Florida Manufacturers’ Representatives – Adapting to Change

How We Stay Connected

Walt:  Because of Covid we do a lot more (which we did not do a lot of before) video conferencing and it has been successful because we have situations like when one of our buyer accounts (SV Microwave?) moved to Missouri. I called him to make an appointment and he said, “Wow I’d love to but I’m in Missouri now.” It’s kind of hard to visit Missouri, it’s a long drive.

So, we did a video conference and we used Microsoft Teams because it’s Department of Defense approved. Some of the other ones have ties to China. So we like to use Microsoft teams. We had a customer in Costa Rica, a new buyer in Costa Rica that was good. She was very happy with it, we were very happy with it, and the principals were very happy with it. We’ve been doing these with L3 Harris for example. We’ve had video conferences and presentations, which have worked out very well. We’ve done it with purchasing, we’ve done it at Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, individual buyers, and individual engineers, so it’s been very successful. The principals like it too because they want to feel connected because the regionals can’t travel, so they want to feel connected.

Walt:  It’s a great way to make everybody feel connected. Inside people like it too because they worked for years with people and they didn’t know what they looked like and now they can actually meet them, so it’s more of a connection. It also gives the customers more of a connection, the same way a visit does, being on video conferences. So that is something that has really changed our business. And we see ourselves using that more even with the fact that we can start visiting customers again. We think that’s very good, and I think that’s going to continue with us, particularly when they’re in places like Costa Rica, Missouri, or Tampa and up North, for example. It’s also been good with our principals.

We’ve been doing quarterly meetings, business reviews etc. on video conferencing so that’s good because they get to see us. Some of them we’ve yet to meet and they have not met us because of Covid. So this works out well. They get an idea of what our personalities are, what we look like, and how we talk, they get more of a real-time experience than just on the phone.

Strong Relationships

Terry:  Also, during the time of Covid, the thing that helped us tremendously was relationships. We were able to have breakfast, lunch, dinner too. I was up in Fort Walton Beach in February and a gentleman said, “Terry would you be available for dinner?  An engineer senior principal staff guy and those things, mean a lot because we’ve already put the time in for years working with these people and now they’re honoring us with their time. It’s a little bit of social but it’s also business too so I think that’s also what has helped us tremendously during Covid. Just being able to get these meetings that many people couldn’t get because we all know it’s so difficult today to reach people via phone and email but we were also able to text people because we have their personal cell phones. They understand we’re not going to just text them, “How’s the weather?” There’s something we want to share with them and they typically get back to us.

Also, prior to Covid because of some of our long-term relationships, we were able to participate in some of these strategic supplier symposiums with L3 Harris and Lockheed Martin, that’s only open to the top accounts that they do business with, that they believe are strategic to their success. we’ve been invited to that with our principles and that took years of hard work but to be invited to something like that and the information we were able to obtain is tremendous. I don’t think that most Reps can say that they’ve been invited to those types of symposiums because it’s usually geared towards their top-end suppliers, but because they have seen us there so many years supporting that business, they consider us as your supplier even though we’re actually your Rep.

Walt:  In the last two years, many major distributors laid off people. Several rep firms laid off people. We actually hired a person. I think it’s because of our relationships with people, in particular, military accounts but that’s also part of our focus. They know if they are going to need RF and microwave products, avionics products and connectors, military connectors, stack caps, or space products…they know who to come to. Many Manufacturers’ Rep Firms are all over the map with what they do. They might do some RF but they’re also doing cases. We don’t do that. We just want to do RF, microwave, military connectors, etc. We say it often but we’re laser-focused on that and it’s been very successful for us, so we continue to do that.

So as Covid goes away, which it probably never will completely, they’re opening up and we’re starting to get back into more of a normal routine of seeing customers actually at the plant. This is what you want to do because as you’re sitting there talking with the person and you’re saying to the engineer, “We’re working on this cap, this military capacitor but what about this space product we have? Are you interested in this or a printed circuit board, multilayer board 22/ 25 layers?” And they say: “Oh yeah, I actually need that.” Here’s the guy you need to talk to. We follow up with those people until we get the information we need, and we also have a very friendly approach to people. We don’t make them crazy you don’t want to make engineers crazy. We’re very nice. We get what they want. We’re very responsive. We meet them. We have fun with them. We talk about things. We don’t badger them and after every meeting we have, we do a detailed visit report with all the information, all the specifics so the same information we got from that engineering meeting at L3 Harris or at Lockheed Martin or Honeywell, you have now too.

Your Success Is Our Success

Walt:  We don’t hide information. Information is success. We all have the information. We’re all going to be successful, and we want everyone to be successful. We don’t want to hide things. We don’t keep things under the carpet. We don’t say we don’t want to give you that contact because it’s my contact. We tell you who it is and as a result, most of our lines we’ve had for more than 10 years. We don’t lose many lines. We lose them when they get bought out. We have these smaller companies that we like a lot, and they get bought out by a bigger company and the first thing they do is get rid of all the Reps because they want to bring the income up.

Venture Capital, VC firms buy a lot of companies these days. Something we’re not fond of seeing but it happens. And We’re not afraid to take on a line that has maybe 2 or 3 million dollars in sales if it’s something very specific to our market and we can sell it, it makes sense for us. We can also help principals a lot with some of these bigger accounts on who their corporate people are. They have corporate locations and corporate folks for cables, assemblies, military connectors, and we know who they are. The one for L3 Harris who we speak of a lot because they’re so big in Florida (they’re the largest account in Florida now) is in Rochester, New York but we know who she is because she used to live here. So, we deal with her a lot. We have direct access to her, and we encouraged some of our principals to go see her and talk to her because that would help a great deal. Also, you’d be surprised to know that if you go to the L3 Harris website, there’s a supplier page. If you want to be a supplier, you can fill out the page and some of our lines have been successful doing that so little things like that you’d be surprised.