The past few years, the plumbing industry has seen unprecedented challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Product shortages and supply chain issues forced engineers and contractors to adapt by finding alternative, readily available products for projects and jobsites.
Manufacturers rep Marsh & Moore sailed through these challenges by adhering to two simple guidelines — always stay in communication and always deliver what you promise. Marsh & Moore’s dedication to building strong, trustworthy relationships, unmatched product knowledge and commitment to training the industry has nabbed the St. Augustine-based firm honors as PM Engineer’s 2023 Manufacturers' Rep of the Year.
Fifty years of history
Marsh & Associates was founded in 1972 by Mark Marsh with the guidance of his father, Jim Marsh, an industry veteran who left his regional sales manager role with AMF Cuno to help establish the newly formed rep agency. Their very first line at that time was Simer Pump. David Moore later joined the firm as a partner, which changed the agency’s name to what it is known as today, Marsh & Moore. As the rep firm continued to grow, Richard Bohl became a third partner in 1994. After Moore retired in 2006, Mark Marsh and Richard Bohl continued running the agency until their children joined the firm after college.
Today, the company is led by Garrett Bohl, president, and brother/sister duo Jennifer Marsh Rodriguez, executive vice president and Jonathan Marsh, vice president. They celebrated 50 years in business last year.
Marsh & Moore covers the state of Florida up to the Apalachicola River in the plumbing, mechanical, waterworks and irrigation markets in both residential and commercial segments. Since its inception, the agency has grown to 18 employees today who represent a long list of reputable manufacturers. The firm has also won numerous awards from its partners, including 2022 Rep of the Year for Milwaukee Tool; 2021 1 Million Dollar Club for Liberty Pumps; and 2019 Willoughby Rep of the Year.
The relationship with Sanderson Pipe, the line Marsh & Moore has represented the longest, goes all the way back to 1977, something Rodriguez had to look up as the original deal was done by handshake back in the day.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into adding a new line,” Rodriguez says. “The first thing we look at is how that line is going to pair with the other manufacturers on our line card. We really like to sell our products as a package to our wholesalers and contractors. We want to be able to walk on a job and be able to sell the piping, fitting, the valves, whatever it is that's on that job — the toilet, sink, faucet — so we can win the whole project.
“Other things that we look at are what their expectations are — are they realistic?” she continues. “Are they going to support us in the field and meet our customers’ needs so we can grow the line? It's very important that we align ourselves with manufacturers that support us so we can properly support our customers.”
Bohl adds that support from the manufacturer is key for being able to respond to issues in the field.
“We don’t want to hold up a job site,” he explains. “You need to be able to respond in a timely manner in the field. We can’t let processes slow down our sales and service.”
Words to live by
Though Marsh & Moore doesn’t have an official motto, it does have several mantras, according to Rodriguez. The most important being, “Deliver on your promises” and “Always take care of the customer.”
“One of the things we’re frequently complimented on as a rep agency is our communication,” she says. “Even if we don't have an answer yet from the manufacturer, I make sure that my inside or outside team is calling the customer and staying in touch, so the customer understands that we are actively trying to help them. Saying, ‘Listen, I don't have an answer for you just yet, but I am working on it. And please know that this is important to us and we're doing our best to solve your inquiry or problem.’ And whatever we say we’re going to do, we do it.”
“The constant communication is important with our customers because if they don’t hear from us, they think we forgot about them, moved onto something else,” Bohl adds. “And sometimes you don’t have the answer they want, but you’ve still communicated it. Being clear, concise and communicative is what we strive for.”
Focusing on industry relationships
When asked about the firm’s relationships with MEP engineers and contractors, Bohl has one word to describe them: “critical.”
“That’s your current business and your future business,” he explains. “They have got to trust you and trust you to deliver. If any of that breaks down, you don’t get the job.”
Jonathan Marsh adds that it’s the company’s knowledge base and ability to make themselves indispensable that keeps customers coming back.
“You have to make yourself important,” he says. “As much as we lean on them, they lean on us, too, whether it be market conditions, solving problems in the field, specifications and even just product knowledge they may not be aware of. “We solve those issues all the time.”
Joseph Bertino, CPD, LEED AP, group lead — plumbing for Haskell, has worked with Marsh & Moore for the past 20 years.
“I appreciate that M&M brings a feeling of family,” he says. “In dealing with them, they are always reachable and responsive. They are able to answer questions or connect us to someone who can. That feeling of family is what sets them apart. They work as one team and help each other along the way. In my opinion, M&M stands high on the mountain of manufacturer’s representatives. They provide customer support, and more importantly to me — engineering support, when it is needed and with a smile.
Equally important is the firm’s relationships with its manufacturer partners.
“Marsh & Moore has a world-class inside and outside sales team that I have the pleasure to partner with almost daily, as well as with Jennifer, Jonathan and Garrett,” notes Cary Caldwell, Southeast regional sales manager for Liberty Pumps. “They seem to all make themselves available to assist in any way they can. The service they provide to not only the wholesalers, but to the contractors, engineers and architects is top-notch. Just like Liberty Pumps prides itself on customer service, so does Marsh & Moore”
Caldwell adds the team has been extremely knowledgeable ever since it took on the Liberty Pumps line many years ago.
“Our products can be very labor intensive and need a lot of care to size the product right for an application,” he explains. “They know that training the customer is just as important as doing the quotes themselves. Florida is a big state and Marsh & Moore does a great job of walking a fine balance of being in every pocket of Florida but not losing that small agency feel.”
Speakman Sales Manager Scott Tucker has been working with the agency for a little over two years. “It’s that old saying of ‘real recognizes real.’ They believe a strong strategy and hard work are keys to success and are very genuine in their approach. They don’t sugarcoat things and they pride themselves on doing the right thing and having open and honest communication.
“M & M became a Speakman representative during the pandemic and then had to deal with the replacement of their regional in 2021,” he adds. “Normally, these two events could be an excuse to not be overly knowledgeable about the newer brand to their line card; however, I am pleasantly surprised by how much they already know based off their own efforts to learn the line and product offering and are always way ahead of the goals set forth. In my opinion, they collectively have one of the strongest technical support teams in the country. I wish I could have an M&M in every region of the country.
I look forward to seeing and being a part of all the incredible things that they will accomplish over the course of my career.”
Marsh & Moore is a first-class organization that has been a great supporter in promoting and selling Sanderson Pipe, notes Tom Davis, national sales manager — plumbing and irrigation for Sanderson Pipe.
“I’ve worked with them for 18 plus years going back to Mark Marsh,” Davis notes. “They are very knowledgeable. They brought their field sales team to tour the Sanderson Pipe plant in Florida in order to learn and educate themselves in regards to the process of producing PVC pipe in our manufacturing facility.”
Davis notes the solid relationships Marsh & Moore has with “engineers, contractors and wholesalers throughout the state of Florida really sets them apart from other reps.”
Enhancing value through training
Bohl notes there is a constant need for training in the industry because there are always new products coming out.
“It seems that innovation is coming quicker than it ever has before in our industry,” he says. “We get in front of engineers and contractors with new materials and products to show them.”
Rodriguez adds that training engineers, contractors and wholesalers is what takes up most of their time.
“The more knowledge they have, it’s a kickback return,” she explains. “If we train them properly on design, specification and installation, then that’s going to create less callbacks to our agency.”
That focus on training doesn’t stop with Marsh & Moore’s customers. The agency regularly trains its own employees as well.
“We have quarterly meetings where we usually bring everyone into Orlando because it's centrally located and we bring in various sales managers and product lines to review new product roll outs, conduct hands-on training and more,” Bohl says. “And whenever manufacturers offer training, we send our people to their facilities. We find that our sales team gains a different perspective of selling the product if you walk the factory and see how the products are made, meet the customer service team and the product engineers.”
Marsh & Moore assigns line managers from its inside sales team so that every line it represents has a dedicated inside person who handles the line on a day-to-day basis as far as order processing, quotations and more. Rodriguez notes the team also cross-trains on different product lines so in case somebody is out sick or on vacation, there are knowledgeable personnel to cover for them.
“I really would put our inside team up against anybody in the industry as far as our wealth of knowledge,” she says.
Overcoming industry challenges
Rodriguez, who handles all the operations at Marsh & Moore, notes the most challenging issue the rep firm has had to face has been all the issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including labor and product shortages.
“Even though COVID is ‘technically’ over and everyone is moving past it, we are still feeling the ramifications of it,” she says. “We’re still having problems at the factory level with products being backordered and not being able to fulfill some orders. It’s very challenging as a manufacturer's rep because you want to provide that great customer service, and, a lot of times, things can be out of our control.”
Bohl adds that the remote working conditions for many of the engineering firms have also made it harder to coordinate concentrated training events such as Lunch and Learns.
“We used to be able to go into the office and get 20 engineers for a training session, but now, certain engineers are only in on certain days — they’re not full-time office. It’s getting better, but it’s not back 100% yet.”
Though the Florida area is definitely experiencing a skilled trades labor shortage, Marsh & Moore has been blessed to not have a high employee turnover.
“We did experience one issue where an employee retired with us, and it took a bit longer than usual to fill that vacant position when we can usually fill it right away,” Rodriguez notes. “As an agency, we’ve been very blessed. During the whole pandemic, we didn’t have to lay anybody off, and we didn’t lose anybody except for the person retiring.”
One of the ways Marsh & Moore works to retain its employees is its family culture.
“We don’t treat employees like a number,” Rodriguez says. “Once you join our agencyk you are part of our work family. We strive to make Marsh & Moore a positive work environment. We pay very well, we offer really good benefits and incentives to work here. Our average employment tenure is 15-years. But before we had some of our legacy employees retire a few years ago, it was 25 years.”
Marsh & Moore is also actively working to bring in younger generations of employees.
“That’s important to manufacturers — they want to see that you have a succession plan, not only with management but with your entire team,” Rodriguez explains. “Which means we have to bring in youth to keep the company moving in a positive direction so we’re not aging out of the system.”
That’s not to say it is easy recruiting young people into the rep business.
“It’s not really a sexy market, if you will,” Rodriguez acknowledges. “But this is an amazing industry. I feel like we’ve been very lucky to find some very talented, upstanding emerging professionals to join our agency.”
One way Marsh & Moore is attracting the younger generation is by offering mentorship with legacy employees several years before they retire so they can learn the knowledge and form the relationships the agency has acquired over the years.
“That’s exactly how it was handled when I was coming into the business,” Jonathan Marsh explains. “I had the opportunity to work with my father, Richard and the rest of the leadership team who have all since retired now. I got to see how they work, what their successes were. And I took little pieces of everything that they were good at and formed my own way of doing things.”
Jennifer Dorsey, inside sales manager for Marsh & Moore, has worked in the industry for 27-years and had experience working for both a contractor and a manufacturer directly before joining the rep agency. She is celebrating her 14th anniversary with Marsh & Moore this year.
“One of the most important things with any company is the company culture,” she says. “And we're a family-owned and operated business. It's a very comfortable environment to work in — that camaraderie that you form is important. We work hard every day, but we have a lot of fun too. And when I started my family, the Marsh & Moore management team was so supportive giving me time off to handle family matters. You can't put a price tag on that in my opinion.”
Dorsey notes the fact that Marsh & Moore is diverse in its markets and fields has helped the rep firm overcome the tough times.
“When the residential market slows down, a lot of times there's still funding in place for infrastructure,” she says. “And when you have products that you can sell into those market segments, that is going to help us even more in the long run as we enter into the unknown here in the next couple of years with the economy. And we offer a personal touch that you just don’t get with some of the larger firms.”
Bohl notes that Rodriguez, Jonathan Marsh and himself were all born into this industry. “We’re very blessed that our fathers worked so hard to make Marsh & Moore what it is today. Our goal is to carry on that legacy. We just hit our 50-year anniversary, which we are very excited about. I would love to see this grow even more and pass it to our children one day.”
That’s not to say it all came easy for the leadership team, he adds. “We've all put a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears into this company. Just to see it as profitable as it is and how its thriving is amazing. Our employees are happy, our manufacturers are happy. That's probably our long-term goal — staying the course.”
Jonathan Marsh agrees, saying the rumors he’s heard floating around the industry about how reps will eventually become extinct won’t ever happen.
“People really value the face-to-face relationships, the face-to-face communication,” he notes. “People buy from people they like in a lot of ways. Making yourself important and earning their trust that you're going to take care of their problems isn't going away anytime soon I can tell you that.”
“And as products get more technical and more product knowledge is needed, you need the local knowledge closer to the job site instead of at higher levels,” Bohl adds. “Reps are going to provide a key role in being the local knowledge base for product lines and technical product knowledge.”
Additionally, having instant customer service for any problems happening on a job site will continue to be important, Rodriguez explains.
“If manufacturers just start relying on technology to troubleshoot technical issues, then all you can do is call or instant message with a bot and, sometimes, that’s not adequate,” she says. “Customers want someone physically on the jobsite with them to help navigate through that situation. That’s something we pride ourselves in — we have a salesperson in each territory of the state, so if an issue comes up, we’re just a phone call away.”