Industry Thought Leader: Ken Hager

Interview with Ken Hager, VP of Marketing at Amerhart

Ken Hager, the vice president of marketing at Amerhart Hager, said NBMDA membership has been a boon for his company, allowing networking opportunities with peers who experience similar hardships and triumphs. “You are working with the best distributors in the country; they are ahead of the curve in dealing with industry trends,” he said. In addition, Hager explained the educational programs NBMDA offers give members a “quality education at a low cost.” The organization also enables members to get more familiar with their manufacturers in order to build stronger relationships.  Hager said, as part of the organization, he would like to see “the value proposition for the distributor and manufacture grow. “He added, “There is a lot of synergy in combining forces.”

For those NBMDA members looking to become more involved in the association, Hager recommends they volunteer for committees, network with people they do not know and participate in NBMDA's seminars. He explained Amerhart often uses the opportunities afforded by NBMDA to reach out to distributors and get answers on market conditions, products and customers. This networking gives Amerhart the opportunity to meet with vendors and make detailed plans each quarter for specific distribution targets, meet with vendor management to make sure the companies are moving in the same direction, and, overall, “have and open and honest dialogue” with Amerhart’s partners. This networking also helps ease the relationship between distributors and manufacturers, which Hager admitted could sometimes be strained. “Pressures from their corporate office, in many cases for additional volume or looking to move more products through additional distribution or direct,” can contribute to that strained relationship, he explained.

Strained relationships are not the only pitfalls Amerhart needs to worry about in order to stay successful in its industry.  Last year, according to Hager, brought with it much market uncertainty via the “fiscal cliff,” rising gas prices, problems with China and housing foreclosures. Partly offsetting these challenges was a mild winter in the Midwest that afforded the company stronger business in outdoor-related projects, he said. “Anything to do with outdoor projects was pretty solid in the first two quarters and that carried through the balance of the year.”

Unfortunately, 2013 brought with it a longer winter that “didn’t seem like it would ever end,” with strong sales not arriving until May, Hager explained. Overall, Hager said the industry is currently mixed. “Some manufacturers are busy and some are taking time out of their production,” he said. “My concern is if the manufactures will be able to service the distributor in a timely manner.” The biggest challenges currently facing the industry, Hager went on to say, are healthcare, the sequester, capitalization and margin erosion. “Many dealers [and] cabinet companies had their credit lines reduced during the down turn,” he explained. “If business breaks like most people suspect it will, a concern would be if they have enough capital to support the increase in business."

As the market continues to evolve, Hager said he expects technology to play a more prominent role and expects the younger generation to champion that technological innovation. Amerhart’s own technological growth can be seen in its use of DMSi Intranet, where customers can check their current orders, check available inventories and place orders online. Amerhart has also implemented GPS tracking on their trucks, meaning it can communicate to customers about what time they should receive their order. As technology expands, Amerhart strives to keep its workforce up-to-date. “We rely on the manufactures to educate our people with the features and benefits of their products,” Hager said. “We use NBMDA's educational programs, bring in national speakers to our sales meetings for workshops and use the resources of our local technical college.”

Amerhart’s commitment to innovation and education are not the only things that make it unique in the distribution business. Hager said the key to the company’s success are those who make sure it functions efficiently. “Most might say delivery, credit or information, but what truly makes Amerhart unique is our people,” he said. “Our people know and understand the common goal and believe in distribution excellence.”

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