At the Counter…
Alan O’Bryan at R.E. Michel

Southern PHC Magazine visited with Alan O’Bryan, Regional Warehouse and Branch Manager for R.E. Michel’s multi-state distribution center in Louisville KY in February. Alan is a 37 year veteran of the HVAC Supply Industry.

How long Have you been in the Business?

In 1982 I was fresh out of high school and took a job in heating and air and appliance parts and found I had a natural curiosity and interest in the mechanics of the supply business. I moved up from shipping and receiving to the counter and then store manager. Then for family considerations I worked in outside sales for 15 years before coming back as store manager and warehouse manager and, today, as branch manager, I do 90% of the commercial quoting for the region.

I have sold American Standard, Trane and GE parts and products continuously for 37 years!

I went to work for Simpson Distributing just at the time they were becoming the sole distributor for American Standard in this region. I applied and was hired on the spot and worked for Simpson for 10 years before RE Michel purchased Simpson in 2003. After the 2008 downturn I filled the commercial specialist role until assuming the role of Regional Warehouse and Branch Manager.

Regarding Energy Efficient Upgrades do you see contractors growing that segment of the market?

Ninety percent of the business is direct replacement business which means the consumer is seeing an increase in energy efficiency by virtue of the more efficient units manufacturers are continuously developing. Beyond that I don’t see many contractors focusing on energy efficiency as part of their business model. A factor in that too is that our region has the some of the lowest utility rates in the country so there is not much demand from the consumer.

What are the biggest challenges in Distribution today?

I’m concerned about the lack of young people entering the distribution business. Much of what makes us valuable as a distributor is our knowledge of product that comes from years of experience. Even someone coming from the service side of the business doesn’t have the breadth of knowledge necessary for the supply business. One contractor comes in looking for a horn-boot which another contractor calls an end-boot. It’s the experience of the guys working the counter that keeps things running smoothly.

In this digital world why does R.E. Michel still produce a 1300-plus page catalog for your contractors?

Everything we carry is available online but RE Michel spends a lot of money producing a catalog for contractors because contractors want it. They can tab their frequently used pages and can find what they need much more easily and efficiently than they can online…they know this catalog and its familiar to them and so it makes their lives easier.

What’s the biggest pain point in your business?

Every phase of business for us and our contractors is in an extremely competitive business climate. HVAC wholesale costs have risen very little in 20 years. I can look at a price book for a 3-ton 10seer air conditioner from 1993 and 2020…that’s 27 years and there is a $22 dollar difference in the wholesale cost of an air conditioner. The result is that margins are very tight so we have to be extremely efficient and service oriented.

Much of what makes us valuable as a distributor is our knowledge of product that comes from years of experience.

What’s your busiest day of the week?

Fridays and Mondays! Contractors are setting up their supplies for the coming week.

What training do you offer?

We have an exceptional training center here. We offer American Standard factory training and we have ongoing training offered by various manufacturers. This provides CE credits for our contractors and also helps keep them abreast of changes and improvements in products.

Why are your contractor customers loyal to R.E. Michel?

I think because they know R.E. Michel always puts customers first. I’ve seen the third generations take the helm of my customer’s businesses. I’ve known their dads and granddads who ran the business before them. I know their wives and children. They know that there is no problem we can’t hash out. But at the end of the day, its product knowledge and general knowledge they know they can get from us and they trust us.

Alan O’Bryan, Branch Manager for R.E. Michel’s multi-state distribution center in Louisville, KY