Steering Armchem through the Great Recession was reminiscent of Brahms’ start in the jan/san industry during the early 1980s recession.

Brahms’ father was president of Kem Canada, a branch of Kem Manufacturing, and Brahms worked there during his college summers. Right before graduating in 1979, Kem Owner Hal Gaines asked if Brahms would like to sell chemicals overseas.

“He takes out a map of the world, closes his eyes, and puts his big hand on the map and it lands on Guam,” explains Brahms. “And he says, ‘That looks like a good place.’”

Ten days after graduation, Brahms was on a plane headed for the island. After a few days selling there, it was on to Saipan, then to the islands of Micronesia. Cost of travel was taken out of the commission, so Brahms was already starting nearly $7,000 in the hole.

But Brahms was disciplined. He knocked on doors 12 hours a day and didn’t give up on a day without making a sale. And, he knocked on a lot of doors — military bases, airports, hotels — everyone was a potential customer.  When he returned home almost seven weeks later he netted $36,000.

Brahms traveled like this for the next three years working for Kem, and then another 17 years working for himself after he opened Armchem in 1982. For five and half months out of the year he’d sell to Bermuda, Tahiti, Guam and the Caribbean. During the rest of the year he’d manage reorders and focus on a burgeoning domestic sales territory.

During these early trips he leaned on the sales fundamentals for success: making cold calls, not being afraid of rejection, knowing the product, and having the ability to close.

These basic fundamentals brought Brahms success during the ’80s recession — and they still work nearly 30 years later.

“The better skills you have, the better chance of survival,” says Brahms. “And the bad times won’t affect you that much because you’ll know what to do.”

Reps at Armchem know what to do in good times and in bad. To guarantee it, the company conducts regular training to reaffirm and fortify the fundamentals of selling.

“In any sport, the most fundamental team is the most successful,” says Brahms. “It’s the same in business. The companies with employees who have the most fundamental skills will be the most successful.”

Brahms personally looks at daily activity reports to help improve each salesperson’s performance. He’s interested in how many accounts they visit, what products they demonstrate, who they talked to, and whether they closed the sale.

From the report, Brahms can identify problems and areas of improvement. For example, if a rep visits a lot of accounts, but closes very few of them, maybe he isn’t reaching the person truly making the purchasing decisions. Brahms can steer the rep in a direction to fix the problem.

Brahms is always on the lookout for the next sale. In May he launched a lighting division to capitalize on the regulations mandating the use of energy-efficient bulbs starting in 2014.

Armchem plans to add more than 4,000 lighting products to its SKUs to market to existing customers. Again, Brahms tapped an expert for this role by hiring a member of the lighting industry.

“I wanted someone who could talk shop and speak the language of lighting,” he says.

Up next, Brahms is looking for new domestic sales opportunities and currently honing in on Texas. Also, to help promote his continued national expansion and growing private label line, he added a public relations specialist.

Thirty years ago Brahms was a one-man operation island hopping and selling products out of his house. As he looks back and thinks about how much he has accomplished and changed in the last three years, he is still amazed. And a little surprised to realize he has the recession to thank for it.

“Without the recession I wouldn’t have done all the moves and it wouldn’t have been as quick,” says Brahms. “The recession really gave the sense of urgency to get things going.” 

previous page of this article:
Handi-Clean Products Acquisition Boosts Private Brands
next page of this article:
At Armchem International Corp., Sales Is A Family Affair