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The Job of a Specialty Advertising Distributor

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The job of the specialty advertising distributor is freewheeling and entrepreneurial. Distributors are responsible for conducting their town businesses in the way they want. There is no one to answer to the characteristic that distinguishes one distributor from another is service. Almost any distributor can get a certain product for almost the same price. Under these highly competitive conditions, a distribute must have something else to sell beyond a mere product... and that means service. Service consists of creativity in applying products to situations, planning and developing appropriate programs to meet communications objectives, and fulfillment of obligations. In other words, in order to be successful, distributors had better come up with some good clever ideas to meet the needs of their customers, and they better deliver what they say they will, when they say they will, at the right price Customers want the most for their money.

Reputation among both customers and suppliers is the main asset of a distributor. Comparisons among distributors are time-consuming, product availability is nearly the same, the time frame is often very short for a particular deal, and the perceived size of the expenditure for the specialty advertising products is generally small. Therefore, in order to minimize the hassles and the time involved and to maximize the results, customers tend to rely on the reputation of the distributor. Similarly, the fast turnaround time required in many deals means that suppliers must act on the basis of a phone call, and this also relies on the distributor's reputation.

A distributor must know the products available on the market. Some 15,000 items are available, and the distributor has to know who offers which product, trends among consumers, what's in, and what's not. Knowledge of the physical quality of the products is important both in terms of selling value and in terms of knowing how products can be tailored to suit the demands of a particular advertising situation. This knowledge comes from experience, certainly, but also through the maintenance of a file of supplier catalogues and through active participation in trade shows, schools, and so forth.



Maintaining an open channel of communications to the suppliers takes a significant portion of the distributor's time. It is often necessary to persuade the suppliers to do business or to do business the way the distributor wants to do it. Short time frames, small orders, custom manufacturing, and other special orders are common in the business, but may require some persuasion. Double-checking to make certain that an order is shipped the way it is supposed to be is a worthwhile protection of reputation. Cultivation of a good working relationship with i supplier may mean the difference between getting a deal accomplished and failing.

Some distributors are run by one person, but the majorities have some sales help. The administration and organization of the selling force ire the distributor's job. This is frequently a difficult task because of relationships between the distributor and the salesperson. The salespeople in the industry are usually paid by commission, which in itself indicates a great deal of freedom. Thus, the "care and feeding" of the sales Eorce can become an important part of the distributor's job, and this means another type of service. The salespeople are out selling, and they may not have the time or energy to stay as informed of what is happening in the product realm as can the distributor. Therefore, the distributor provides information on new products and new applications to the sales force. Second, the distributor fulfills the promises made by the salesperson.

There is great opportunity for distributors to apply creativity to their work. A large amount of distributor's time is spent simply selling and working with clients. Each contact with a client offers the opportunity to develop a new, creative vehicle to meet a new advertising situation. The problem-solving, planning, and artistic elements of the job are limitless. Some of the ideas that have been documented are absolutely "off the wall," besides which, they work.

An additional part of the job entails the general management and organization necessary to keep a great many details straight and running properly. This includes billing, keeping track of fulfillment programs, and simply making certain that the price lists of all 900 suppliers are up to date. Again, the reputation presented to customers and suppliers must be maintained.

Q - How did you get into this business?

A - I'm in business with my father, and, as is usual with a small company having only one secretary in the office, he always brought me in when the secretary went on vacations. I came in and I would answer the phone, do various simple jobs, a lot of packaging, and things like that. At the time, though, it was unheard-of that women would go into the business, so I never considered it as an occupation.

I went to college and got a four-year degree in economics. I had hoped to go into banking, but it was the middle of a recession and there were no jobs available. So I came home. The following day, my parents left to go out of the country, and my dad asked if I would come in and help in the office basically doing "go-fer" work, answering phones, an helping wherever necessary. I said, "Sure!" And started to work the very next day, thinking it would just be something for a couple of weeks. This was in 1976, and here I am six years and three vacations later, so I could never ask for anything to have worked out better.

I was driving a truck as a matter of fact, and I owned a local delivery business. A lot of shipments were coming in from factories l different advertising specialty distributors in town, and I made several deliveries to these firms. I went in to their showrooms to make a delivery, and I saw all the items. I was astounded that there was a place you could buy this stuff. I didn't realize that it was marketed. So I got a few pens myself and used them to promote my delivery service. I started you with the help of some local distributors. They told me about the AS service and the listing of manufacturers. When I started out, I just had a catalogue of decals and calendars that I had gotten from some distributors. I was going to make a living selling decals and calendars. I didn't know any better. And I tell you, to this day, if it weren't for decals and calendars. .. . Get a product that will "kill itself" like a calendar does every year or like a decal does (once you stick a decal, it's gone). If you have to replace it, that means reorders. That's where I come in!
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