A few years back, a financial management company hit advertising success with the line, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen."
Having a chat with Bud Mingledorff, chairman of Norcross, GA-based Mingledorff's Inc., conveys the same impression.
The air of the sage hovers around Bud Mingledorff, coupled with the demeanor of the southern gentleman that he is. He recently spoke to HVACR Distribution Business about what he regards as one of the most overlooked opportunities for wholesalers: the HARDI annual conference and, more specifically, its trade show component.
At the recent HARDI conference, Mingledorff heard some rumblings about the effectiveness of the trade booth program and whether its time had passed, an anachronism in an ever-widening digital age.
Always polite, but firm on this issue, Mingledorff suggests that those who attend the conference might not be approaching the opportunity in the most effective manner.
"You've got to have a plan and then you have to stick to your plan once you get to the conference," he says emphatically.
For Mingledorff, that means obtaining an advance copy of the attendance list (and the subsequent updated one) and deciding who he should see and what should be the nature of visits on the trade show floor. He even thinks about time, recognizing that he has about one-half day to complete his entire tour. The time factor can become important because if you are as well-known as Mingledorff, moving down the aisle inevitably results in saying hello or stopping for a brief chat with industry friends and acquaintances.
But Mingledorff's plan is far more comprehensive than a few check marks on a piece of paper. He concedes that, as the chairman of a company that has more than 130 different suppliers and 32 stores with footprints in six states, it has become impossible for him to be involved in the day-to-day activities with most suppliers. He turns to his management purchasing team, and they examine the entire attendee list, not only identifying companies of interest but also sharing specifics, such as what products interest them and who the sales reps might be.
Armed with this information, Mingledorff then visits the booths, recognizing there is essentially one of three reasons for a visit, with some overlap. Some visits are simply to say hello, others to say thank you for past business, while other visits have a purely business goal of looking for more product lines.
The significance of looking for more lines is particularly important for Mingledorff's strategic vision. While he recognizes that a company can grow by expanding outward, he is convinced that his company's success has occurred by expanding into the territory where he already operates and that the sweet spot to more business is to add products that will have appeal to his contractors.
Pacing through the conference booth program has brought a steady string of successes for Mingledorff since he attended his first conference in 1983 in Miami, making a contact with Mueller Industries, which eventually became a supplier. It was here that he learned the value of the conference booth program.
Mingledorff acknowledges that he doesn't have a figure he can point to that demonstrates the exact number of product lines obtained through the conference booth program, but he's blunt about its impact on his company's growth: "Its contribution has been significant," he says.
"Where else can you go and have hundreds of suppliers in one room so that you can learn about what they have to offer? There's tremendous value. If you remove the conference booth program, you've taken a great deal out of the conference. It's a lot easier to conduct business with suppliers and vendors in the booth program than it is trying to track them down at a cocktail party."
Mingledorff admits to being mildly surprised when he recently discussed his approach as being something new to his listeners. "I always thought that having a plan was basic, so I was mildly surprised that it seems original to some people," he says.
The overriding theme in his approach is to confine his activities to those that will have an impact on his company, whether it's maintaining good will or finding a new product line.
He gently chides wholesalers and suppliers who attend the conference booth program or the conference and expect "something to fall from the sky." He describes the conference booth program as a structured environment that has a great deal of potential if approached with a careful plan.
A final thought for Mingledorff? "It's the follow-up afterwards," he says. "It's not enough to just make the first strong connection. You have to go back, talk to your team and your contractors and see if they are interested in the products that you might introduce into the marketplace."
Tom Peric is the editor of HVACR Distribution Business. Contact him at 856/874-0049 or [email protected].