Back in the day, Larry Wiggs and Jeff Bohan wore multiple hats as part of the ownership group of what is now Nashville, Tennessee-based rep firm Wiggs-Haun & Bohan.
“In the early 1990s, Jeff, Burl (retired WHB principal Burl Haun) and I would go sell during the day, come back to the office and help pull orders at night,” Wiggs says. “We were real thin on the inside at the time.”
Thin is the polar opposite of a word to describe WHB these days. The agency is firing on all cylinders, fresh off the key acquisition of Banks & Head in January, which expanded the firm’s reach into additional Southern states, including Florida’s Panhandle.
With an expanded territory, an abundant roster of lines and a clear plan for next-generation succession centered on driving continued technology innovations, WHB has set itself up for long-term success. That forward momentum has earned WHB the distinction of being the 2019 pme Manufacturers Representative of the Year.
WHB, which traces its roots back to 1976, now covers Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. The agency has 20 employees and has a large stocking warehouse at its Nashville headquarters.
“Their focused approach, knowledge of their markets and phenomenal relationships have undoubtedly played a role in our success,” says Christopher Rohling, vice president of field sales at master distributor Jones Stephens. “They consistently go above and beyond to find solutions for their customers and create deep, long-lasting bonds with wholesalers and contractors. Our sales have grown by double digits over the last few years as a result of WHB’s dedication to our business.”
They are everywhere
John Kirkland, national sales manager, at Mill-Rose Company’s Clean-Fit products division, says WHB’s staff members are masterminds when it comes to time management.
“Times 10,” he says. “Relationships drive business. It’s all about maximizing selling time. Having sales representatives living in the key markets. Windshield time is time we could be selling. It’s all about more calls. It feels like WHB is everywhere.”
Jon Wiggs, also part of the ownership group and Larry’s son, notes the firm recently hired on contractor and engineering specialists. “It’s the way the industry is going to go,” he says. “We need more specialized people. You are seeing larger agencies that have that and large manufacturers want that. This is something we really want to grow and get fully involved with.”
Bohan adds: “The specialists build relationships with the contractors and engineers. They live where they work and most of the time with that, their customers are their friends.”
Jon Wiggs notes Nashville is home to a number of key engineering firms. “A lot of firms are based here and we have some very large national firms. That’s the key driver with this in Nashville. We’re focusing on Tennessee first and we could very well go out and add to this in other areas.”
Chuck Schawbe, national sales manager at Liberty Pumps, has known WHB’s ownership for more than 30 years. “WHB’s team is the best at building relationships and friendships,” he says. “They put the right team member in front of the customer that they relate best to, which is a combination that can build business.”
Schwabe explains WHB is a fairly new rep for Liberty, but has hit the ground running and then some. “They have picked up the technical aspect of selling pumps quickly,” he says. “They have a Liberty Pumps expert in Drew Dawson. He is the go-to person within the agency for pump answers.”
And with the recent acquisition of Banks & Head, WHB now operates in parts of six states, which includes its representation of the Fernco line. “Fernco did not have any previous relationship with WHB prior to the merger,” says Bob Brewbaker, national wholesale sales manager at Fernco. “However, we trusted Banks & Head’s decision as the best decision for both Banks & Head and Fernco. The WHB team worked with Fernco to allow for a seamless merger, and we are grateful for WHB’s diligence to ensure Fernco’s trust with all aspects of the merger.”
The next generation
Jon Wiggs, along with Dawson and Andy Burrow, represent WHB’s leadership going forward as its ownership team. “When I started in the business in the 70s and early 80s we probably had 60 rep firms operating in Tennessee,” Bohan says. “Today, I would say there are four or five that are viable competitors. These young guys are very sharp. The future is pretty bright for them.”
Jones Stephens’ Rohling has taken notice. “WHB is a premier firm because it invests in its people,” he says. “They hire the best talent in the industry and they have great company leaders and first-generation mentors with a long-term vision for future success. Their leaders coach and develop their teams with a strong focus on building long-standing relationships with customers, something that is immensely valuable to our team. WHB continuously reinvests in its business through technology and strategic growth.”
When it comes to technology, WHB has ramped things up to the next level under the direction of Jon Wiggs. For starters, WHB salespeople employ the use of iPads in the field. “They can have a lot of data on it,” Jon Wiggs says. “We want guys out there selling and not doing paperwork.”
Jon Wiggs has taken WHB’s quoting system to another technology stratosphere as well. “We’ve really improved there,” he says. “Every call that comes into the office gets sent out a quote. As soon as they hang up, the outside guys are notified. No matter what size the order is, we work on it.”
Kirkland adds: “They view technology as instrumental to their manufacturer partnership, while aiding the needs of their customers. One example is the quoting system, which is designed to simplify and make their customers’ jobs easier. Every quotation has the specification, product image and pricing.”
During one spring afternoon at a Nashville eatery not far from headquarters, Jon Wiggs pulls out his cell phone and brings up an example of a quotation. “That’s what gets sent to the customers,” Larry Wiggs notes. “He sees his item number and he can click on the specification and there’s his cost.”
Jon Wiggs adds customers like the online quotation system because “it cuts out their work,” he says. “They are not having to gather specification sheets. We can send it to an engineer and it has an approval letter where all he has to do is click yes. If he clicks no, there is another section and he writes in why, and then we are able to fix that for him. We try to make it as convenient for the engineer as possible. We’ll provide our competition’s spec sheet and pictures and ours. We want to give all the factual details right there.”
Technology advances also can be found in the WHB warehouse where all bin locations are numbered electronically. “We still double-check orders before they leave the warehouse,” Bohan notes.
“Every one of them,” Larry Wiggs adds.
“It’s easier for us to double-check than have to pay the freight when there is a complication with a customer,” Bohan says. “It’s a lot easier to get it right the first time.”
Inventory control happens rather frequently as well. “Anytime anything is off, we will pull the paperwork and see who the last person was who counted it and we go back and do a physical inventory before anything else gets shipped out,” Jon Wiggs says. “We’ll ask three people to go out there and do a physical inventory. We’re very fluid in our offices from point of contact to following up. We try to make it as easy as possible for everybody throughout the supply chain.”
And then there is WHBU, otherwise known as WHB University, the rep firm’s online learning portal. “Every manufacturer has its own university,” Jon Wiggs says. “We do it one manufacturer at a time and everybody has 30 days to digest the material, take notes, ask any questions and then there is a test at the end of it. Everybody is graded and everybody’s numbers are published. It’s for our employees and our contractor customers, Everybody.
“We’re all about training. One of our lines just put out a very in-depth training module, and there’s a lot that goes into that. It’s expensive. It’s a lot of work. They ask you to call in, you get certified and then you go through a test with the national sales manager. I told all our inside salespeople that if they take it I would give each of them a large cash reward. It’s profitable for them to do it. If we don’t know our products and let our competition know them better than us, we can’t add value. If the manufacturers take the time to put it out, we will find the time to do it. If we don’t, everyone else in the market will.”
WHB also isn’t afraid to bring training to the masses. “Liberty Pumps wanted grinder demos,” Jon Wiggs says. “We didn’t put one trailer on the road, we put two. We have two large trailers that travel the state.”
Bohan adds: “That’s what contractors want. They don’t want to see PowerPoint stuff. They want to put their hands on it and get a little dirty and see how it works.”
Larry Wiggs notes those live on-the-road sessions provide key feedback opportunities. “Not everything we sell is perfect,” he says. “You get to know what guys like or what they don’t like about products we represent and hopefully the manufacturer listens to you when you take the feedback to them.”
Visible part of the industry
Jon Wiggs says relationships with specifying engineers are critical for WHB. “If you are not calling one of these guys and giving them what they need, someone else is,” he says. “You have to get in there and get your product specified or seen as an equal. But you can’t just show up. You have to ask for it.”
One way WHB strengthens its relationships with the engineering community is through local ASPE chapters. “You get out of it what you put into it,” Jon Wiggs says. “If you are inconsistent, you are going to be inconsistent.”
Consistency for WHB also involves not being afraid to get on a jobsite and fix a problem. “Last year a guy called and needed help with water heaters. He said the size wasn’t working out,” Jon Wiggs says. “We went on the job, we looked at it and we fixed it for him. We’re there to back people up. We don’t walk away after plans are printed. They can help you or they can change a spec. They will fight for you, but you have to help them as well.”
In addition to being active at the local and national levels at ASPE, WHB also is a big proponent of AIM/R, the national association for PHCP reps. “AIM/R has been great for us,” Jon Wiggs says. “The friendships are there, but you also get to learn how others in our field are susceptible and the thoughts they have. AIM/R is a big supporter of the CPMR program, which I did for three years with others in our industry. I met a lot of people who remain close friends to this day that I see each year at AIM/R.”
Larry Wiggs sees a bright future for WHB. “There’s going to be less and less guys doing what we do,” he says. “If we can keep doing it well, I think this group has a hell of a future together. There is no doubt the next two or three decades for these guys should be potent.”
Jon Wiggs agrees with his father. “I want to see our employees do better. We’re a family and I want to see it grow. We need to grow with our manufacturers and stay ahead of the curve. If we take care of our future, I think we’re on a path to success.”
Clean-Fit’s Kirkland tends to agree. “Starting with the first day of their appointment they have been one of our top-performing organizations,” he says. “WHB has built more than an agency, they are an organization.”