Lauren Roberts is the fourth president of cfm Distributors, Inc. as of January 1, 2018. cfm Distributors, Inc. was founded in 1969 by Roberts' grandfather, Amos, and his business partner, Bruce Huffman. Roberts and Huffman were manufacturers' sales reps, and they were approached with the idea to open a wholesale distribution business in Kansas City, MO. "They thought it was a good idea," Roberts recalls, and it certainly was. In their first year in business with one supplier, revenues were $486,000. The business grew from there.
Lauren Roberts' father, Tom Roberts, joined the business in 1981 after three years of working for York's engineered machinery division selling large commercial HVACR equipment. By then, cfm Distributors had become a York distributor. "It all kind of fit together," says Tom Roberts, so he moved from Atlanta back to Kansas City to join his father and Huffman. With the country in a recession, 1981 was not a very good year for business ― or for consumers, for that matter. But economic difficulties also proved to be something of a revelation for the company. "In those tough economic times, we, in turn, were struggling and had to do something," Tom Roberts recalls. Amos Roberts and Huffman called their employees together and said they would vote on whether to take a 10 percent cut in pay or reduce the work force by 10 percent. The employees voted to cut their pay. By the end of the year, business had improved, and the company repaid them.
Planning for the change to employee ownership began in 1998 and took effect in 2001. Employees owned 39 percent of the company, while Tom Roberts owned the remaining 61 percent. While employees had always felt a responsibility to the company and to one another, becoming an employee-owned company has "crystallized" the culture of cfm Distributors, making what they do even more relevant, Tom Roberts says. "It's given people a reason to fill in for the person who is sick or who has a family emergency." In 2012, Tom Roberts sold his shares to the company and at that point, cfm Distributors, Inc. became 100% employee owned.
In addition to the original Kansas City store (cfm Distributors does not call them branches), there are stores in Lenexa and Wichita, KS, Springfield, MO, Omaha, NE, and Des Moines, IA.