the roadmap to execute that plan.
TW: What is the biggest challenge members face, and what tools does AIM/R provide to help with the solution?
MH: It’s not just one. The group of challenges includes compensation for Internet sales, investing in product lines while on a 30-day contract, protecting our intellectual property and regional manager turnover. AIM/R can be the champion of these challenges and start the dialog so we can begin to work through them. These topics can be difficult discussions for individual reps to have, so AIM/R can carry the message.
TW: This year’s conference theme is “Cultivating Your Success.” Tell me about the educational and networking roadmap in place to drive the theme.
MH: We have tried our best to line up speakers and provide content that will help manufacturers and reps grow their businesses today but also prepare them to run their businesses tomorrow. We have a variety of strong industry experts — manufacturers, wholesalers and reps — presenting information as well as speakers from outside the industry to provide a different perspective. It is a great lineup. Mike Mullen, president of A.H. Deveney & Co., is our conference chair and has done a wonderful job.
TW: What is new at this year’s event?
MH: Other than the content and theme, we have moved around some of the events to increase attendance. We moved the awards dinner to a luncheon on the first day so that we can recognize our traditional honorees such as Golden Eagle and our Hall of Fame inductees. We have also left both evenings open to allow more networking. So far, the participation is surpassing record levels with nearly 500 total registered attendees.
TW: How is AIM/R maximizing manufacturers’ experience at
MH: We try to provide value for the manufacturers’ time at our conference by delivering as much interaction with the reps as we can. We have a great session where noncompetitive reps and manufacturers sit at a table to discuss relevant rep/manufacturer topics and industry subjects. The dialogue and interaction that comes out of that session are tremendous. It is the favorite session for many of our attendees.
In addition, we have a program of speakers with topics that are applicable not only to reps but manufacturers such as corporate culture, communication strategies for reps and manufacturers, and macro trends over the next two years.
TW: What is the biggest challenge the manufacturers’ representative will face in the next five to 10 years, and how is AIM/R preparing individuals to succeed?
MH: Obviously, every market is different, but there will certainly continue to be a shift toward more and more e-commerce. How that looks and feels, I am not sure, but at the end of the day, someone needs to be driving a brand preference. How does a contractor, engineer or developer pick a product? What type of information will that decision-maker require? I think the challenge will be for reps to be that conduit — to be that influencer in that product decision, in whatever shape that takes.
AIM/R is preparing our membership by providing insight into those buying trends and industry shifts through our conference content and educational initiatives. The other important aspect of what we are doing is sharing with the industry the value of representatives, that AIM/R reps are evolving and are at the forefront of these changes and challenges.
TW: What does AIM/R offer its members that they cannot find elsewhere?
MH: Reps in our industry, or affiliated industries, cannot find AIM/R’s level of networking or rep content elsewhere. We provide such a great platform with such specificity. It is truly unique and what we call the “AIM/R RepAdvantage.”