Catching Up With Greg Babin of Florida Agents

We caught up with the wild & wonderful Greg Babin of Florida Agents to discuss the foodservice market for 2023 and beyond. We will highlight some of the philosophies of Florida Agents and how Arctic is working to support their cold storage needs.

Welcome back Greg, it’s been a while since we have chatted. Would you mind giving us a brief update on any exciting things that have happened since we last spoke?

“Our team is doing great and we have added a new outside sales rep since we last spoke. He’s on the east coast of Florida covering the Orlando-Jacksonville market. We are also looking to add a person on the west coast of Florida, with me in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota market. We see the Florida market continuing to expand and good things for the next three to five years as we continue to absorb the increased population. Cruise lines are a big piece of our business, and we do a lot with the cruise lines out of South Florida. They’re bringing in newer and bigger ships, replacing big ships with even bigger ships, and what that means is more tourism coming down the pipeline for us. Folks come in two days before the cruise, stay a couple of days after the cruise, so that the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market is going to be continuing to be busy and building just to maintain their tourism status.”

There’s plenty of things going on in the world today, whether it be post Covid effects, supply chain issues, inflation, or even an economic slowdown. Yet, we are all still busy. What is driving the foodservice market, in your opinion?

“The driving force in Florida is the fact that we had such a population explosion in Florida. All the good restaurants are getting booked out weeks ahead of time, if you can even get a reservation. The hotel rates are up at all the hotels. The beaches are packed, tourism and a change in the population demographic has driven our growth. If you take a look at why people moved here, at the time during Covid, our cost of living was less than what’s up north. When people moved here, besides the state income tax housing at that time, we were still in a little bit of a housing boom. Now it’s a housing explosion. Another thing we’ve noticed is that our new residents are much younger than we’re used to moving here. One thing about the younger people that have moved here, is they don’t know how to cook. They grew up going out to the local little cafe or coffee shop. The new residents have moved here and they are demanding those outlets be down here where they’re moving to. We’ve always had our supermarkets dabble in meals to-go. Fifteen years ago, that became the buzzword of all supermarkets, Kroger, Safeway, all the ones out of the state were doing it. The ones in Florida were like, “What the heck is that?” Well, now it’s absolutely flying in Florida because these young people want to go grab something and go home.” 

Is the strong demand creating the need to grow the team or add resources? 

“It is indeed, we are currently searching for an Outside Sales Representative and account manager for a position in our Central Florida territory. The job description can be viewed here: Outside Sales Representative. The dynamic and expanding demand for strong manufacturing representation is creating opportunities with Florida Agents. We are always looking for talent and potential candidates, please spread the word and check out the best team in the business.  Of course, I might be a little biased.”

Is there anything that your team is doing differently today than they did a year or so ago?  What would you say has changed from your customer’s perspective.

“The customer is demanding faster response time on quotes and on follow-up acknowledgements of Purchase Orders. A year or two ago, they would send you an order or ask you for a quote and you had at least 24 hours before. They’d be like checking with you to see if the quote is coming back or not. Now, if they send it to you in the morning, literally before they leave at 5:00pm they text and go, “Hey, did you see that quote request? I really need that pricing.” It’s shortened from a 24-hour window to maybe an eight to ten hour window. Florida Agents and the competition all want to be the first one back with the price. Whoever gets it back first is going to win quite often! We are doing more social media posts and getting more engaged on social media than we ever have. We realize we need to be more offensive in social media, just like Arctic sees their competition in the digital space.” 

There seems to not only be resilience, but increased demand in K-12 (Education) C- stores, and chains.  Is your team seeing the same thing we are? And what is your strategy for these channels?

“Our line package lends itself extremely well to K-12 with the brands that we represent. We advertise a lot and participate in the shows, so we’ve had great success. We really were not thriving in the school market until Arctic changed to foam-in-place and this is a game changer as you know. Like many industries, they would not accept laminate or our old construction style of box. The key to the K-12 market always has been establishing a good reputation with the schools, because they do correspond with each other. I believe there are 67 districts in Florida and once you get in with one or two, the word spreads quickly. It’s always hard getting the first one, but if the first one goes well, it just opens up now that the foot’s in the door and the door gets kicked open.”

We both have pride in our teams and focus on not sacrificing quality. The picture of that Arctic cooler post during Hurricane Ida was widely circulated; when your team sees those images, does it elicit a, “This is why we choose the Arctic” mindset from the Florida Agents team?

“Absolutely! Any walk-in that can survive hurricane winds over 100 MPH must have the structural integrity to withstand the rigors of a busy food service application.”

Arctic and Florida Agents have navigated the challenges of the last few years and not all easy times. Yet, here we are headed in 2023 and motivated with goals of achieving our best results ever. What keeps that synergy and partnership at such a high-level, Greg?

“What keeps it there is simply management’s engagement with the sales team. Janet De Loen has a strong relationship with a lot of our customers in Florida and she alone helps drive business with our team as well as our customers because they just love her! I will pay my old friend Ben his kudos, he is just awesome. I hear from Ben frequently and he and I have a strong and open relationship. This is what it takes, management showing they care and that we are all invested in unison. This goes a long way in garnering support from the sales team and even inside sales support staff here. Ben has been such a breath of fresh air, Janet is a Rock Star! We always give kudos to the factories when we can, because they do the hard work.”

Thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat with us once again, Greg. John Bergher, our Chief Marketing Officer, often references Florida Agents as the benchmark when launching initiatives and products. “The operation is top notch and transparent, the ultimate partners!”