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AED Chairman on Selling Construction Equipment: The Rewards are Many

Wed March 07, 2012 - National Edition
Kim Phelan

In 1977, when a 24-year-old Larry Glynn bumped into his friend Bob McGowan at the local St. Louis post office, the planets were not only perfectly aligned but possibly even orbiting to the beat of that year’s pop hit, “Stayin’ Alive.” Glynn was looking for a job, and McGowan’s family company was looking for a salesman — so Glynn walked out of the post office with a name and phone number to call, which led to an interview and a job offer. But the best part: It was a sales job, and for Glynn, a guy who always knew he wanted to be a salesman, nothing could have been better.

Except maybe the compensation. Glynn took on a practically defunct territory for equipment dealer Cummings McGowan & West (CMW), and the terms of employment included providing his own car, paying his own expenses and working on 100 percent commission with a regular paycheck once every three months. But with a little luck, high energy and hard work, Glynn made it click.

A salesman at heart, Glynn is a people guy through and through who treasures friendships, kindness and integrity, and the lines between business and social relationships in his life are happily blurred.

“My customers are my best friends; my vendors are my best friends,” he said. “I don’t pick a fight with anybody and I sleep like a baby at night.”

Today, he’s the sole owner and president of CMW, and in 2012 he also is the chairman of Associated Equipment Distributors, the association’s highest volunteer office, a role he assumed on Jan. 20 at the AED Summit’s Chairman Inaugural Breakfast.

CMW is an 18-employee, single-location equipment dealership that focuses on concrete, asphalt and aggregate, mostly centered around roadbuilding, with geographic emphasis in St. Louis, Southern Ill., and Kansas City, Mo. And while Glynn has had to adapt to shrunken markets — including deep MoDOT budget cuts and rollercoaster, politics-driven Illinois road programs — he’s every bit the well-known, well-connected, and well-liked sales entrepreneur he always wanted to be. In fact, he’s a lot like the way he describes his dad, whom he admired and wanted to emulate.

Glynn Sr. was a pipe industry salesman who, it seemed to Larry as a kid, knew everyone. He’d greet janitors and corporate presidents alike, and trips in and out of state capitol offices are among Larry’s fond memories of his father, who was also personal friends with the governor and lieutenant governor back in the ’60s.

“One day the phone rang at home and it was the governor’s office,” Glynn recalled. “’Have your dad call us,’ they said; ’the governor is coming to St. Louis tomorrow and would like to play golf with your dad.’” Thirteen-year-old Larry Glynn forgot to relay the message but received only a gentle reprimand. “My dad was really cool like that,” he added.

Skin in the Game

So how does a young equipment salesman, who’s not related to any of the four original founders, wind up owning the place — and growing it from $1.5 million a year to 12 times that size over the course of three-plus decades? Again, a little luck, lots of hard work and his own charisma, which was already driving the marketing and sales life of the business. The luck was disguised as an economic downturn in 1981. With prime interest at 21 percent, the two remaining owners decided to get out, and the company’s two young successors, Bob McGowan and Bill Humphrey, offered Glynn a chance to come in for a one-third slice of the pie. An easy payment plan spread over the next several years made it an offer he couldn’t refuse. Glynn drained his savings account for a down payment and dove in with vigor and a new strategy: The company would not try to be all things to all people, but rather adopted a tight focus.

“I think I set a record for dropping lines at my first AED [Summit],” Glynn said in his Inaugural acceptance speech.

It was a new course set for financial altitude. Resolving to become good at a few things and provide high quality products, expertise and value in the concrete, asphalt and aggregates niche market, the three partners proceeded to grow the business by a $1 million a year for the next four years, reaching a high-water mark of $8.4 million by 1990. That year, Humphrey and Glynn bought out McGowan, and the next year, 1991, another recession hit, taking the little company on a plunge that reduced its annual revenue by half.

True to his people-first principles, Glynn didn’t cut any staff, although he shrunk salaries 25 percent during the painful draught. But business eventually crept back.

“At the end of 1992 we paid them all back in a Christmas bonus — we gave them everything they would have had in ’91,” Glynn said. “It was a surprise to them; they didn’t know it. We were making money again, so we don’t mind sharing when we’re making money.”

Similarly, Glynn did not lay off a single employee during the recession of 2008-2009.

“We did not hurt any of our people here,” he said. “My kids are out of college so I cut some of my own stuff but didn’t cut anybody else’s. I have a great group of people and I want these people to be here when we come back out of it.”

Glynn became sole owner of CMW in 1999 when his partner Bill Humphrey lost a brief seven-month battle with cancer. The company retained its niche market focus and is largely based on new equipment sales, although Glynn does rent a few pieces of his specialty equipment. He’s also created a modest export side to his business by selling used units and developing a reputation among brokers as a reliable dealer who follows through on all the details he’s agreed to do, fixing all the things he’s agreed to fix.

“A lot of brokers will come back to us on a regular basis,” he said; “we’re one of those people they can trust — they know it will be done.”

In January 2011 he completed his first export to China, but CMW has sold machines to Honduras, and even new equipment to Australia.

Successful by Association

Although Glynn attended his first AED annual meeting in 1982, CMW (an AED member dealer since 1957) sent him to his first AED experience shortly after he was hired — a sales training event in Denver in the late ’70s. Once he had assumed an ownership role in the ’80s, he began regularly attending the Young Executives conferences, and chaired one in 1990.

“That’s where I met a lot of people, guys who are still good friends of mine,” he said.

He also contributed to AED’s Industry Round Table and has served on AED’s board during the last 10 years.

During his Jan. 20 speech, Glynn communicated the value he has reaped from AED, citing seminars, conferences, committees, reports and other resources the association makes available to its members.

“But hands down, the most important thing that AED has brought into my life is the number of friends I now have throughout the U.S. and Canada. I have had so much fun down through the years with many of the people in this room, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.”

But Glynn isn’t exactly a one-association type of fellow. As active as he has been with his dealer organization, he is even more engaged in leadership roles within his customers’ groups — such as the St. Louis Concrete Council, Missouri Concrete Association, Missouri Asphalt Association — and he has the plaques on his office wall to prove it. He has taught courses and given presentations for the asphalt and concrete industry as well as for the MoDOT, where he also has helped write specifications when his expertise is requested.

Downplaying his industry contributions and years of relationship-building, he joked, “I’m just trying to sell something!”

As AED chairman he’s trying to sell something, too: “My goal is to get more young people interested in the industry. I think the reason we have everybody on the board and the people who are participating in the association is because many of us met as young people and got enthused about our industry,” he said.

“I love doing what I do. This is a great industry and we do some really neat things,” he continued. “You can have a lot of fun, have a great career, and make some money doing what we do. If I can create a few more people who are enthusiastic about the industry this year then I’ll feel that I was successful.”

Not All Markets Are in the Tank

Glynn takes his market forecasting seriously and during the late fall he routinely embarks on his own field research to collect many points of view about factors that will affect his business in the coming year. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or just a phone call, he has personal conversations with real estate developers, personnel from MoDOT and IDOT, local sewer utilities, municipalities and elected officials, industrial commercial and general contractors, as well as his good friend who’s in charge of all lending over at the nearby mid-size regional bank, who, said Glynn, recently told him, “’We have more money than we know what to do with. Every night we ’lend’ it to the Federal Reserve…and we lose money on that money, but we have no where to loan it.’”

With lending so tight in his market, coupled with all the rest of his first-hand industry information, which also includes insight from each one of his salesmen and department managers, Glynn concluded that his own business will be flat this year compared to 2011. He said at this time a year ago he expected to see improvement come in to play by the third or fourth quarter of ’11 and invested in a couple of new product lines in anticipation of an upswing.

“I’m surely not going to approach 2012 the way I approached ’11, because I was wrong. I think I’m going to wait till it slaps me in the face that we’re coming out of it before I make any more moves,” he said.

Glynn pointed to the bastions of hope for the equipment industry right now: mining, agriculture, oil and gas — “Not all economies are in the tank,” he wryly noted. But having experienced four downturns during his 35-year career, he also observed that “this one is dramatically different…it’s hurting just about everyone.”

There’s reason for AED members to be optimistic, however, according to Glynn. The deterioration of the aging U.S. infrastructure as well as the aging fleets of contractors will ultimately demand a verdict: “You just can’t continue to ignore it,” said Glynn, “nor can the cities, counties and states continue to ignore the infrastructure that’s been put in place.

“I think there is a big future with opportunities that are going to come our way over the next decade; better times are coming. There has to be another run.”

This article was published with permission by Construction Equipment Distribution Helping Dealers Become More Profitable, February 2012.

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