2012 September-October

Back me into a corner…PLEASE! By Dave Duren CWS VI, CI Director of Sales and Marketing, North Star A group of us were discussing a new product at the office recently when we remem- bered a great guy on TV infomercials who i just loved. He had suddenly died a while back but we couldn’t Read more

Back me into a corner…PLEASE!

By Dave Duren CWS VI, CI

Director of Sales and Marketing, North Star

A group of us were discussing a new product at the office recently when we remem- bered a great guy on TV infomercials who i just loved. He had suddenly died a while back but we couldn’t recall his name at that moment.

I had recently been to the “Great Minnesota get Together” which is the nation’s largest State Fair as ranked by daily attendance, and second in total attendance. This year we had from 100,000 to 226,000 PER DAY, (ran 14 days the two weeks before Labor Day) in attendance for a grand total of 1,788,512. This final figure is only surpassed by little bitty TEXAS but I’m told they also run theirs twice as long. (Of course everything is bigger In Texas!)  Here at the fair, you can see a multitude of vendors push and promote their products with quick, easy, almost too good to be true results that can make you believe you can’t live without it and must buy it NOW. But getting back to the guy’s name, we finally remembered, it was Billy Mays. I went on about how he had died from getting clonked in the head while on a plane (I travel a lot so this had always struck a chord with me….those darn overhead bins…watch out!) but my colleague insisted it was from Cocaine abuse…I said no way so I “Backed him in a corner” to back up his claim. Within minutes of exiting his office he came into my office with proof. Of course, it was from the internet (no problem with that), and it did in fact validate his claim that there had been cocaine involved. I now had my proof and my colleague was right. I had “Backed him in a corner”.

You all have seen the infomercials, commercials, on stands at a lot of the stores now, and even the entire store at the mall saying “…As Seen on TV…” (I love the tool that could un-clog any and every drain in your house for a mere $14.95). But my buddy Billy Mays just had a knack for making you believe (or at least me) anything he said….he was a smooth salesman. Have you guys ever had a slick sales manager or director (my type) and the local rep, come to your shop and give you the pitch about their new or improved product that will change your life of at least the way you plumb or the product you’re currently using? I’ve done tons of those calls to you all in my 27 years in this trade. And you all take time to listen…and I’ve always, and still do, appreciate it! But here in is where the problem lies….there is a lot of “MIS” information given out there in our category of water softening and water treatment.

This category has historically been one saturated with all types of salesmen from reputable companies and founders like Culligan and Lindsey, all the way to shady ones using scare tactics about your water and what’s in it and only they have the exact equipment to “fix it”. As I’ve been told from some old timers in our trade, this category used to be in the plumber’s hands so to speak, a lot more than it is today. I sat at PHCC meetings in the past and heard that the trade had “let it go” and up sprang more and more “water dealers” in their backyards.  In my current position on as director of sales on a national level, I am seeing more and more companies “finding” the niche of the plumbing wholesale trade and actually seeing the plumbing contractor as a viable outlet for water softeners and treatment equipment. But along with this comes the iffy stuff. Those with really wild claims, sleek literature, fancy websites and A LOT of asterisk’s, which usually means a lot of exceptions to the rule. And this is where the title of my article culminates. When you hear a bunch of too-good-to-be-trues, I want you to start asking a lot of questions.

I would start with,

  1. How long have you been in the “water business”?
  2. How long have you been selling this product?
  3. How long has this product and/or technology been in use?
  4. Where has this product been used?
  5. And the most important, is your product 3rd party tested?
  6. And if so, by what organization?

After getting answers, do some research (beauty of the internet)? See what YOU can find. The first two questions are not about the guy as a salesman, many of the reps start representing new products all the time which helps keep our industry fresh, but more about where his information is coming from. Reps are trained by the manufacturers they represent and like any good student, are only as good and accurate as their teachers. The how long factor is important too. Many fly-by-nights are in business to capture quick bucks and will be out of business before anyone catches on. Where the product has been used is also important. Maybe the products have only been used in a manufacturing facility where only certain water needs have been met. These needs may not be all that’s needed when put into residential applications.

But the last piece is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. If a good 3rd party organization like Water Quality Association (WQA) or National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) has tested and listed a product, then some absolute standards have been met and this is where you’ll find a lot of truths. I am seeing SO MUCH misinformation in this category in the plumbing wholesale trade that it is scary. Along with this, respectfully, I’m seeing more and more plumbing contractors getting themselves in a jamb due to being misled and ending up with a disgruntled customer. At the same time, I’m seeing many a wholesaler, selling products also in this category that are not performing per a salesman’s pitch and are seeking truths about these items. I seem to get a lot of questions pertaining to me explaining my products versus someone else’s product or about something they have heard about it or something they’ve read. And when I get this great chance, I can usually clear up a lot of grey area that some slick salesman has created that of course, leans in favor of his or her product.

So the next time you hear a sales pitch, whether at a PHCC or ASPE meeting, builders association meeting, counter day at a wholesaler, or a great manufacturer’s representative stopping by with some donuts for a visit about his products, just remember when a claim is made that appears too good to be true, back him in a corner and let him show you his validations for his claims! You may be surprised by the reaction and put yourself in a position to make a wise decision.




By Rich Grimes Water Solutions Marketing I am constantly asked questions from contractors related to water heating and water systems. In this issue I will address some Frequently Asked Questions that come up more often than others.   1) What is the most efficient way to heat water – Gas or Electricity? Electricity is more Read more

By Rich Grimes
Water Solutions Marketing

I am constantly asked questions from contractors related to water heating and water systems. In this issue I will address some Frequently Asked Questions that come up more often than others.


1) What is the most efficient way to heat water – Gas or Electricity?

Electricity is more available to consumers than Natural or Propane Gas. Natural gas is an interconnected system of piping that services certain areas. Customers have access to Propane if Natural is not available in their area.

As far as efficiency, Electric resistance immersion heating is 98% efficient. Gas-fired appliances have efficiencies ranging from about 80% all the way up to 98%. The best answer to this question is Electricity is more efficient with a higher energy cost. Gas is typically less efficient but has a lower energy cost. The lower efficiency gas-fired heater costs less to operate than a comparable electric model. The new Hybrid Heat Pump heaters are the least expensive way to heat water if you are comparing them to a standard tank-type heater with either electric or gas input.


2) What about the Hybrid Heat Pump water heaters? Are they a viable option to heat water with electricity?

Absolutely – The Heat Pump water heaters use approximately one-half of the electricity of a standard electric water heater. Instead of using a 4500 Watt element to heat the tank, a dedicated heat pump can generate plenty of hot water with its 850 Watt heat pump assembly.

There are many benefits to using a heat pump. Many electric providers offer rebates for replacing standard electric water heaters with Heat Pump technology.


3) What are the benefits of using Tankless water heaters?

Tankless gas and electric products are flow-activated and do not heat any water (or use fuel) when hot water is not being used. They do not experience any of the stand-by losses associated with a tank-type heater. The other key features are wall mounting, compact size and continuous hot water on demand.

The electric models are better suited to point-of-use at the fixture and can be located under a sink, on a wall or in a cabinet. The gas-fired tankless heaters have more output and can handle large loads. They also can be linked together to create modular systems with multiple heaters for even larger hot water loads.


4) What is the main cause of water heater failure?

Lime scale build-up on heating surfaces is the most common contributor to heater and tank failure. It is also the reason that heaters use more energy over time. As the heating surface accumulates more film thickness of scale, it requires more energy to heat the water through the scale. A gas-fired heater must keeps its burner on longer and an electric heater must keep its elements on longer to heat the same amount of water, through the lime scale insulator. The combination of metal stress and fatigue and long burner cycles caused by scale build-up will cause premature failure.


5) Can a water heater be descaled to prevent premature failure?

Scale is very hard to remove on a tank-type heater. The commercial  tank-type heaters can accumulate quite a bit of precipitated calcium carbonate.

Tankless and coil type heaters can be cleaned to remove the lime scale. A small pump with a bucket of vinegar can circulate the heat exchanger until the scale build-up has been removed. There are also specific non-toxic cleaning solutions that are available to clean copper coils and heat exchangers like citric acid.

The descaling process is much more complicated on gas tank-type heaters and is rarely performed on them.  On electric heaters, the scale builds up on the elements and does precipitate into the tank. An electric heater can be blown down at the drain valve and have the elements cleaned or replaced, which is a typical tune-up.


6) How can a gas-fired appliance be able to be vented with plastic vent pipe such as PVC or CPVC?

PVC piping is rated for a maximum temperature rating of 140°F and CPVC is rated for 180°F. These temperatures are much lower than the actual combustion exhaust temperature.

There are two predominant methods that are utilized to allow for plastic venting on gas heaters:

The first method is air dilution where a fan-assisted vent assembly with allow cooler ambient air to mix with the combustion exhaust. This method is commonly seen on residential Power Vent water heaters.

The second method that is more common is a High Efficiency appliance that uses an exhaust heat exchanger to preheat the incoming cold water or a multi-pass flue assembly. As cold water flows through the exhaust heat exchanger or across the multi-pass flue, the exhaust temperature drops and the efficiency goes up! These heaters are rated above 85% and usually in the 90%+ efficiency range, extracting almost all of the latent heat from the combustion process. The by-product of the high efficiency exhaust is water vapor that condenses and requires removal from the heater and vent system typically by a condensate trap assembly.

There is some contention on the use of plastic piping for heater exhaust. It should be noted that heaters are produced with various safety controls including exhaust high limits, vent sensors and pressure proving switches. These devices insure that the heater will be disabled if a high exhaust temperature is sensed. This will protect the plastic exhaust piping until the condition can be rectified.

Another important note regarding plastic venting would be to always use PVC or CPVC Schedule 40 or 80 solid-core pipe and pressure rated fittings. NEVER use foam-core pipe on a sealed vent exhaust system. Other plastic piping materials such as Polypropylene have higher temperature ratings and can be used for sealed venting but they can be cost prohibitive. Sealed SS Category III and IV vent pipe also are rated for use on high efficiency appliances so they are an option where piping may run through a return air plenum.


7) What are the essential considerations to perform a successful installation of a Gas water heater?

Every gas appliance installer should have an understanding of the unit’s requirements in the following areas:

a) GAS SUPPLY – verify gas type, BTU inputs, pipe sizing, pressure regulation, etc.

b) COMBUSTION AND VENTILATION AIR – verify gravity air intake or Direct Air requirements specific to the installation, per manufacturers specifications and NFGC/NFPA54.

c) EXHAUST SYSTEM – verify approved vent material, vent lengths and termination. Verify that the vent route does not conflict with clearances, existing code or other trades.

d) ELECTRICAL – verify required voltage, polarity, disconnects, breakers, etc. Most electronic heater controls require 120V which is stepped down to 24VAC for the safety controls. Hot Surface Ignition systems typically use 120V to heat up the igniter.


There are other aspects of a gas heater installation that are also important such as clearances from combustibles. A little planning goes a long way! Read the instructions!


8) Do I need an Expansion Tank on my water heater?

Expansion tanks are designed to absorb thermal expansion created when heating water. If you have a check valve or backflow device located near the water heater you will need an Expansion Tank. These positive shut-off check valves will not allow expanding water to go anywhere. The heater tank must absorb the expansion which leads to premature tank failure. A relief valve that opens at the end of a heating cycle is a definite sign of the need for expansion control.

The answer is that an expansion tank or device may or may not be required but it is always a good idea. It greatly reduces vessel stress and prolongs water heater life. It is very important on commercial heaters that have high volumes of expansion.


9)  My old heater was 12 years old and I never needed an expansion tank. Why do I need one now with this brand new water heater?

This is more common than you might think. The old heater was scaled up and had a long heating cycle. The expansion is spread out over that long heating cycle. The new heater has a clean heating surface and a much quicker recovery time. This cycle can be half as long as the old heater due to lime scale build-up. The expansion occurs much quicker than the old heater.

This is why expansion control is so important on commercial heaters. An atmospheric heater rated at 500,000 BTU with an 85 gallon tank can recover approximately 480 GPH and raise the temperature 100°F. But wait, 480 GPH ÷ 85 Gallons = 5.65 Minutes… In less than 6 minutes the burner can raise the tank temperature from 60°F up to 160°F! That is rapid expansion that will stress a commercial heater each time the burner fires.


This has been a little different format but I hope you got something out of it. We are always open to questions so please let us know of any issues or topics that we could discuss.


Thanks and we’ll see you in a future article!

Rich Grimes

Presentation Manual – Today’s Essential Tool for In-home Sales   Why do we need a presentation manual?  Many ask that question, they believe that it is a tool the “hard closers” use to win the war in sales.  I don’t think it is a war, we sell our goods and services when the customer sees Read more

Presentation Manual – Today’s Essential Tool for In-home Sales


Why do we need a presentation manual?  Many ask that question, they believe that it is a tool the “hard closers” use to win the war in sales.  I don’t think it is a war, we sell our goods and services when the customer sees value in what we bring to the table.  Some people learn audibly, when you tell them something, they internalize it.  Some are visual, they must see it to believe it.  Some are experiential, they must put their hands on it.  So I would have all three types covered, tell them, show them, and put something in their hands.

What is the purpose of a presentation manual?  To validate (Validate: to declare or make legally valid, to give an official sanction, to establish the soundness of.)

three things: the company, the products, and ourselves.  We must show that the company is the right company to do the customer’s work, that the products will do what is needed in their home, and that we will do what we said we would do, and have the necessary competence to do what is needed.

Here are the elements needed in a presentation manual.  Section one:

1. To validate the company, we need a company resume.  It will show how we are different.  We train our employees, we have been in business for ___ years.

(just a side bar, even if you have been in business for 6 months, let the customer know how much combined experience your entire company has.  Total up all the years all of your employees have in the industry, that is your total experience.)

We are licensed, bonded insured.  Show all licenses, current insurance certificates, show awards received.  In fact, answer the phone, Hinshaw heating and cooling, 2003 Fort Collins contractor of the year winner, how can we help you?  It shows that you are unique, and special.

2. Web site, FaceBook business page, all the social marketing.  You do need a business FB page, not your personal page.  Show how you are connected to the community, use your FB page to show your support for community projects in addition to how you market your business.

3. Training.  Show the customer the money you spent last year on training.  It may be staggering, after you consider how much labor you pay for the employees to attend training, and how much you are giving up in lost revenue.  Show a total amount, and let the customer know, that you simply cannot afford not to train your employees.

4. Awards given to company and employees.  Show the industry awards that you have received, as well as the certificates for the employees.  Not everyone will earn them, less will show the customer each certificate.  So you do to eliminate some more of the competition.

5. Value of our installation.  Show the studies that indicate how few of these systems actually go in correctly.  They are found on the internet, or attend one of our training programs, you get several studies there.  Show the customer the small percentage (10% or less) of the systems that are installed correctly.  Then show them your installation checklist, start-up log, or whatever paperwork you have when you complete an installation.  If you don’t have an installation check-list, put one together today.  Use it, and show it to the customer.

6. Problems are not solved by equipment alone.  We must find more than just a new box to solve the comfort needs of our customers.  Instant hot water, unlimited hot water, steam showers, all can enhance our lives.  What is the difference between a $20 faucet, and a $200 faucet.  Emotion.  I am building a new home, I understand fully how emotional it gets when picking out plumbing, some arguments I will not win, so I just accept it.  On the heating/air conditioning side grills, registers, air flow, sound, IAQ, energy savings, and lots more need to be considered to bring real comfort to the consumer.  So ask the questions to discover what they need, then show them a package that includes that in their installation.  Have a set of packages to illustrate what may be needed, more than just a new hot water heater, furnace or A/C.

7. Literature.  We do not do a good job in our industry with literature.  Show the customer the brochure for your products, and then show them how they will get the comfort they wanted right on the brochure.  If sound was a big deal, show them the features that prove it is a quiet unit.  Unlimited hot water, show how you can provide that with this new system.

8. Accessory literature, like the equipment.  Show the client how they can change the comfort in their home with these accessories.  Don’t assume they will not take advantage of the full package, let them make that decision.

9. Manufacturer’s warranty literature.  Show the customer how the products they are looking at are protected by a superior manufacturer’s warranty.

10. Your warranty.  Extend the warranty on the items you install for the same length of time as the manufacturer’s warranty.  Everything.  No small print.  Include a note that says the one thing that allows you to include this excellent warranty is a maintenance agreement, all they need to do to keep the warranty in effect is to renew the maintenance agreement each year.

11. Your maintenance agreement.  Include a one year agreement with each installation, and show them a sample in the manual.  Include a brochure on why it makes sense to have a maintenance agreement, all the reasons.

12. Energy savings calculation.  Include an estimated energy savings calculation in your manual.  It should be part of the package, but not the major reason.  Energy savings are affected by weather, cost of utilities, and most importantly, how they run the system.  Include it, but explain why it is an estimate.  We can save them the cost of heating the water, perhaps even save them on water consumption.  Give examples and have testimonies to review.

13. Financing.  Show how affordable these systems are, “starting at $73 per month”.  Offer financing on every job.  Every one.  Even your friends.  Do not suppose that they need it or don’t just offer it.  Get more than one financing program put together, one for the C and D credit challenged family.  There are more of them out there now then ever before, but they have a right to be comfortable too.

14. Pyramid of power.  Show how they cannot get what you offer anywhere else on the planet.  Your package includes: the company, your installation, the perfect product for them, and you.  Show how it is not possible to duplicate that at another contractor.

15. Our promise to you.  A letter that says your home is as important to you as our installation is to us, and we will treat it with respect.  We will be there when we said we would, and spend the amount of time needed to do the job correctly.  And we’ll clean up.  Completely.

So there you have it, an outline for a presentation manual.  This is just a rough template, not meant to be the final version.  It must be customized for your company, for your employees, for yourself.  Please don’t call it a pitch book, that is demeaning.  Call it a presentation manual, and use it on each sales call.  You may not need it all, but better to have some items you didn’t need than to not have something that will be needed.  Thanks for listening, we’ll talk later.

Upon graduating from the University of Missouri at Rolla, Jim started his career with the Trane Co. After several sales positions, he moved to Phoenix, where as manager of Trane’s residential division, he enjoyed a 50% market penetration. Jim’s background includes positions as President of one of the oldest and largest air conditioning companies in Arizona, residential start-up specialist for the Carrier Corporation, and an officer in a Carrier owned service agency.

For nine years Jim served as Vice President of a 23 year old residential and light commercial service and replacement company, running their sales and installation division. During his time there, his division grew 300%, replacement sales topped $3,000,000 per year, and company closure rate exceeded 60%. So how good is Jim? Even though Jim’s price was always 10% to 50% higher than his competition, his closing ratio on replacement systems averaged a phenomenal 80%! He enjoys training sales, technical, and management team members with companies that want to increase profits and grow to the next level.

Jim has provided high-results training for clients from Calgary, Canada to Adelaide, Australia.  Jim retired from the contracting business in 1999 when he formed his own training company, Sales Improvement Professionals, dedicated to bringing his real-world experience to help enhance your sales and marketing efforts.  He offers many seminars for sales and management teams, as well as Basic Business Boot Camp, a three day program designed to discover what a company needs to charge to cover overhead and make a profit.


He may be reached at:

Sales Improvement Professionals, Inc

1281 E. Magnolia, #D-145 Fort Collins, CO  80524

Ph: 970-482-5622   jimhinshaw@siptraining.com    www.siptraining.com


One of Florida’s leading manufacturer’s rep firms – Orlando-based Spirit Group, Inc. – is making the transition to a new generation of leadership.  “Our company is fortunate to unite comprehensive industry experience, with youthful initiative and fresh ideas,” said Bill Freeman, CEO, and co-founder of the 18-year-old firm.             Now, Freeman’s son Benn has taken Read more

One of Florida’s leading manufacturer’s rep firms – Orlando-based Spirit Group, Inc. – is making the transition to a new generation of leadership.  “Our company is fortunate to unite comprehensive industry experience, with youthful initiative and fresh ideas,” said Bill Freeman, CEO, and co-founder of the 18-year-old firm.

            Now, Freeman’s son Benn has taken the helm as President, and is part of a four-person management team:   Matt Clark-Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Ian Heacox-Vice President of Specification Sales, and son Chase is Vice President – Industrial and Waterworks, two key growth segments for the firm.    Bill said, “Our agency began with a solid founding group, but these four guys are significantly advanced from where we all were in our relationships, our market insight, and our understanding of the rep business, at similar ages.    It is their personal preparation, and the experience and mentoring of our founders and long-time employees that have made this transition possible so early.”

Co-founders Scott Heacox and Mike Ross will remain in their current roles on Spirit Group’s executive committee, while continuing to drive sales in their territories.    Sheree Freeman, the company’s CFO, is also a member of the executive committee.   “Our comprehensive leadership succession plans will position Spirit Group for continued success over the long term,” said Benn Freeman in an interview with Plumbing Perspective.   “Bill will remain in touch with manufacturers and customers, but will shift to more of an oversight role when it comes to day-to-day operations and sales management.”

            Today, Spirit Group covers the state of Florida, excluding the Panhandle, representing quality manufacturers of pipe, valves, fittings, fixtures, faucets, and accessories.   “Florida’s plumbing industry can have confidence in our strong and experienced sales team, and our company’s strategic direction for the future,” added Benn Freeman.   “We represent many great lines and have tremendous product knowledge, along with a deep dedication to serving our customers at all levels.”

Growing through the years

            Reflecting back on the founding of Spirit Group in 1994, Bill Freeman said it was a group of friends, respected business associates who shaped the close-knit team culture of our company.   “Much of our firm’s success can be attributed to the hard work and dedication of that original group,” said Bill Freeman. “We began with only eight lines and eight people, and worked hard to build strong relationships, and deepen our understanding of the sales dynamics of our business.”

            Benn Freeman noted that Charlotte Pipe has been one of the company’s flagship lines since its founding 18 years ago.  “Our relationship with this industry leading, family-owned company is one of the strongest between any manufacturer and rep firm,” he said.    Today, the firm represents 18 manufacturers, including Accor, Armacell, Elkhart Products, Erico, Mission, E.L. Mustee, Rheem-Ruud, Rectorseal, and Vortens.

            “One of our biggest advantages is having a highly diverse lineup that includes a number of niche products like AquaRex,” Benn Freeman said.   “We are committed to having proper balance in our lines and manufacturers in order to provide our customers with what they need in an efficient manner.   We also strive to generate organic growth with our current lineup, rather than constantly looking for new lines.   We are strategic in protecting our manufacturers’ interests in the supply chain.”

            The firm markets its lines through select wholesale distributors and promotes its products via a strong secondary market presence with residential and commercial /mechanical plumbing contractors, engineers, industrial, waterworks, architects, builders, and facilities.

            “We are not just selling products,” said Clark. “We focus on developing relationships and maintaining them over the long term. We understand the importance of partnerships for everyone to be successful.”

            Through the years, Spirit Group has grown to 17 employees, while retaining a close-knit culture that inspires a cooperative approach to sharing fresh ideas and information.    “We take care of our employees and as a result we have great tenure on our team, including many professionals with 15 to 25 years of experience in the Florida market,” said Benn Freeman, who joined Spirit Group in October 2007 after working with a manufacturer for four years. “As challenging as the last five years have been for the plumbing industry, I’ve found this to be a very rewarding business – especially with all the great people in our industry,” said Benn Freeman.

Entering new markets

            That team spirit is helping to drive the rep firm forward into new markets, while adding to its traditional strengths in residential and commercial plumbing.   “For the past three years, we have been steadily growing our presence in the industrial and waterworks segments,” said Chase Freeman.  “Our new products, Apollo valves and backflow preventers, Keckley strainers, and FlexHose, have been very well accepted by the market.    We know that dealing with municipal and utility customers is different from plumbing contractors, so we have built a sales and service team for this sector.”

            Anticipating Florida’s decline in residential construction several years ago, the firm made a conscious effort to attract more specification products like Oasis water coolers, McGuire, and Chicago Faucets.    Ian Heacox is now leading the team’s initiatives in this area.   “My job is to oversee the inside quotation department, and work closely with Luis Gomez in south Florida to insure that our sales staff follows projects from planning and engineering specifications all the way thru to the buy-out,” said Ian Heacox.    Patrick Mathews in Orlando quotes most of the jobs, and communicates with the sales staff.    Ian commented, “We have people and systems in place to drive the job/spec work from start to finish, and a communication process within to secure project work for our manufacturers and customers.”

            In addition to their management roles, Benn and Chase Freeman, Matt Clark and Ian Heacox, join key territory managers Luis Gomez, Randy Johnson, Mike Ross, and Scott Heacox calling regularly on customers in all market segments.  The firm’s inside team includes Barry Ayres, Debi Calamia, Patrice Davis, Donna DeGregory, Ernie Jones, and Patrick Matthews.

            Chase Freeman says the sales team enjoys representing quality domestic manufacturers. “We believe in selling quality, and virtually all our products are Made in the U.S.A, or in Buy-America countries,” he added.

Adding value to sales

            Spirit Group’s team also focuses on ways to add value to every sale. To take just one example, Clark is recognized throughout Florida for his technical expertise. “I enjoy listening to the plumbing contractors,” Clark said. “It’s very satisfying to identify a need, and then be able to provide the technical solution as well.”

            When a new product comes in, Clark and the other outside sales professionals, like to get it right in front of a contractor. “They may see new features and benefits, or identify how it can be used in an application,” said Clark. “These are the guys turning the wrenches every day and they understand the practical aspects, as well as the technical side.”

            Spirit Group also holds a wide range of training sessions, including lunch and learn events, with all its product lines. “We believe that as plumbing professionals are educated about our products, they are more likely to specify and use our products correctly,” Clark said, who has also been involved with apprenticeship programs, and installation training for CPVC and Metacaulk fire-stopping systems.

            “We did a lot of research and spent a lot of time and money to make our website the best in the country.   We’ve tried to make it an easy-to-use tool for training, as well as gathering specifications and pricing information,” Benn Freeman said.    “In addition, we have developed our own information management system, as part of our commitment to adopt new technology to help us become more efficient as a company.”   Spirit Group believes in new technology, but still answers every phone call with a live person, something preferred by customers.

            Benn Freeman says Spirit Group’s dedication to adding value has paid off during Florida’s economic downturn and slow recovery. “We know everyone has faced challenges in the past few years,” he said. “For us, 2009 was the toughest time, and since then we’ve been growing and improving our performance.”

            From his statewide perspective, Clark says he’s finally seeing an upturn in residential construction. “While there’s still a lot of foreclosed properties on the market, a number of builders are starting new projects,” he said. “We do see good signs of life and there is light at the end of the tunnel.” On the commercial side, Clark says many projects are in the planning and design phase with developers who are either waiting for funding or market improvement, to start construction.

            Spirit Group has been highly active in the commercial sector with a growing portfolio of high-profile commercial, healthcare and governmental projects, including the Duval County Court House in Jacksonville, the VA and Nemours Children’s Hospitals in Orlando, Lee County VA Healthcare Center in Cape Coral, and Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center near Titusville, as well as Traditions Hospital, now under construction in Port St. Lucie.

            “Today, rep agencies’ greatest challenges are the economy, foreign competition, and protecting sales volume in the wholesale channel,” said Benn Freeman.   “We need to maintain the wholesale distribution channel in the face of those pressures to ensure that plumbing professionals specify and use the right products for each individual application.   This is not a one-size-fits-all industry, as every project is different.”

            Summing up the company’s philosophy, Benn Freeman said, “We don’t want to be the biggest rep firm in the state.    We want to become more knowledgeable about our products, increase market insight, operate more efficiently, and keep improving.    Most of all, we want to build on our reputation for professionalism and integrity, while helping our manufacturers and customers throughout Florida achieve their goals.”

Spirit Group’s Statement of Values

• Provide opportunity in business and concern for the well-being and security of all employees and their families

• Commitment to personal performance that will build strong relationships and lead to complete satisfaction in our manufacturers, our wholesale customers, and our secondary market influences

• Enthusiasm, respect, teamwork, fairness, and caring in all relationships

• Maintain a strong financial base and reinvest profits, to support our business partners and secure the future of our company