For 36 years, three simple words have formed the foundation upon which Frank Fein has built Associated Marketing: sales, service, and support. At the Philadelphia firm, this simple mantra is embodied every day by staff members whose dedication to their manufacturer clients, distributors/wholesalers, and installers has earned the firm the title of Plumbing & Mechanical’s 2017 Manufacturers Rep of the Year.
“We’ve got a great team of people here, some of whom have been here more than 20 — or even 30 — years,” Fein says. “We always answer the phone live, we always get back to the customer with answers good or bad, we take care of problems instantaneously, and we’re a good source of information for our manufacturers.”
Fein, who turns 67 this month, was born in Philadelphia while his father was serving overseas during the Korean War. Fein grew up watching baseball and idolizing Sandy Koufax, the left-handed pitcher for the LA Dodgers.
“I imagined being a Californian and playing baseball,” Fein says.
While Fein did go on to play baseball in college — and still plays in several national-championship-winning senior hardball leagues — he would eventually follow in his father’s footsteps and enter into the trades in the mid-1970s.
“My father had gone to work for my uncle who was a plumbing-heating-cooling manufacturers rep,” Fein says. “He was running his warehouse. I decided I needed to make some money, so I went to work there.
“My uncle asked me if I wanted to go sell. My first thought was, no, I am not a salesperson. I don’t want to be. My concept was that basically it was a stigma to be a salesman. I’m not a very forward person, not a Type A personality, but I did it.”
Fein held a few other positions in sales over the next few years, but he eventually returned to Philadelphia — and to plumbing.
“An older fellow in the business who wanted to retire, in the plumbing [manufacturers rep] business, heard about me — a young guy who might be interested — and I bought his business. I had an opportunity to have a partner after about a year; my partner was 30 years older than I was, and he had some lines.”
Eventually, Fein moved into a larger office when they bought out another company in 1983.
“They had a couple lines, including General Wire, which we still represent today,” Fein says. “We started taking on more lines and moving again to a building where we could house some product, starting our warehousing business.”
In 1990, Fein bought out his partner and continued to grow Associated Marketing from 8 or 9 employees in 1990 to 18 employees today.
“I had decided that service was paramount to our customer base, almost from day one,” Fein says. “We began in a 3,500-square-foot facility when housing product for General Wire Spring and, soon after, Mission Rubber. We moved to 8,000 square feet as we added Focus Industries, one of our major irrigation products, which we’ve had for 27 years.
“We grew again as we added the now-defunct Jameco Industries and B-Line to the mix. We grew to about 60,000 square feet as we entered into the third-party logistics partner for a manufacturer that serviced Home Depot and Lowes as well as the wholesale distribution business for the entire Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. We — very possibly fortunately — had the only major conflict in our history with these folks, and I actually asked them to kindly leave our facility.
“So, we’re now into 85,000 square feet, supplying products of the two most prominent players in their respective markets — Spears Mfg. and Eaton B-Line. We work directly with their systems receiving, stocking, picking, packing, and shipping products to our territory base, as well as other areas in the Northeast.”
A family business
But, as Fein has been building a business, he has also been building a family.
His wife gave birth to their daughter, Rachel Fein, in 1975, just four days after the couple found out they were expecting. Since Fein’s wife had been undergoing treatment for terminal bone cancer for six years, the pregnancy had gone undetected until she was seven months along.
“Because of the chemicals in her body and all the drugs and the x-rays, it was supposedly impossible for it to happen,” Fein says. “God took care of that for us.”
In a heartbreaking twist of fate, Fein’s wife passed away one month after their daughter was born. At 26 years old, and after becoming a father and losing his wife in the span of just a few weeks, Fein now funneled his energy into providing a future for his daughter.
He remarried in 1980, and in 1981, as he was founding Associated Marketing, his son Colin Fein was born. Five years later, his son Hunter Fein followed. And, despite urging them to pursue their own passions and interests, all three of his children have worked in the family business in some capacity. Both Colin and Hunter still work for their father and plan to take over the business when he retires.
“I let them do their thing,” Frank Fein says. “That’s the way I am with most of my people.”
Hunter Fein joked that he has, at 30 years old, already been working in the industry for 30 years.
“We always worked in the warehouses in the summer, from the age of maybe 10 or 12,” he says. “I didn’t do much then, just maybe stand and watch, but my dad didn’t want me just sitting around the house — he wanted to build a work ethic in me.”
While Hunter Fein handles everything from inside and outside sales to putting together presentations to managing their IT systems, his brother primarily works in the warehouse.
“Colin has a great mind for logistics,” Frank Fein says. “The kid’s like a wizard with organizing this stuff.”
One of the things that distinguishes Associated Marketing from other rep firms is its close-knit staff and all-hands-on-deck, help-out-where-you-can mentality.
“We take a little more responsibility and dip our hands in everything and help out where we can,” Hunter Fein says. “It helps as far as knowing if someone is sick or something, we can help them out and work with them. Like if someone is in the hospital for a week or two, we are able to fill in.”
Employees “don’t really have titles” because Frank Fein “doesn’t really believe in that,” Hunter Fein says, adding that everyone at Associated Marketing “is kind of part of the family — we keep it a family-run business.
“We’re not strict about how we go about things, and we have respect for everyone who works for us,” Hunter Fein adds. “If your son is sick or your daughter is sick and you need a week off, we understand that and nobody is spiteful of that. You get additional support. It’s a very wonderful place to work, especially when compared with corporate America. We enjoy the small-business mentality.”
Associated Marketing reps companies in 5 regions
Associated Marketing serves eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, northeast Maryland, and metro New
York City. The company represents the following manufacturers: BK Resources, Eaton’s B-Line Series, Brilliance LED, Chatham Brass, Cozy Heating System, DAWN Industries, DECOLAV, M&G DuraVent, Focus Industries, General Pipe Cleaners, GuardShack Enclosures, Hailiang USA, HeatLink Group, Intellihot Green Technologies, Lucas-Milhaupt, Mission Rubber Co., Matco-Norca, NAPAC, Imcoa Insulation, Peerless Pottery, Quick Fitting, Rheem and Ruud Water Heaters, Seekonk Precision Tools, and Spears Mfg. Co. Additionally, Associated Marketing stocks products locally in the company’s 85,000-square-foot Philadelphia facility for the following brands: Spears Mfg., Eaton’s B-Line system, Imcoa Insulation, General Pipe Cleaners, Focus Industries, M&G DuraVent PolyPro, Cozy Heating Systems, Rheem and Ruud Commercial Water Heaters, and Peerless Pottery.
To learn more about Associated Manufacturing’s lines and services, visit www.associatedmarketing.net/manufacturers.html.
Going the extra mile
Frank, Colin, and Hunter Fein — and the rest of the staff at Associated Marketing, including 25-plus-year and 10-year veterans Gary Sysol and George Trepazcka, respectively — are not afraid to work hard to provide top-notch service to their clients and customers. That occasionally includes working on weekends and holidays.
“If someone needs something on a Sunday at noon, we’ll do it,” Frank Fein says. “I recall one Friday night, maybe 20-25 years ago, where someone needed material in Maryland the next day, so I got it and drove to the Greyhound bus terminal and loaded it up. We don’t run from problems — we face them head-on. That creates more opportunities.”
In addition to keeping product in their 85,000-square-foot warehouse to ensure a short turnaround, Associated Marketing has also been investing heavily in training and education for area distributors and installers.
“For the last 10 years, a necessary hallmark of our business has been training and education,” Frank Fein says. “You’ve got to be out in the field with the contractor, in particular, showing them how to use new products and weld joints under pressure and things like that. It amazes me that some of these materials have been in the marketplace [for a long time] and you still have people who don’t understand how to install the products.”
Providing such hands-on and comprehensive product support helps Associated Marketing stand out from other manufacturers reps, but they are also having an impact on workforce development in the greater Philadelphia area.
“We do some training at some of the local tech schools with the young students coming up,” Frank Fein says. “There’s a great need for plumbing and HVAC techs.”
Hunter Fein says his father’s passion is servicing the plumbing, heating, and cooling industry — and especially the customer — sometimes transcending profits and bottom lines to do so.
“He’s always had a passion [for it], and he’s become a big advocate for this industry and keeping it as a vital industry throughout the country.”
Josephine Tyndall, freshman plumbing instructor at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, Penn., has worked with Frank Fein for five years and says he visits the school “once a year and does an incredible [presentation] on the applications of Spears plastic piping — its uses, applications, and specifications.” She adds that he is “very knowledgeable” about the products he markets.
“Frank Fein and Associated Marketing go above and beyond for my students and the institution where I teach,” Tyndall says. “He spends roughly four hours with all my students and demonstrates the correct solvent welding technique for plastic piping in the trade.”
Bill McDevitt, general manager of Hajoca in Lancaster, Penn., also touts Associated Marketing’s training and general product expertise.
“I have always found them to be a great resource for training and expertise along with prompt and courteous service for all products that we handle through them,” McDevitt says. “It’s a great relationship between our two companies. They are very engaging at all levels. The sales representative that we deal with most frequently, John Whiteman, is a skill-player on their team and is actually a part of our team through his eagerness and ability to get involved in various aspects of our business. And the owner of the business, Frank Fein, is always approachable and ready to roll up his sleeves to make things happen.”
Recalling one particular instance where Associated Marketing went above and beyond for Hajoca, McDevitt says Whiteman accompanied their sales tech on a water heater issue in which neither they nor the plumbing contractor could get to the root of the problem.
“He was able to diagnose the trouble and facilitate corrective measures to make the system functional and keep the business operation running until we could secure a replacement unit,” McDevitt says. “I also appreciate that, as they uncover opportunities in the marketplace for products and services that we mutually provide, they bring them to our attention and work with us to land the job.”
Tom Laprocido, vendor relations/purchasing manager for US Supply, describes their relationship with Associated Marketing as, simply, “healthy.”
“Our company represents a couple of their lines and, quite frankly, we find the team at Associated Marketing easy to conduct business with,” Laprocido says. “When you talk wholesale distribution, you always talk in multiple years; we have been distributing Associated Marketing’s products in one form or another for well over 15 years. You always look for partners that formulate win/win relationships, and that’s what this company has done for us. They simply work to get to the bottom of a problem, and they help us work through it.”
General Pipe Cleaners, one of Frank Fein's oldest clients, has been most impressed by the company’s work ethic, says Marty Silverman, vice president of marketing for General Pipe Cleaners.
“Associated Marketing has represented General Pipe Cleaners, a division of General Wire Spring Co., since Frank Fein founded the agency in 1981,” Silverman said. “They are all capable of doing product demonstrations and are not afraid to get their hands dirty, and they don’t shy away from problems.
“Everyone — from their principal, Frank Fein, to their 27-year sales associate Felix Suchora, to their inside sales person, Armand Digiorgio — are very knowledgeable about our products,” Silverman continues. “In fact, they make it a point to stay knowledgeable about our product line and new product developments on a regular basis. They are among our most knowledgeable rep agencies in the country.”
Giving Back to Cancer Patients
After his first wife’s death at the age of 25 from osteogenic sarcoma, Associated Marketing founder Frank Fein created the Marlyn R. Fein Chapter of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia — a volunteer fundraising group that raises money for cancer research and treatment. While the chapter now boasts nearly 200 members, “we had maybe 10 who were there when I founded it,” Fein says. “Over the years, we’ve had people come and go — and die, unfortunately — but in 41 years, we’ve had maybe 1,000 people involved and have raised nearly $2 million for the cancer center to date.”
To learn more about the Marlyn R. Fein Chapter of the Fox Chase Cancer Center, visit www.marlynfeinchapter.org.
The future of associated marketing
While Frank, Colin, and Hunter Fein have plans to continue to grow Associated Marketing, at least in part by integrating more technology into its operations, the company is simultaneously committed to retaining the same level of personalized service it has come to be known for.
“We are very proud and honored to still represent some of our first product lines from our very humble beginning in 1981: Spears Mfg. Co. and Mission Rubber Co., now for 36 years, and General Wire Spring since the beginning of 1982, for 35-plus years,” Frank Fein says. “The same to be said for Eaton B-Line and Imcoa Pipe Insulation, which we’ve proudly represented for 27 and 24 years, respectively. We’re currently in our 11th year with Rheem Water Heater, which is a major asset for any representative’s business.”
Associated Marketing is also looking to become more involved in the heating, HVAC and boiler businesses, all while beginning to transition leadership of the company away from Frank Fein and to his sons.
“We’re working kind of slowly, and we start to get into the succession process, but we keep getting sidetracked. But that’s coming, hopefully within the next five years. It’s a work in progress.”
Of course, finding and retaining top-notch employees is perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle, and it continues to be top-of-mind for the Fein family, which recently hired its first highly technical field sales associate.
“We want to hire more technical employees,” Hunter Fein says. “Having really technical field employees who can help if something like a water heater goes down means we can actually send someone out there who can touch the product and fix it and give the manufacturer a good name, which trickles down to the distributor and gives us a good name.”
This article was originally named “Knowledge, dedication put Associated Marketing on top” in the June 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.
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