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Written by Mike Buetow   
Thursday, 27 May 2010 11:53

After two decades as an engineer and then executive with Speedline Technologies and later, Photo Stencil, Keith Favre has branched out on his own. Last fall, after a brief “retirement,” Favre launched FHP Reps, LLC (fhpreps.com). Shuttling between his home state of Texas and Colorado, where he also
lives, Favre is quickly fashioning a team of colleagues from his former stops into a full-service manufacturers’ representative and distributor. He spoke with
editor-in-chief Mike Buetow in April.

CA: After several years in equipment sales for OEMs, you launched FHP Reps late last year.
KF:
I, like maybe many, thought I would get out of the industry, but I am too young to retire. I looked around at some options, and the electronics industry
is what I know and where I’m known, and I still like the industry. It was a natural flow for me. I worked with reps for many years at Speedline, and it was
easier than I thought to enter this space at this time. I started FHP in September of 2009 and fully incorporated the company in January of this year.

CA: What have been the major differences so far working as a rep versus coming from the OEM perspective?
KF:
It jumps out at you. A lot of OEMS have a single product. Speedline was a little different because we had five: printing, reflow soldering, wave soldering,
dispensing, and cleaning. The major thing as a rep, I have a line card with 20 or more principals with unique products. There are so many more things you
need to keep up with, talk about, learn and know.

One of the things I really like is when you are with an OEM, if there’s something people want, great, but if not, there’s not much to talk about. Now, I’m calling on literally everyone, small to large and even in different industries. And there’s something I can offer or help them with across the board. It really is different.

CA: When you started, did you know you wanted to get a whole portfolio?
KF:
Initially no. When I started, the idea was a one-man shop. I would cover North Texas and Colorado and have a few lines, if I could find them. [But] when I started to get into it, there was a lot more available. I probably know more people in Mexico and Arizona than in North Texas, so I needed to expand a bit. I started making calls trying to round out a line, and more things came available to me. Then I started targeting people to come to work with me.

CA: You are working with Ersa, Fulongwin, Europlacer and Rehm, among others. How did you go about choosing these lines? D id you find
them or they find you?

KF: Some of both. I made contacts with Fulongwin and a couple of others through friendships. Then I said, “OK, I need a placement line. Who is out there?” I approached Europlacer and they took us on. What I’ve seen now is the word’s gotten around, and I field one or two calls a week from someone who wants me to take their line on. Now the challenge is that we have a full line card and I have a responsibility to these guys, so we have to turn [latecomers] down. There are probably a couple of more things we will take on, but they would be filling a niche in our line card to round things out.

CA: Fulongwin is among the market share leaders worldwide, but isn’t generally considered with the likes of Electrovert. How do you finesse that?
KF:
You’d be surprised how many people have called me about that. I grew up using Electrovert as a customer for years, and then 12-plus years with Electrovert and Speedline. When I put my hands on the Fulongwin machine, however, I saw they are really good machines. When I talk to a customer about their needs, they match up feature for feature, and when [customers] are comfortable with that, and see the worldwide installed base, and then I throw a price at [the customer], they say, “Whoa.”

CA: Are you surprised there are not more North American-made SMT equipment lines today?
KF:
Besides Universal, just about everyone else is a foreign company. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m not. It’s a trend, and these guys have done a good job of penetrating this market. In France, for example, Europlacer has almost 100% of the market, and also a large share in Europe, but never made many inroads in the US. Now they have a team here, and in the three years since John Perrotta has been with them, we estimate they have 8% of the US share. In the last three years, they’ve installed 160 to 180 machines. It’s that kind of focus that has helped get companies in. But thinking as an OEM, I wouldn’t want to do a startup in this business now.

CA: You are offering equipment repair and training. Given FHP is a new company, how did you set that up so quickly?
KF:
When I set up the business, I said I’d go after some equipment lines, but also wanted some consumables: things people need every day. In that sense, the European and Asian model is a lot better than the US model. Most reps here live and die with capital equipment. We wanted a lot of daily purchases of consumables to pay the bills, and when we sell equipment, we’re happy. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a former Speedline engineer. So in some cases, I’ve partnered with existing firms; in others I’ve partnered with contract engineers. I have all these guys spread out; for example, I have three in Mexico working on service there. My goal is to have two full-time engineers on staff by year-end. The hope is to hire them full-time soon, and regularly support our customers. Basically, these are all former Speedline contacts: David Doggett, Sean Dalton, Guillermo Moldanado, Carl Mannheimer and Alma Pena. We’re in discussions with a few more ex Speedline guys to expand our coverage. You would think it would be easy in this economy to find people, but I’m actually having trouble. We need salespersons in California and the Northwest, and at least a couple more in Mexico.

CA: Did your OEMs make the service aspect a requirement?
KF:
There are a couple of lines where I’m the master distributor, and I have to have some engineering support. ATF Wave Soldering for example, and Gamma for nitrogen generators. We install those. I needed the engineering staff to get those lines. Others appreciate the support. Fulongwin is a good example. We have to fight that we don’t have as good an installed base as Electrovert. So we send in [ex Speedline engineer] Ken Kirby for a week and help them in process support, and our principals like that as well.

CA: What’s your take on the capital equipment market this year and next?
KF:
Last year was horrible. The last three or four months, we’ve had a lot of quoting. Looks to me that for 2010 there is budget and some replacement and a little bit of expansion. I think most who have a budget for 2010 weren’t spending anything in the first quarter, but come April and May, we'll start working on some projects. I expect the second half to be pretty good, and 2011 will be pretty good as well. What I can tell you is there is not a whole lot of expansion. It’s more replacement that I’m seeing. CA

Last Updated on Monday, 09 August 2010 16:36
 

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