Plumbing & Mechanical recently interviewed current AIM/R President Tim Morales, owner of Tim Morales and Associates in Mobile, Ala., who discussed the organization’s changing role and goals regarding training and other services.
PM: When did you officially take over as president of AIM/R, when does your term end, and what are your personal goals as president?
TM: My tenure as president began in October 2016. I assumed this role at our annual conference in Coral Gables, Fla. My term expires this October, when I will hand the gavel over to Michael Hobbs at our conference in Seattle. I will then serve one additional year as Chairman.
PM: In what other roles have you served within the organization?
TM: In addition to various sub-committees and support roles, I have also served as vice president of membership and vice president of conference.
PM: What motivated you to join the organization in the first place?
TM: Without a doubt, it’s the comradery. The average AIM/R agency has been in business for 38 years, the best of which gather at AIM/R events. AIM/R is the place to catch up on what’s happening at the marketplace from a rep perspective without a filter.
PM: What are AIM/R’s goals for 2017 — and, now that 2017 is halfway over, what progress has the organization made toward those goals?
TM: I am fortunate to hold the helm of an association with solid foundation; therefore, the bulk of our activities are ongoing initiatives such as advocacy, communication and networking. That said, said we are working on tangible goals with hard stop dates such as a completely new website.
This platform will have forward-facing features with all the expected content, a homepage that communicates our value proposition, links to membership and so on; however, the member portal is where the real value will be delivered. Upon login member agencies and manufacturers alike will have access to resources and tools to assist them with the day to day challenges we all face. This is part of AIM/R’s commitment to deliver value around the clock.
PM: How has your membership — and now, your leadership — within AIM/R benefited you and your business?
TM: As you well know, the best of the best within our industry gather at AIM/R conferences. And I am not just referring to agencies. Our manufacturing partners send their best. Our speakers and vendors are also among the finest available. You cannot be in the company of this level of talent without benefitting.
For years, I went to conferences thinking, ‘I don’t have time for this,’ or, ‘These monies would be better spent elsewhere,’ and every year I left saying, ‘Damn, I glad I went.’ The benefits of membership are too many to list.
PM: What are some of the biggest benefits of AIM/R membership?
TM: A close friend and respected pier once told me, “AIM/R is where you go to find solutions to challenges you could not solve left to your own resources.” I think that best describes our value proposition whether you are representative or a manufacturer/associate member.
Whatever industry challenge you face, there is an AIM/R member that has been there and done that. Furthermore, the rate of change in today’s marketplace requires all of us to adapt at a much faster pace than ever before. Active AIM/R members have an advantage in this regard.
PM: How has AIM/R grown over the past few years?
TM: Today, AIM/R has over 360 members including 270 agencies in the U.S. and Canada. Combined, these agencies employ more than 5,700 people, operate 237 third party logistic hubs and generate more than $7 billion in sales. The state of the organization is strong and growing.
PM: How have AIM/R’s goals changed in that time?
TM: Steve Case, in his book The Third Wave, quoted an African proverb to the effect of, “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.” This speaks volumes about our direction.
Prior to the Great Recession, there was a great deal of organizational autonomy within our industry. Post-recession, we see an era where KBIS and IBIS have partnered. Who would have thought?
As that relates to AIM/R, our relationship with ASA has never been stronger, and that is no accident. Our board, working with ASA’s Mike Adelizzi, has formed a very strong relationship in recent years. At last year’s ASA conference in New York, rep agencies comprised the second largest category in attendance, the vast majority of whom were AIM/R members.
This year, the AIM/R Board renewed a direct relationship with MANA. Now, AIM/R rep membership includes membership in MANA and all the privileges and resources provided therein. We intend to go far. Our goals are grand and we continue to pursue alliances with fellow organizations wherever common opportunities exist.
PM: How has the organization’s focus on technical training — of contractors and plumbers, specifically — changed in the past few years?
TM: That’s a very good question. Products are far more technical today than ever before and, frankly, this is a trend that is increasing in velocity with no end in sight. Successful agencies and their manufacturing partners are working in unison to engage this challenge.
With an average business age of 38 years and hundreds of years of experience loaded into the average AIM/R agency, there is no doubt we know the people and actions required for success. That said, successful manufacturing partners are educating, guiding and providing the tools we require to address this critical task.
Technical training specialists and embedded product champions have become an essential part of the modern agency. Many agencies have gone so far as to build training centers or acquire demo vans and trailers to facilitate these needs. While there will always be work left undone, it’s important to recognize that without these efforts an unprecedented burden will find it way to our end users’ doorsteps, wholesaler counters and tech-support hotlines.
PM: Where do you think the organization is heading in the next few years?
TM: The state of the association is strong, very strong. Our relationship with sister organizations has also gained strength. The current atmosphere lends itself to a continuation of this trend including the consolidation of industry events.
That said, our core function will not change, same being an absolute commitment to be “the place” that independent manufacturer’s representatives go to gather the education, tools and resources required for success. The independent rep channel is the most effective path to market today, and the same will be true in the decades to come. In the end, people buy from people. I’ll take a smart rep over a smartphone any day.
PM: How do you think the manufacturer rep’s role has changed in the past decade or so, and how do you think that role will continue to change?
TM: In the early days of my career, the focus was strictly on wholesale channel relationships, primarily with purchasing agents and owners. “Going deep” then meant you entered the wholesalers’ building through the warehouse and “high fived” everyone there, from the truck drivers to the counter staff.
Today’s marketplace has transformed dramatically. “Going deep” in 2017 requires an enormous investment in pull through initiatives. This includes face-to-face calls on everyone from contactors and end users to code officials and specifiers. For one client alone, we made more than 1,200 pull-through calls in 2016.
Further, with the strength of today’s retail giants, global logistics and the rise of e-commerce, everyone we meet is a customer. For example, a consumer may have purchased a product we represent from an online supplier, should that item have an issue it’s still our phone that rings. And whether we were compensated or not, we are compelled to address their concerns.
In todays “connected” world, the role of the independent manufacturers representative has never been more important. After all, when faced with a problem, challenge or opportunity, we all still want someone in our office, face to face, delivering ideas and solutions. In this industry, odds are that person is an AIM/R Rep.
This article was originally titled “AIM/R members focusing on training, education” in the June 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.