Southwire National Account Manager Mike Conway is all about power: protecting electrical power, providing off-the-grid power, finding new sources of power, empowering employees, and partnering with RV industry powers.
His quest for power began at a young age. As a high school senior at Elkhart Christian Academy, Conway had his first taste of power as the manager of a local Blockbuster. Around the same time, he also learned the power of persuasion, convincing one of classmates to go out with him and later, to become his wife.
It was in 2005, during a break from education at Bethel College, that Conway first entered the RV industry. His family had enjoyed RVing in Upper Michigan, so he already had an affinity for RVs. Working at an OEM to earn enough money to return to school, he learned to do repairs, final finishes, and RV prep on travel trailers and fifth wheels.
He returned to retail store management after college, but when his retailer closed all its stores in 2010, he found himself back in the RV business, this time in charge of production at a manufacturing company. There he learned to trouble-shoot and developed an expertise in electrical systems. In 2012, he moved into sales and technical support for SM Osgood, and it was there that he came to appreciate the power of listening to customers.
“I love getting the voice of the consumer. It gives us clear direction so we can decide who we want to be as a supplier to the RV industry,” says Conway, who joined Southwire in 2017. Having empowered himself with the mastery of management, repair, electrical, and sales skills, it was not a surprise when he was promoted in 2020 to National Account Manager, overseeing the sales into RV and electrical safety markets. On the manufacturing side, this division provides transfer switches, power reels, custom cables, junction boxes, strain reliefs, GFCIs, and cable ties, and tools on the tech and service sides.
At the recent Hershey RV Show, he was able to listen to many of the record number of consumers who attended. He was stunned, he said, by the number of people who were first-time buyers, but who had clearly been doing lots of research.
“They knew they needed electrical protection – especially for going off-grid,” says Conway, who notes that it’s important for him to know what they intend to use their RVs for. “This helps me understand the solutions they need now and in the future.”
“Protect what you value most” is Southwire’s tagline and for RVers, that means being protected from bad power service caused by miswiring, surges, low voltage from overtaxed grid, or bad wiring that could harm them or their pets.
For instance, says Conway, not being dependent on generators is a big concern. More lithium and portable power sources are necessary to power things like CPAP machines when RVers are boondocking or TVs when they are tailgating.
To address this, Southwire recently introduced their Elite Portable Power Centers that range from 200-1100 watts. One includes a 100-watt solar panel kit. These will be available to consumers near the end of the year.
Conway also listens to dealers to get a good pulse on the marketplace. Today, he, his wife, and two sons live in Kissimmee, Florida, 75 minutes from Southwire’s RV and electrical safety office in Largo. (While proximity to the office and a major airport were factors contributing to the family’s move from Indiana, the real drawl was the weather and annual passes to both Disney World and Legoland!) But Conway takes advantage of being able to stop at the RV dealerships along his commute in order to monitor inventory and to talk to management and technicians.
Acknowledging that every company with global procurement has had supply chain issues, Conway says Southwire’s distribution partners are very happy. The company, which provides 50% of all wires consumed in the U.S., has seen 100% growth in the aftermarket channel and 75% growth in the OEM channel during COVID.
Conway credits his 22 team members for that success. Allowing them to do their best, believing in them and empowering them through education and tools are key.
“I don’t believe in micromanaging,” he says. “If you’ve got time for that, you’re probably better off doing something else.”
“Never let good be good enough” is Conway’s personal motto and being an active member of the RV Industry Association helps him to contribute more to both the company and industry he loves. There is power in partnerships and collaboration, he believes, and he urges others to become members and to be engaged by sitting in on committee meetings and attending Capitol Hill meetings during RVs Move America Week.
Conway is effusive about the RV Industry Association’s success in getting the federal government to designate employees of RV manufacturers and suppliers as essential workers during the early days of the COVID crises, and in getting RV priorities into the Infrastructure bill.
“More products in RVs are increasing the demand on the grids,” he said, “Whether they are visiting public or private campgrounds, we need to help consumers so they’re not disappointed when they’re out on the road.”
He also praises Go RVing’s initiatives to capture consumers’ interest and the RV Technical Institute’s training programs. Southwire provides tools to RVTI and enables RV techs to get these through dealerships at economical rates.
“RVTI is paramount for the industry,” says Conway. “We need to help equip techs and give them deep dives in electrical and electrical communications systems. This will help to keep driving down event cycle times.”
Finally, consumers are reassured when they see the RV Industry Association seal, he says, because they know that the RV has been built to the appropriate safety standards.
“We need the RV Industry Association and anything the Association is a part of, we’ll be there,” he says. From an industry leader like Mike Conway, that’s powerful.