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Larry Trimbach, President 2J Supply Company

Originally published: 05.01.07 by Terry Tanker

Larry Trimbach, President 2J Supply Company

Larry Trimbach, a second-generation HVACR distributor with 2J Supply Co., recently spent a morning with publisher Terry Tanker discussing rock 'n roll, expansion and growth, contractors, health-care costs, business strategies and more.


1. Who is your favorite musician?

Bob Dylan.

2. Who do you consider the best rock band of all time?

The Who.

3. Have you seen them in concert?

Absolutely, but it's been a while. The last time was in the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium with 90,000 other fans.

4. Have you been to the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland?

Oh yes. It's very interactive. I highly recommend going.

5. What current projects are you involved in that are helping reshape your business?

We are very much involved in the Blue Hawk buying co-op. It's helping us buy better and lowering our costs.

6. When did you join 2J Supply Co.?

I joined my dad and brother in 1984 after working in the restaurant industry for eight years. We had about 10 employees and $1 million in sales. We now have nearly 100 employees and $33 million in sales.

7. What is the best new idea you've implemented in the past year?

Getting back to distribution basics. Give the customer what they want at the right price, on time.

We've had focus-group meetings with customers and prospects to find out what they liked and didn't like. They want to be part of the process, and their opinion counts.

8. What are the top contractors doing right now to be successful?

First, they are focusing on selling comfort. They understand they can't just do a 15-minute pitch and leave the literature. There needs to be a more thorough sales process. They are concentrating on becoming better salesmen. Consumers are better buyers, so contractors need to improve their sales techniques. Finally, successful contractors are consistent with their follow up and follow through.

9. What has been your key to expansion and growth?

We had relationships with smaller companies in markets that we wanted to expand into. Those relationships worked in our favor, and we were in the right place at the right time.

10. Are there advantages to being a regional distributor versus national distributor?

The advantage to being national is access to products you didn't have before. However, there is still room for strong regional players that know their markets and leverage their relationships. In most cases they are family-owned businesses, and they understand their reach in the market.

11. Has Internet purchasing at 2J internally and externally increased in the past year?

Yes. Through Blue Hawk we've been buying more on the Internet, and there is a portion of our customer base that is doing a better job buying from us. However, they tend to be the contractors who can forecast their business. Many others are just not in that position.

12. How are you handling the escalating cost of health care for your employees?

We are moving from a traditional plan to a Health Savings Account Plan (HSA). The HSA puts the control of the program into the hands of the employee. The money is pretax and goes with them if they leave the company. We are implementing a wellness program as well, where employees can receive a health assessment and are assigned a health coach to help them with things like weight loss, smoking, and overall fitness.

13. What are the top concerns for the next three years?

Finding and retaining qualified people is one of our largest concerns. We aren't competing against other wholesalers; we're competing against all of the other companies of our size. Pressure on margins is another. Our challenge is to buy better and lower our cost.

14. What new strategies are you employing to recruit?

For the first time we hired a person directly from a local university. We are going on campus to recruit. Our employees receive a bonus if we hire someone they bring to our attention. The real key is to always be hiring. Our company is always looking, always active.

15. What new techniques are you employing to help drive sales?

We are better at segmenting our business now. We have sales managers who are singularly focused on Maytag and Westinghouse equipment lines.

16. What growth potential do you see for contractors in residential Indoor Air Quality?

IAQ is a great opportunity, but I don't think many small to medium-size contractors have been able to take advantage of it yet. In many cases they are still trying to understand their overhead, maintenance contracts, meeting payroll and other basic business principals, and IAQ represents another business challenge for them.

17. What types of marketing do you do at 2J?

Over the years we've done just about every type of marketing you can think of from classic car giveaways to Super Bowl weekends. We've been guilty of over marketing. Recently we've been conducting more focus groups to determine what is best for our customers.

18. Is there a program or technique that has worked consistently for you over the years?

We've found repeating programs can get stale with our customers, so changing the mix works best for us.

19. Do you help contractors with their marketing?

We're trying to help them concentrate on being better salesmen. We offer classes and training. We want them to have a better sales process, better follow up, and follow through.

20. What other tools do they need?

Being in business is extremely difficult, but it's not complicated. This trade is full of contractors who are fantastic installers or service techs and then open their own companies. Most often they just don't understand what it takes to be a good businessperson. I think your magazine, HVACR Business, is a tremendous help to them.


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