The energy on display at the 2016 AIM/R Conference at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida, was as persistent as the Miami sunshine. After an all-day AIM/R Board of Directors meeting on Oct. 18, the organization held a one-hour reception for first-time attendees before the full cast of veterans arrived. AIM/R President Stew Chaffee of Aston, Pennsylvania-based rep firm Rich-Tomkins Co. told PM that attendance was 400, including 66 manufacturer companies. That comes up just short of the 2015 AIM/R Conference totals, and Chaffee notes that Zika virus scares might have played a factor in the slight dip in attendance.
“This is the second-highest turnout in 44 years, so that’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Chaffee noted.
The next day, attendees got to work and filled The Biltmore’s Country Club ballroom and listened to speakers discuss business practices, the economic outlook, and other important topics.
Cockeysville, Maryland-based N.H. Yates President John Thomas opened the speeches and discussed the rep evolution.
“If you don’t adapt and you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be miserable,” Thomas told the assembled crowd. Thomas told the attendees about the time in 2004 when N.H. Yates acquired another rep firm and spent $80,000 updating its phone system. But because cell phone technology changed at such a rapid pace, it’s a decision he’d like to have back.
“Our industry is slow to change,” Thomas warned.
Up next was high-energy author, speaker, and television personality Jeffrey Hayzlett of The Hayzlett Group and his keynote address. He followed up on Thomas’ thoughts regarding change. Hayzlett said businesses need to be relentless about change. Considering the baby boomer generation is approaching retirement age, businesses are heading toward an interesting transition period.
“In the next 10-15 years, we’re about to go through the biggest wealth transfer in the world,” he noted.
Hayzlett said it’s imperative to “test the team.” He told a story about how he once changed the clocks in his office 20 minutes ahead and watched his team check their phones and discuss what the issues were.
“Finally, after two weeks of complaining a woman went and fixed the clocks,” he said. “I named her my chief of staff, and now she’s the head of a billion-dollar company.”
Hayzlett wrapped up his frenetic and funny keynote address talking about the time he got to meet one of his childhood heroes, Jacques Cousteau. The late, famed underwater adventurer told Hayzlett about a dive that became dangerous because Cousteau had to surface at a rapid speed and risk getting “the bends” — a painful and potentially fatal condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body on depressurization. Cousteau was saved by the quick thinking of his fellow diver and was able to surface safely. Hayzlett asked Cousteau if he was ever scared during that incident and other dives.
“He said to me, ‘One should never be scared when you’re in good company,’” Hayzlett recalled. And businesses, he added, shouldn’t be scared to evolve when they’re in good company such as AIM/R.
Up next was economist Anirban Basu, the chairman and CEO of Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group, with his James Bond-themed industry forecast. Basu revealed the U.S. is expected to see continued slow economic growth. The rest of the world also is growing slowly with the exception of Russia and Brazil, which are in recessions.
“Global economic growth has been disappointing,” he said. “World oil demand is about one-third of what it used to be.”
Basu added: “There’s no reason to not think the American consumer won’t move the economy forward.”
A panel discussion entitled “Driving Your Agency to the Next Level” was moderated by Brett Specht, principal with the Lipp Co. The panelists were Daniel Davenport, principal of Davenport Associates; Wayne Orr, president and owner of contractor firm Orr Plumbing; Chip Devine, vice president with national distributor Ferguson Enterprises; and consulting engineer Eric Slay with Bard, Rao + Athanas.
Orr spoke bluntly to a full house of reps. “It’s tough to get inside our doors unless we know you,” he said. “You must have something worthwhile to sell to us. Ten to 15 minutes should be enough time to push what you’re selling.”
Slay asked engineers how they wanted to receive new technological information, and he mentioned updates to spec catalogs. Slay noted he still appreciates getting paper manuals, but others might want online materials.
“Work with your individual engineers to see what they want,” he stressed.
Jeff Young, the director of engineered service and sales with Manchester, New Hampshire-based rep J&K Sales Associates, believes one of the biggest takeaways from the conference is how rep firms are being pressured to perform more activities on behalf of customers and manufacturers.
“We all need to improve our internal systems with the use of technology and continue to earn our spot within the channel,” he said.
Millennials continued to dominate a lot of discussion at the AIM/R Conference. Young took home a lot of advice on how to find and hire new workers into the business.
“The amount of change coming to the rep world with the changing of the guard [is going to be interesting],” he said. “A lot of millennials are coming into companies and offering the next generation for firms.”
Nick Woods, with Rayville, Missouri-based Half Penny Sales, attended the AIM/R Conference for the first time and found it informative but was most impressed with the way AIM/R pushes the industry forward.
“I was impressed with the spirit of camaraderie and the desire for reps to genuinely help others to succeed,” he said. “It was a motivator to see the pride and professionalism my peers have in their respective businesses.”
The 2017 AIM/R Conference is set for Seattle with dates to be announced.
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