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cfm Distributors CEO, Lauren Roberts, pioneered mobile engagement in the wholesale distribution industry

lauren roberts headshot

Lauren Roberts

CEO cfm Distributors

Lauren Roberts is a third generation HVAC leader HVAC leader of cfm Distributors. She is on the Board of Directors of HARDI and holds leadership roles in industry organizations such as Women in HVACR and the Blue Hawk Cooperative.

In 2011, cfm Distributors became the first wholesale distributor to join Moblico. Lauren and her team have now close to 10 years experience with a full array of Moblico solutions that help cfm Distributors communicate, engage and transact with their customers.

Lauren Roberts Podcast Transcript

David EnglishWelcome to the Mobile Matters Podcast, by Moblico. A 12 part podcast series highlighting a variety of organizations who are leveraging all that mobile technology can do for them in a distribution environment. Now, we are really excited to bring you these conversations. And we have some incredible guests lined up. In each episode, we will be covering how texting, mobile apps, location-based marketing solutions are really effective for distributors across the country. Now, my name’s David English. I will be the host for these conversations. Thank you so much for listening. This is going to be a fun ride. With that said, let’s dive in. Today’s guest is Lauren Roberts. She is the president and CEO of CFM Distributors. Lauren is incredible. I mean, she’s an absolute Rockstar, and she’s been with CFM for a little over 15 years, seeing them through some incredible growth and success. I’ll tell you, in the HVAC world, there are very few people better than to have a conversation with this in the HVAC industry. With that said, Lauren, you know, how are you doing, and thank you so much for joining us today. 

Lauren Roberts – I’m doing great, thanks for having me. We’re excited about working in the mobile technology realm, and we’ve been a partner of Moblico’s for several years, dating back to, I think, 2011. So, happy to be here today. 

David English – Yeah, you guys have been with us for a long time. It’s been great, and we’ve really enjoyed the relationship. I mean, before we dive into everything else, which is going to be a lotta fun, can you give us your background a little bit? Where you’re from, what are you doing, who’s CFM? 

Lauren Roberts – Yeah, CFM Distributors is a 100% employee-owned HVAC wholesale distributor, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. We have a 110,000 square foot location and distribution center here in the West Bottoms, so kind of the heart of Kansas City. And then we have five other locations throughout Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa, with locations in Omaha Nebraska, Urbandale/Des Moines Iowa area, Springfield Missouri, Wichita Kansas, and Lenexa Kansas. And we have about 77 employee owners right now. And we’re on a rapid growth path. 


David English – That’s fantastic, and it’s a great industry. Regardless of the economy, HVAC is a great place to be. Explain to us just briefly, for anyone who’s listening that may not know, your business model. I mean, you’re not out there installing the air conditioners for the end day customer. You’re also not manufacturing the HVAC equipment in-house. Where do you fit in that supply chain? 

Lauren Roberts – As a wholesale distributor, we fit between the manufacturer and the contractor. So we buy the finished goods from the manufacturer, and then we sell our products from the manufacturer to the contractor, who then installs it for the end user. Besides selling actual product, we try to add value in the supply chain and help our contractors grow their businesses with help in the marketing realm, and load calculations, and duct designs, which are important in HVAC, to make sure we get the product size properly for the application where it’s installed. And then we also teach other business strategies to our contractors, to help them be successful, besides just the bare bones of having the pricing and product availability where it needs to be when they need it. 


David English – Awesome, so your point of contact, oftentimes, inside of the contractor world, I mean, it’s oftentimes the tech, right, who’s out in the field trying to problem solve or figure out what’s going on out there, right? 

Lauren Roberts – Right. We have technical support team. It’s actually an award-winning technical support team, and they do a lot to provide the technical support for those technicians out in the field, on how to troubleshoot our products that we sell, and also how to apply them, in some cases. 

David English – That’s wonderful. So how did you find Moblico? I mean, you’ve been with them for you said 11 years. Going back, can you remember, how’d you come across us? 

Lauren Roberts – So in 2011 is when we started working with Moblico. I got to know Pierre years before that, Pierre Barbeau being the founder of Moblico. And he had great success in his background at Sprint. And he helped develop the picture mail concept, which really took off to become what we all kind of are complacent with today, and what we have in our smartphones, and the ability to take pictures on our phone and send them via text message or email. So I was always impressed with his work there. And then when he told me he was starting a new company with the goal of some sort of mobile technology, I wanted to learn more about where he was headed with that. Meanwhile, at the same time, we had a need for getting a lot of solutions and information in the hands of our customers and technicians who work for the owners of the contractors we sell to. And we had this problem where we got a lot of this information to the owners, but we never could quite break through and get the information that technicians needed directly to them. We wanted to open a line of communication directly to technicians. So with that, Pierre and I kind of put our heads together, along with other team members on the Moblico team at the time, and came up with a mobile app solution that would put really important troubleshooting information into their palm, that used to be in our big, thick printed catalog that would be out of date as soon as we printed it. And then we also put our location information, so it’s easier for them to find how to contact us right from the field. We put in an important system matchup tool, which was critical at that time, because in heating and cooling, you need to make sure you get the properly sized equipment match. So you have an indoor unit, and a furnace or air handler and a coil, and an outdoor unit, and you need to make sure they’re properly sized together to match to make certain efficiency ratings for energy efficiency, so that they can get different utility rebates, tax credits, and even qualify to be covered by warranties of the manufacturer. Many times technicians would be diagnosing and selling systems and they needed that capability just as much as the owner of their company. So we were able to get that in there. And then we put different product brochures in there to help a couple of other things. And then with that, we were able to have our mobile app users get access to text messaging and email capabilities. So we could broadcast text message to the technicians or the app users directly, and we could also email them. So now we had that open line of communication that we were missing before. And that really helped us to get new training information out there to them, as well as product specials and other updates that were important for the technicians to receive directly. 

David English – That’s awesome. Because, I mean, anyone who is familiar with an HVAC contracting business knows that those guys on the field are really the ones that are, you know, responsible for really a successful business. A line set, or if it’s an air handler or furnace on the inside and all the parts that go into that, those techs need to be confident in that what they’re putting into the system’s correct. And it sounds like that app did that, right? 

Lauren Roberts – Exactly. And we found that our technicians felt a lot better about it because they were in the know on all the stuff that was kept secret almost from them, in some sense, before. And they didn’t find out about training the day of from their owners, they actually were able to get the information a month out, and be able to plan better for their schedules, as well as get that very important information in their hands so that they could help troubleshoot or find a match system right then and there for a customer, rather than having to go back to their shop and delay the customer experience. 

David English – Yeah, and that’s important. I mean, put yourself in the homeowner’s situation on a hot day if the air conditioner’s not working. The last thing you want to mess with is a delayed experience because a tech is unaware of what they need. Or on a cold day and the pipes are freezing and, you know, it’s 12 degrees outside. I mean, you need to get this problem solved fast, and to speed up the ability of the technicians is incredibly important. And you solved a really important problem, I think that’s awesome. 

Lauren Roberts – Right. 

David English – Within Moblico, what have you found to be the most successful, what has been your experience on, you know, different programs that you’ve used? 

Lauren Roberts – As far the program, the broadcast texting to the mobile app users has been something we’ve done since day one, and we do a weekly mobile app special exclusively for the users of the mobile app, to give them an incentive to download the app, which will then help them in the field, as we discussed before. But also to give them an incentive and a special deal to be able to get a product special that not every customer gets. And so, we do that every Monday morning at 7:30 since the beginning. And that’s worked well for us. Some product promotions have worked better than others, but we’ve seen as much as an 800% spike in sales from those.

David English – Wow. 

Lauren Roberts – On that particular product in the week that we offer the special, versus the week before, in the same season, when we didn’t have the special. So, that was a few times. And then many times we’ve seen really strong ROI, but not quite that high. So, we’ve found that to be very successful. And then we also experimented and have used the beacon technology that Moblico offers, which is where you have a little white box on the wall of every location that we have. And if a customer has their Bluetooth enabled on their mobile device, they walk into the store and they get served a message right away. And that helped us a lot, because many times if we had a promotion or an event coming up, we would tell our inside sales team, you know, “Make sure you tell every customer you see “about this promotion or this event.” And they might remember it sometimes, they might not sometimes. Well this, having the beacons, whether or not the customer had the app downloaded, as long as they had Bluetooth on, it took the place of that human reminder having to happen, and eliminated the human error potential, because that message got served directly to their phone. So, we did a number of things with that, and continue to use it from time to time. So, done that, and then we’ve also used some geo-targeting, geofencing programs through Moblico, to target special events where our customers are going to be, and help them offer specials to the event goers. We’ve also targeted our own locations to serve messaging there, and targeted other locations within our industry, where it might be an industry event that people go to, to serve them messaging there. So, there’s a lotta different things we’ve done with Moblico. Some things have worked better than others, but it’s really fun to experiment nonstop. And Pierre and the team at Moblico are really flexible and have really big creative ideas to help us stay on the cutting edge of technology. So, we find it really exciting to work with Moblico. 

David English – That’s awesome. And such kind words. Obviously, you know, you’ve used a lot of different programs and you’ve experimented and everything else. Why are these new cutting-edge technologies important in today’s society, in your opinion? I mean, why is it kind of a mainstay in what you guys are doing? Is it something the techs and the contractors are used to? Or is it really increasing response rate from the contractors and people who work there? 

Lauren Roberts – In the first few years that we started with the mobile app and the messaging; it was a little bit of a slower adoption rate. But with the transition of the overall workforce and the economy transitioning to millennials and the generations after that, technology has become more and more important. And our industry has historically been a little bit behind in adopting new technology, but as we see more of the millennials coming in, they want information instantly, and not the old way of calling into the wholesale supply house, like our locations, to get answers. They want it instantly. So, we’ve used different technology like what we have with Moblico to get that information to them quicker. We’ve also created an e-commerce site that’s somewhat integrated with our mobile app too, to help with that kind of need. But I would say overall, it’s a generational thing, and that consumer behavior and other companies out there that consumers deal with on a daily basis have driven the need for quicker information access. And we need to continue to evolve what we offer to match that, so that we keep up with the need. 

David English – Yeah, absolutely. I mean, can you expand a little bit on that? You know, millennials wanting that information faster? I mean, how does that, everything you’re doing, how does that communication help that? I mean, opposed to driving into the store and everything else. Can you expand on that a little bit? 

Lauren Roberts – Yeah, millennials oftentimes, not everyone is in this boat, but oftentimes don’t even want to have to make a phone call, or like I said earlier, an in-person visit. They want to just have a way to digitally communicate, like through text messaging or through just having a button to click on and get access to it. So, it solves that need. And one thing we’ve done through Moblico, too, is text to landline, which is different from the texting I talked about before in the broadcast texting. But with text to landline, we have our technicians and contractors able to text to CFM, to our company, for tech support, or to place orders. And that helps tremendously, especially in the busy season, because there can be some hold times that are a little bit longer than we would like to have when it’s very busy and all the phones are tied up. So that allows them to text in for a tech support question. They can send pictures and videos to support it. And that helps our tech support team be able to, even though they may be on another call, they can actually help diagnose and give tech support through the text messaging system quicker than if that person was to have to wait on hold. 

David English – I mean, you can literally text and say, “Here’s what I’m looking’ at.” Have the problem diagnosed via text. Have a part waiting for them, ready for pick up. You know, the wait time’s what, probably cut in half? How long have you been doing the text to landline? 

Lauren Roberts – We’ve been doing it for a solid year on tech support, if not a little longer than that. And then on the ordering side, we’ve done it for a shorter time, and haven’t had as wide of adoption of that yet, but we have some plans in place to make that happen here in the near term. 

David English – That’s great. I mean, I just, I’m walking through it mentally. And I’m sure you can relate the different scenarios that lead to the benefits of texting and, you know, some of the quicker results that you can get during those hot or cold days, and the busy seasons. It’s got to be huge benefit for you guys. And a technology that I don’t think a lot of people are fully aware of that’s out there. You think society as a whole has changed to require that rapid response? I mean, you think that’s here to stay? 

Lauren Roberts – I do. I think we still have customers who are of either a millennial generation who isn’t as into technology, or we have some other generations, Gen Xers, or baby boomers, or even older generations who don’t operate as much with technology. So we try to have ways to serve those customers, and ways to serve the next generation, so that we’re prepared for serving customers in the best way possible for the next five, 10, 20 years down the line, and still keep our longtime, loyal customers happy as well. 

David English – Yeah. No, makes sense. Where do you, I mean, I’m going to surprise you with a question real quick, but in that time period, down the road, where do you see the HVAC industry going? I mean, is it gonna be a tech driven industry that, you know, utilizes this industry-wide? Where do you see it going in the next several years? 

Lauren Roberts – Yeah, I think the trends are pointing to, definitely, it’s moving fast toward all technology driven. I mean, the manufacturers are adopting augmented reality and virtual reality widely in their training labs, to help teach the massive amounts of people were trying to bring into the industry to fix the skilled laborer shortage. Also to be more scalable in training. And then we’re also using that in diagnosing problems in the field, with the help of our manufacturers using those two technology types. So I just think we’re just getting started. And then with the wide adoption of e-commerce too, that plays into it. And who knows what’s going to happen in five to 10 years, but technology is definitely going to be a key driver to the HVAC industry for a long time to come. 

David English – And I agree. I really do, and it’s an exciting place for the industry to be, because of the point you made previously. While maybe in the past you were slow adopter to technology, technology is there to stay. And I think that leveraging mobile programs like this is a requirement moving forward. Is that fair? 

Lauren Roberts – Definitely. 

David English – Is there anything else you want to leave us with? 

Lauren Roberts – No, as I said earlier, we’ve been super happy working with Moblico, and have experience with a lot of their different product offerings. So if you have listeners who are interested in learning more, I’d be happy to have them reach out to me. Or I can connect with them some way and help them understand how each of the offerings works and how it’s worked well for us. Or if it hasn’t worked well for us, I can share my stories there. So, happy to help spread the word. 

David English – Perfect, well, I appreciate it. Lauren, again, I mean, I know you’re very busy. I really thank you for your time today, because, you know, you have been an absolute Rockstar, and really important to Moblico and what they’ve done. I appreciate all the kind words. So, with that, thank you. I really do appreciate it. 

Lauren Roberts – Yeah, you bet. Thanks for having me.

David English – Everyone, thanks for chiming in. We’re really excited about this podcast series. We’re going to try to bring you one a month. But please, chime in, subscribe to the podcast, listen everywhere, tell a friend, and we’ll have a lotta fun with this. So with that said, thank you very much. Have a great da


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