We recently sat down with Lisa Berkowitz and Lester Magid of PRF Marketing to learn about their amazing organization and why they choose to work with Arctic Industries. A slightly edited transcript of the conversation can be found below.
To kick things off, we would love to hear from the both of you about the company’s history and where you’re at today!
Lisa: “I started in the food service industry in 1978. I was working for a food service management company and left there in the early 80’s to pursue project management with a turn-key manufacturer of woodworking and front of the house decor, as well as back of the house kitchen equipment. I left there and started working in the 90s with a manufacturer’s rep. organization, and then started my own rep. business in 1996 with another partner. I merged my business with PRF Marketing in 2001.”
Lester: “I started in 1996- left another job and started working with my dad who was a rep. I worked with him from 1996 until 2005 when we merged with PRF marketing. Instead of using our previous companies’ names, we stuck with PRF because it was well-known and a well-respected name. Over the years through attrition and retirements, the company would eventually fall into Lisa and my hands. We have Tim Schmidt , who is coming in as a partner, who lives in, and manages business in Wisconsin. Lisa and I have been working together since 2005 and we’ve had a good run thus far. Like everything within the industry, you have buyouts, rollups, and selloffs- changes affect your line list at times that you had nothing to do with. There’s just no rhyme or reason, but we’ve been able to handle the ebbs and flows of the industry and still make a pretty good living.”
Given your longevity in the industry and the challenges you’ve seen, what are some of the core key tenets that have allowed you to thrive?
Lisa: I think the reason why we’re able to get responses quickly on any given issue is because of the manufacturers that we currently represent. We can go to the president or vice-president of any one of the companies we represent. Most every manufacturer we represent is independently owned. We don’t represent many companies that are a part of the big conglomerates. We can pick up the phone and get an answer in a timely manner, which I think is a huge benefit in today’s world.”
Lester: “It’s amazing- Lisa and I were talking yesterday about the world as a whole and how we went into that cycle of good customer service and now the world is turning again where customer service has gone out the window, not only for food service but for every industry. Try calling your internet or phone service provider- no one seems to want to help the customer anymore, which is a shame. We try to do what we can do. We might call Scott and tell him we need another 30% on this, and he’ll say, “No”, but at least we can get an answer to our customer, and our customer can know where he stands. That’s important to us, to get a response or give a response.”
Can you speak to that a little bit more on the unique variables of what you’ve seen over the years at PRF, and how it differentiates from anywhere else geographically?
Lester: “In the business marketplace it seems that the coasts get hit first, then the Midwest, then the coasts seem to recover and then the Midwest recovers. I would say that is our view of how things happen, whether or not they actually play out that way. We also seem to see much more crushing competitiveness amongst product categories in the Midwest. It seems to be the case that the industry has moved to become more robotic, where you used to go into an account and spend 2-2.5 hours and see 6-7 guys. Now with auto-quotes and the internet, people say that they don’t need to see you, just give me a price on it. Our market feels more competitive than we’ve ever seen.”
Lisa: “I still think our relationships with our customers are stronger than ever. They really want to do business with us, no matter what manufacturer we represent today. People know us for our relationships and for our responsiveness. Pricing will always play a role, but I think our relationships with our customers over the many years that we’ve been doing this, people still like doing business because of those factors. I don’t think that will ever go away.”
What are some of the lessons that you are taking away from the COVID pandemic and what’s your forecast for the recovery, both in terms of the industry and product lines that you see flourishing?
Lester: “I think the last two years have been hard. Up until March 2020 it seemed that everybody was running at 120% speed. I know dealer salesmen and contract guys who are working Saturdays, putting in time on Sundays. We certainly had full days at PRF, at that time. Everybody was running at their peak. Jobs were going fast and I think when the pandemic hit, the first couple of weeks reset everybody a little bit. We couldn’t go out, we couldn’t leave our house, we couldn’t go see customers. I think when the Zoom meetings of the world stepped in, it became the way of doing business for a while. We had zoom meetings, we were doing our trainings over Zoom, and then I think people got Zoom fatigue. While we still couldn’t see people, talking on the phone became very important to us. At least dialing the people, talking to them, trying to have a conversation, and then slowly working back into it. It also started to make them a little more self-sufficient. The second part of your question was when do you see us coming out of this, but the reality is that we’re not coming out of it until the middle of 2023. I would say we’re in this for another 12-15 months, even if the flood gates open.”
Would you mind telling us about your recent trip to the Arctic Factory?
Lester: “It looked like Tesla’s factory, it was beautiful. I thought the layout and the flow of the factory was very good. The way they set up the boxes at the end and checked them, seemed very cool. I can’t tell you that building a panel and foaming it in, is any different than how someone else does it, but what I can tell you was- the shop was clean, organized, and just an overall nice factory.”
Lisa: “I had represented Arctic Industries prior to when they were purchased, when the old Arctic only manufactured styrene. It looked totally different to me, especially with the FIP technology which is something they didn’t have before. The people that work in the factory, seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. They smiled at you, acknowledged you, and just looked happy.”
Is there anything else you would like to add about either yourselves, PRF, or even Arctic?
Lisa: “I would like to add one thing, because it just reaffirmed everything I’ve thought about, since the day we started representing Arctic. The communication with this organization is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Instead of being reactive, they’re the most proactive manufacturer I have ever worked with. I just wanted to say kudos to the communication aspect of your company- it’s unreal. It’s an honor to represent a company that lets us know what’s going on. Every day, every hour, whatever the case is- they let us know, so we can tell our customers what’s going on, instead of waiting until the day it’s supposed to ship and saying that we can’t ship them their product. Thank you for that, truly- thank you.”
Lester: “I do have to say our regional, Scott Carter, is great. I know this may sound simplistic, but we have a guy who answers his phone. While we can all laugh at that, reality is- we have a guy who answers his phone. We might not get the answer we want, but I can get an answer. That’s huge to us and I’ve told Scott that. I was with a customer over the summer, it was 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday. We needed to talk to him about something, punched him up on a speaker call, went to voicemail, but he called us back 10 minutes later. My customer looked at me and said, “He’s actually calling you back at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, in the summer?” It’s pretty cool that we have people like that at Arctic who work as hard as he does.”
If you could sum up PRF Marketing in one sentence, what would it be?
Lester: “Professional representation of the finest factories.”
Lisa: “We are a relationship-driven organization, and people come first.”
Thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat with us, Lisa and Lester!