It's a funny part of this business, but I would say that most o; the people know what they want when they call you, but they don't want to talk about it. A lot of them call up and ask about what we have, or they ask to see some ideas, or they wonder what we have that is new, so I'll go. Go out and show them. Then they'll say, "That's nice, but we've ordered these left-handed widgets for ten years now, and, by golly, we're just going to order them again!" They insist on going through the performance.
When customers call and need something, they usually want to talk to someone now. When clients need something, they need it; in our industry it can be spur of the moment. The items we sell are not like items where they can look on a shelf and say, "I need so many of this or that!" All of a sudden the president says, "Hey, I need some special gifts. I've got some people coming in from overseas and they are good customers of ours. I want to give them something special. What do you have to give them?"
This is not a normal industry. It's got some weird things. Some are very old-fashioned and some are silly in some ways, but the industry works extremely well, and the people in it make a good living. There are some wonderful, fun people in it. It just has a lot of oddities.
It's a very funny industry as far as friendships are concerned. There are tremendous friendships. I could get on the phone, and, after making ten calls, I could have 12,000 samples in the salespeople's hands and have a new product made by tomorrow morning. But if somebody else would call, they'd say, "Well, we'll think about it." It's just a funny thing.
Q - With whom do you deal?
A - It depends on the size of the customer. For instance, with the local bank I would go in and deal with the marketing director. In many cases it is the vice-president of marketing or the marketing assistant. It is generally someone in a marketing department. In a smaller company, it could be anyone from the secretary to the president of the company. It depends on the person's ability and responsibility within the corporation.
Depending on the size of the supplier, it is pretty much the same situation. If it is a smaller supplier, then often I have to contact the (resident of the company. Time is of the essence in many cases, and for the most part I find the suppliers are very willing to answer the questions, or quote, or do whatever is necessary. When you are dealing within multi-conglomerate, they have sales representatives who are familiar with you, and you try to establish a rapport with that one person. It is sort of a "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." For instance, I may have a rush order where the customer desperately wants a particular item for a trade show. If I have built up a good rapport with the company sales representative, I can call and say, "I know your manufacturing process is forty days. Is there any way you can squeeze this out in thirty-five?" If it is possible, they will bend over backwards to help you.
It's a distributor's dream. We try to deal with just a few sup pliers, but at the end of the year we probably have dealt with 200. You think it's not a hassle to keep who gets what from whom straight? There is a lot of duplication, so don't get me wrong. I believe there are probably fifteen to twenty calendar companies in our industry. If you are doing calendar business, you pick out the two or three calendar suppliers you really enjoy doing business with and then you push those lines to the fullest. We've tried like everybody else to cut down on the number of suppliers, but salespeople will work with material that has been given to them. Business may come from the show we have every year, or from people who come into town and put on little seminars. But, first thing you know, they have literature from every company in the industry, and they are selling every one of them.
Q - What is the relationship between the distributors and their salespeople?
A - If they are really hotshot salespeople, there is nothing that is going to keep them splitting the commission with us. If they have the capital to get started in business, they can. In many cases they can go out on their own. The only thing that is required in this business is knowledge of the industry. You can learn enough after a couple of years' work as an independent contractor with someone so that you can go off on your own. Distributors are often hesitant to have salespeople or independent contractors work for them, for the simple reason that they had been "burned" before. Industry practice is to pay the commission before the job is ever shipped. So you can get burned. I think that everyone who has been around for any length of time has had a salesperson who he been paid and has left town. It is unfortunate, but you just hope you don't get caught with too much money out to them.
Well, we don't even have what I would call a part-time sales person. We have what I call "sometimes salespeople," that is, sometime they show up and sometimes they don't. It's never been a big part of on business. We have them. They are there. They do make calls, but I find that there is very little I can do to encourage them.