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Third-generation leaders face challenges -- if the business survives long enough for them take the helm at all. 

Lauren Roberts, president of cfm Distributors, Inc. of Kansas City, is one such leader who’s applying digital native solutions to her company’s customer experience challenges. But she’s not stopping there. She sits down with me to discuss why it’s good for everyone in the industry succeed -- and what she’s doing to make that happen.

Like a lot of kids growing up in distribution, Lauren spent snow days off of school at the family business. She joined cfm full-time in 2004 as a member of the accounting department, eventually becoming vice president of marketing and customer experience. There, she applied her keen understanding of the rapidly changing customer service environment to a decidedly old-school way of doing business.

“Traditionally, in wholesale distribution, especially five-plus years ago, we were a little behind the times,” she says, noting that in those days, orders were still fielded by fax and technicians still thumbed through troubleshooting guides at the back of cfm’s now-defunct print catalogs. 

That lead to the development of cfm’s first e-commerce presence. “We brought on a mobile app to make tools more easily available,” she says. Today, that e-commerce site has multiple tools for commercial and residential customers as well as a substantial troubleshooting section, one that’s more easily updated but just as favored by contractors as the old print guides. 

The shift to a more technologically advanced identity has allowed cfm to do more for their customers than streamline the wholesale/retail process, however. “Our main mission in our company is to deliver success to our customers… and, along that note, we found that a lot of our customers were really good at heating and cooling. Beyond that, they aren’t as interested in the business side in some cases and the marketing side,” she says. 

So, cfm began offering contractors a marketing service via turn-key packages and one-on-one consulting options. The service costs cfm half of its marketing efforts but, as Lauren points out, “It’s an added value we do to take the burden off of them so they can focus on installing and selling heating and cooling equipment which is what they’re really good at.”

What Lauren’s good at is dovetailing old with new, melding tech with legacy, and serving her peers. To that end, she’s on the board of directors for Women in HVACR and is an active member of HARDI. “I’m passionate about giving back. I also believe that if we all improve, all the companies in our industry collectively, we will all succeed together.” 

Listen in to hear more from this remarkable leader including how this employee-owned company weathers potentially contentious decisions and what it’s like to operate out of a hundred-year-old, seven-story building. 

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Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.  

Edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.