We recently sat down with Greg Babin of Florida Agents to learn about his stellar organization and why he chooses to work with Arctic Industries. A slightly edited transcript of the conversation can be found below.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and Florida Agents?
“Florida Agents was founded back in 1979 by Jim Degnan. I came to work for Jim right out of college in 1985. Jim and I worked together and grew the agency into what it is today. After graduating in New Orleans, I moved to Florida because in the 80s- it was a booming state, much like it is now. I came here for the opportunity, and eventually got the job with Florida Agents. Jim and I worked together until 2014 when I purchased the agency from him, which is how I became president and owner. Throughout college I worked in a restaurant, so I was part-time in food service and ended up liking the industry. Didn’t really see this side of the industry at that point, until I joined what is now Florida Agents and started calling on all the clients.”
What are the core values/mission of Florida Agents, and how has it evolved over the course of a very storied history?
“The core value is to always do right by the customer- which can be the end-user, it can be the dealer, the consultant- we view them all as the customer. Mr. Degnan had three short sentences he used to say, “I never want my phone to ring and it be one of these three things: You’ve upset the customer, you’ve upset one of our factories, or you’re upsetting the damn guy who writes your paycheck. The real core value is just taking care of the customer, being responsive to phone calls, emails, especially when they have issues.”
How has COVID affected the overall landscape of the food service industry and what specific challenges has Florida Agents encountered?
“2019 was a fantastic year for us. The food service market was growing, the industry was expanding, and we had a phenomenal year all-around. Going into 2020, we saw nothing but great things on the horizon. Then of course, COVID shut everything down. In Florida we were lucky; good, bad, or indifferent. We came out of it faster than other areas of the country. As far as how it’s affected us now- it’s mostly with supply chain issues. The industry is exploding, the demand is ridiculously high, and we just can’t fill the supply chain fast enough to capitalize on the opportunities.”
How has your team managed to stay so positive during this time and could you share a little bit about the inner workings of Florida Agents?
“We are a really upbeat group of people and we do heckle a lot. One of the interview questions if you join us is do you like to heckle and can you heckle? We keep it all in-house, but it’s how we blow off steam. We did shut down for a period of time and we started opening the office slowly when we started to open up, but we took precaution. Most of our clients were not doing in-person, so we had to adapt and improve our use of technology. There were some learning curves of things we just didn’t know. Keeping everybody positive- it was the senior partners who agreed to some financial changes in the short term to make sure everyone was going to be able to pay their bills and feel secure. We were not going to lose people because of this pandemic, here we are today; stronger than ever.”
Where do you project things going over the course of the next 6 months to a year in your industry?
“We definitely see a light at the end of the tunnel. Most of our chain customers and large-end users are still doing virtual meetings, no live meetings quite yet. We still do online meetings with the chains or we can meet offsite with some of them, because they can meet off site- we just can’t go into their offices. We’ve been able to get 80-85% of our client base back to in-person meetings. I wouldn’t say we’re quite out of the tunnel just yet, but Theme parks are moving towards full occupancy and Cruise lines are gearing back up- which is a really good sign for us.”
With demand increasing, business relationships still sort of figuring themselves out, how do you find the balance between it all? If you were in need of food service goods, what would you be doing to ensure success and meet deadlines?
“It goes back to communication. It’s knowing what lead times are, who’s getting what products in. I’ve had many meetings over the last several weeks where clients are saying it’s not price anymore, it’s availability. People are paying higher prices than ever if they can get the piece they need to get their restaurant open. I go to my manufacturers and I contact Arctic probably every week, and say what’s our current lead time? We do email blasts of that information to our key accounts, because it allows us to pick up quote opportunities and/or PO’s if we can deliver faster than the competition.”
What has your relationship with Arctic been like over the past few years and where do you see it going in the future?
“We’ve represented Arctic for just under 15 years now. When we joined Arctic, we actually represented a previous walk-in cooler company that had gone bankrupt. Arctic was a different product then, and our line package was more spec-driven. In the past two years, Arctic with new management and ownership, they’ve transitioned to a foamed in place, or FIP, type box. Truly a more spec-driven box, so that fits much stronger into our forte. We were able to sell quite a bit of Arctic before, but now with the FIP boxes, it opens up new avenues for growth with that product line and in areas where we’re stronger.”
Would you say there is an advantage to having your manufacturing facility in the same state where you conduct business?
“Yes there is, of course. Freight is quick, we cover pretty much the entire state of Florida with Next-Day or Two-Day transit, as opposed to a week or 10 days. We’re able to do dedicated delivery trucks for the most part, which is something that most of our customers ask for. It makes us more responsive; after all we’re in the home state. As Arctic management has stated and we agree, we want to be the dominant walk-in manufacturer in the state of Florida and we’re doing that- we’re growing each year.”
Are you particularly excited about any projects on the horizon?
“We got into some business with a grocery store chain, which is something that we wouldn’t have been able to pursue without the Foam In Place technology from Arctic. Aside from that, we’re working on two large, food processing warehouse facilities. We can create thicker and stronger panels or heavier load-weight panels. We can do bigger warehouse buildings with FIP technology.”
If you could leave us with one thought on your organization- what would it be?
“At Florida Agents we are a group of Veteran Salespeople that know where to go find the business, with the relationships that we’ve built over our tenure. We know what it takes to knock the competition out, that’s what we live for. I’m a competitive individual, so is my team, and our mantra is- “Everyday be in your territory working to outsell the competition- Sell all day, everyday.”
Thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat with us, Greg!