Armstrong’s distributor meeting included a mock television newscast.
CHICAGO - At its 2003 international distributor meeting, Armstrong Air Conditioning used a "Lock it up" theme to point out its intentions to solidify dealer-distributor relationships.

The welcome address included comments from Bob McDonough, president, Lennox International Worldwide Heating & Cooling; Mike Schwartz, president, Lennox International Worldwide Refrigeration; Wendy Howells, general manager, Armstrong Air Conditioning; and Karen Bunting, manager of dealer-distributor development, Armstrong Air Conditioning.

"This business is clearly built on relationships," said Bunting. "‘Lock it up' refers to locking up relationships between distributors and dealers."

Schwartz, who recently left his position as general manager of Armstrong, thanked the roomful of distributors for their support, stating, "We have been focusing on a number of initiatives to improve responses to our customers."

Howells, the person who succeeded Schwartz, talked about a number of initiatives at Armstrong.

"The strategies are sound and the ideas to provide a competitive advantage is headed in the right direction," she said. "A lot of things are under the ‘velocity umbrella,' like online ordering and order tracking. We are putting a lot of focus on logistics."

Setting Priorities

Howells said she talked with distributors, who informed her that they are encouraged by the steps being taken by Armstrong to improve the distribution channel.

"Most said the strategies are good," she said. "We want Armstrong to make a great product and to be easy to deal with. You need us to consistently deliver a great product with on-time delivery, backed by great service.

"The mistake we made was trying to do it all at the same time. We had a lot on our plate at once."

Howells outlined three strategies - or, "jobs," as she put it - that Armstrong would stress:

  • Job 1 - Make sure that the important things are done first.

  • Job 2 - Ensure that the company has the right product for the changing market.

  • Job 3 - Stick with the same strategies by balancing day-to-day needs.

    McDonough told attendees about the changes made to the company profile, including establishing a Lennox Worldwide Heating & Cooling Division. The global company listed $1.8 billion in sales in 2002, employs 7,500 people, and has 13 manufacturing locations.

    "We face enormous changes," said McDonough. "This includes brand proliferation, refrigerants, indoor air quality - a hot button for consumers - alternate distribution systems - including, ‘big box' stores - offshore competition, and the need to rapidly deploy technology.

    "We cannot be a hammer-and-anvil business. We need to use technology to respond to challenges in the marketplace. And we need to set the tone in the marketplace, to put our competition on the defensive."

    McDonough assured distributors that the company will have the products they need, when and where they need them.

    "We want to make a tangible difference in your business - something meaningful - and not just boxes on a truck. We will not lose our brand image. Our products will be unique, distributors will be proud to sell them, and consumers will want them in their homes."

    Sidebar: Mock News Broadcast Entertains Attendees

    CHICAGO - During its "Lock it up" distributor meeting, Armstrong Air Conditioning Inc. sponsored a mock news broadcast to highlight some of its product lines.

    A news anchorman introduced Armstrong products and occasionally cut away to field reports, which featured programs designed to sign up new Armstrong dealers and dealer conversion plans.

    An onsite "interview" featured an Armstrong engineer talking about the features of a new high-efficiency furnace with a redesigned cover for easier service. Another news brief featured the company's new IAQ coil, which is designed to deter the growth of mold spores.

    Other Armstrong initiatives featured during the newscast included efficiency developments, consumer recognition, its Premium Care Plus program, and a reference guide for distributors and dealers.

    Karen Bunting, manager of dealer-distributor development, followed the newscast with some news about the company's GPS (Growth, Profit, Success) initiative.

    "Dealer GPS is instructed by Tom Piscatelli, who teaches the importance of system selling, including presentation binders and mailings," she said. "Dealers can earn back the cost of the training."

    Bunting also noted a proprietary training course, titled "Quest for Success," which she thought would be valuable for distributors.

    "The one-year course could totally revamp a business," she said.

    Bunting highlighted two other proprietary programs:

  • Compass - An in-home selling tool, designed to allow homeowners to fill out a survey online, giving dealers time to prepare a sales call and prepare a professional proposal.

  • Champions - In this program, a distributor designates a contact person, who can provide Armstrong invaluable feedback, improve communications, and answer yearly surveys.

    "I ask that your company designate a ‘champion' to communicate with us," said Bunting.

    - John Hall

    Sidebar: Distributors Get Sales, Marketing Pep Talk

    CHICAGO - Drew Cameron, founder of Supernova Selling Systems (Bryan, Texas), took his enthusiastic approach to marketing and selling to Armstrong Air Conditioning's "Lock it up" distributor meeting, held here recently. Attendees walked away with many motivational ideas.

    "I look at myself as more of resultant than a consultant," said Cameron. "I like to face a problem, solve it, and get out."

    Cameron told his audience "sales are about relationships. You can't just push a button to make a sale. The emphasis should be on strengthening the relationships, rather than selling boxes. The bottom line is that people buy from people, not from a company."

    Cameron pointed out that territory managers play an important role in the relationship between distributor and dealers, noting that "too often there are adversarial relationships" between the two parties.

    "Products are simply commodities in the absence of a relationship," he said.

    Cameron listed the following 10 items that dealers want from distributors:

  • Partner in success. ("Help each other without hurting each other," he said.)

  • Marketing, sales, and business management support.

  • Free literature and timely information.

  • Fair prices and good promotions.

  • Territory manager access and availability.

  • Excellent and continual training.

  • Do not open new dealers without existing dealer approval.

  • Financing programs and training.

  • Share what you know that works without betraying dealer trust.

  • No "I spy" games.

    Cameron said dealers want to know about the people they deal with, just as a consumer wants to know about dealers.

    "People will want to know more about you before they buy from you," he said. "They don't want to hear, ‘You only call me when you want to sell me something.'"

    Cameron added that it is important to "get your finger on the pulse" of the company you do business with. In other words, he said, learn about their strengths and weaknesses.

    "Get with the guy who runs the warehouse," he said. "He knows more about the business than anyone else."

    Do's And Don'ts
    Dealers should consider distributors "an invaluable resource," said Cameron. "They should want to do business with you because they rely and depend on you."

    Cameron said that common mistakes to avoid include getting in a rut ("comfort zone complacency") and being "reactive rather than responsive."

    He offered the following tips on becoming a master territory manager:

  • Organize yourself.

  • Build relationships.

  • Master sales skills.

  • Manage yourself and your time.

  • Work smart - plan and prepare.

  • Continually improve.

  • Focus on end results.

  • Think a lot - be creative.

    Cameron added two more tips for distributors to consider.

    "Hire workers for attitude and train for success," he said. "If we fail, it is our own fault.

    "Weather is not a marketing tool and it is up to you to explain that to your dealers."

    - John Hall

    For more information on Cameron and Supernova Selling Systems, visit

    Publication date: 11/03/2003