This industry lends itself to a fair share of folks having the title of road warrior — it’s part of the deal, whether making sales calls, visiting existing customers or going to events.
And when you are frequently on the road, you start to see some folks in your same shoes, and you notice these people at almost every event. In my case, I could probably rattle off a pretty lengthy list of individuals who are at just about every ASA, buying group and other industry association gatherings.
On that list is the Sioux Chief contingent of Mike Stallings, Michael Foster, Jake Ismert and Kevin Ismert (I just saw the Ismerts at our ASA Emerging Leaders conference in Nashville). These folks are omnipresent at everything industry-related and some of the most down-to-earth, great people I have encountered.
Thus, my heart sunk with the news that Stallings died July 28 at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Stallings turned 65 on July 19.
Stallings enjoyed an all-encompassing career in the industry, starting the early 1980s working for Plastic Oddities where he held various management positions. He later founded Stedco and manufactured a line of residential drainage items, of which Sioux Chief was a customer.
In the late 1990s when Sioux Chief purchased Stedco’s assets, Stallings briefly pursued other interests before joining Sioux Chief in 2001 as its southeast DC manager. He then became regional sales manager for the southeast and was named director of national sales in 2013, carrying out that position with great success until his death.
“Mike Stallings was a very thoughtful and considerate guy not only with our company and its processes, but with the people behind all that,” said Foster, Sioux Chief’s vice president of commercial sales. “He genuinely cared about everybody in the whole company from the owner all the way down to the customer service person answering the phone. He treated everyone the same way with respect and dignity. What stood out the most is his professionalism and his personal touch.”
Foster also was awed with Stallings’ constant positive attitude when it came to finding a solution to just about anything. “I knew Mike for 20 years from when he first came to work at Sioux Chief,” he said. “The first thing I noticed was his positivity and his nodding his head yes and figuring it out, finding a way to get it done and finding a way to make Sioux Chief some money.”
Sioux Chief Executive Vice President Rex Baer said Stallings had a keen business sense. “He had a head for it,” he said, “whether it was relationships or negotiations — the full 360 degrees. He had what it takes to do it right. He started at Plastic Oddities and then Stedco and later joined Sioux Chief. His experiences enabled him to see it from a lot of different perspectives: ownership, vendor and customer. We talk about this internally, decisions came very easy for Mike Stallings because he didn’t live in a gray area. It was the right thing or the wrong thing. His ability to understand this and pretty much take immediate action make him very good at whatever it was he wanted to do.
“A lot of guys out there can do that, but we were blessed to have Mike on our side doing it. I dare say, I believe competitors likewise had such respect for him and liked competing with someone like Mike because he was upstanding. There was no shenanigans. He did it the right way. Mike Stallings was the real deal.”
Foster joked that he was with Stallings so much at industry events that people referred to them as “The Mike & Mike Show,” in reference to the former long-running ESPN Radio program of the same name.
“I worked very closely with Mike all those years,” he said. “We were the face of Sioux Chief for a long time. I will still be around and we will have Mr. Stallings in our hearts, that’s for sure.”
Sheri Newman, vice president at Miami-based Lion Plumbing Supply, said Stallings has abundant passion for the industry and the people in it.
“And it showed in everything he did,” she said. “He was a great salesman and negotiator. He cared about the little details, no task was beneath him and he was always fair. He wore a perpetual smile and had such great energy. On a personal note, Mike was so genuine and such a pleasure to be around. I didn’t just consider him a business partner, I considered him a close friend and I always looked forward to seeing him at every meeting. Our industry lost a great man. He will be dearly missed.”
Randy Wool, president of fellow Miami-based distributor Wool Plumbing Supply, called Stallings “a true gentleman.”
“Mike was an icon in our industry and many in our industry knew him and liked him because he was a nice guy. When we had issues and reached out to Mike, he jumped in and tackled the problems, large or small. He supported our industry and gave of himself to make things better. When I heard of his passing, I felt the loss of not only a respected business partner, but also a good friend. Mike was one of those rare individuals who will be in our memories for years to come. He is sorely missed.”
Baer added: “It wasn’t just his professional demeanor, but his personal touch. It was everything about Mike Stallings and that smile. It might be back and forth with a customer, but he always kept it very cool and it always ended up working out. If a problem wasn’t solved, he would find a way to make it right. He had that smile that made everybody feel better about it. He was the person you wanted to do business with.”
The last line in Sioux Chief’s message to the industry on Stallings’ death sums it all up. “All of us will forever benefit from having known Mike Stallings.”