(This Fall 2020 Meet the Wholesaler interview is also the second installment in the MTW podcast series, available along with the other ACHR NEWS podcasts. Check it out for some additional conversation and on-the-go listening.)
APR Supply just finished a big virtual event in the place of what is usually an in-person event. Would you give us a little context regarding the traditional event?
Ludwig: Our Annual Buying Show has seen 17 years of in-person success. Our traditional event allows for opportunities for customers, vendors, and APR teammates. It’s the day everyone gets along. Going virtual this year was out of necessity, of course. Our teams embraced the challenge, and in less than 80 days, we did our best to replicate the experience our customers and vendors have come to expect.
Were there one or two aspects of the virtual event you were most proud of or you feel were most effective?
Ludwig: We decided to bring the entire workload in-house. Our website provided a viable platform, and our marketing and IT teams had the expertise to make it happen. For them, it was a huge workload.
What did your team learn along the way with regard to the process of transitioning from a physical to a virtual event?
Ludwig: While our customers responded on the sales side, I don’t think they fully embraced the technology and active participation in the show format.
Do you think APR might keep some elements of this virtual event even after traditional physical events return on a more widespread scale?
Ludwig: This show is so important to our overall brand and success that we have detailed debriefs after the show every year. There are certainly some elements that will remain, even when the show returns to an in-person event. It’s a little premature for me to predict what might stay.
What was your favorite college or high school course? Was it the material or the teacher, or both?
Ludwig: I have always been a people person. Human behavior fascinates me. I suppose that is how I ended up with a psychology degree. Now my focus is on salespeople and customer behavior. That is my No. 1 business passion.
What was the worst business advice you ever got?
Ludwig: I am pretty much a straight shooter. I don’t care for deceit as a means to an end. Being told one has to cheat to win is bad advice all around. While politics is part of all of our worlds today, I prefer to be honest and act with integrity. My gain doesn’t have to be someone else’s loss, nor should it be.
Looking at APR’s website, I was interested to see the section about joint ventures, where you have co-located with other independent distributors for customer convenience. Would you offer a benefit of this approach, along with a caveat/something a distributor should analyze or consider before trying that sort of alliance?
Ludwig: Our joint venture is special. Ultimate trust in the goals set out in the beginning was the key. No question of motives and pure transparency is the only way this works. I wouldn’t suggest this is easy, and it’s tested frequently. Open lines of communication at all levels of the organizations is a must.
The overall financial benefits, particularly occupancy costs, far outweigh the potential daily distractions. When everyone keeps the overarching goal in mind, all can be successful.
Is there a type of "minor" HVAC equipment that you're seeing trending way up or way down these days?
Ludwig: I am certain this has some recency bias to it, but the demand for IAQ products has risen through the pandemic, and we don’t expect that to slow down anytime soon. This includes UV, ionization, and filtration.
Something I like to ask distributors who serve multiple trades: Could you share an example of something your team has learned in dealing with your plumbing or tools customers that you have carried over to be more successful in working with your HVAC customers?
Ludwig: I can’t really pinpoint any carryover from one to the other. In my career at APR, we have always had both trades. Technology has perhaps moved a little faster in the HVAC world, and we have had to adapt and be able to communicate those changes for our customers. Showing contractors how to be profitable is a major focus for our sales teams, and I think we are being rewarded for those efforts.
We sometimes ask people for their favorite vacation spots. These days, what’s the place (vacation or not) you’re looking forward to getting back to again as life tries to eventually get back to “normal”?
Ludwig: Our family paradise is Emerald Isle, North Carolina. When I was in college — let’s just say a long time ago — my family began vacationing there. It’s 500 miles from home, and we have immediate family residing there. Seeing them a couple times a year is the added bonus to an already beautiful area of the country.