Alan Christopher, MAS, enjoys the open road, whether he’s setting out to visit a customer by car or kicking his motorcycle into high gear and hitting the road simply for pleasure. As owner of Austin, Texas-based supplier rep firm DAC Marketing (UPIC: DAC-MKT), Christopher is on the road about 160 days a year, representing eight suppliers across a six-state territory. He’s been doing this for 21 years, and loves the relationships he’s developed with distributors, suppliers and reps.
Follow along as Christopher begins a four-day sweep through central Texas—this time by car.
The alarm goes off. It’s a little earlier than I like, but if I’m going to get in an hour walk this morning, I have to get moving. It’s nice enough outside that I’ll eschew the hotel gym for some fresh air. Then it’s back to the room to shower and dress.
I make a quick drive through a friendly fast-food place for breakfast, including some decaf coffee. I’m wearing a white polo today, so I make sure the lid is on extra tight.
It’s a short drive to the customer’s office this morning, so I’m now set up and ready to roll. We are still waiting for a few stragglers.
Everyone is here, and we get started. As this is one of my “A” accounts (top five percent in my sales territory), I call on them quite a lot, and I don’t have to go into the basic presentation.
Today we start with Maple Ridge Farms, as the new catalog is shipping out to distributors soon. I want to make sure they have all the information they need to sell food gifts this season. The samples of the new Mediterranean Spiced Almonds are a hit.
One of the salespeople has a late-season golf tournament, so we talk about doing a free spec sample from Fersten on a cap and polo project, and an umbrella from Peerless Umbrella. The big issue is in trying to narrow down the budget for the items, as this is a charity event, and every extra penny goes to the charity.
I’m out the door with a promise that artwork for spec samples will be sent quickly. If I can get it today, I can send it to the supplier. I like to have the record of it going through my hands so I can follow up with the supplier. A quick check of e-mail on my iPad and I see only one that I have to respond to right now. No phone messages on my iPhone, so I head to the next call.
The next appointment is a “B” account (the next 15 percent in my sales territory), so I see this family-run business twice a year. They are great folks who ask a lot of questions and take a lot of notes. I dive into the Lorente Club program because I know they have several accounts that could use a company store program. They ask for a few samples while I make notes on my iPad, and I send them off immediately to customer service. Lorente will have the request before I’ve finished the meeting, so if there are any more questions, they can ask me before I drive away.
Lunch. It’s a nice break to clear the morning’s work. I pull out the iPad, check e-mail and then log into my school work. I’m taking two marketing classes online at Southern New Hampshire University’s graduate school to earn my master’s degree in marketing, and I need to see what assignments have been posted for the week for the discussion groups. One of the four questions is something I can answer right now, so I take a few minutes to type in a response. The other three questions will have to wait until tonight.
Another “B” account, this one is a small, two-man operation. They’re wonderful people who always wind up ordering samples from the presentation. This time they have a need for a bag from Windy City and want a sample of the new double-insulated, 18-ounce glass from Webb. I send out the sample request from my iPad, so the sample will be on its way this afternoon. I’m also talking to them about my new custom sportswear line, Guru Sportswear. I think they can do something with this line in their company store program.
I’m back in the car. Two e-mails need answers, and I received one phone call about an upcoming end-user show. I get them all answered and then head out for the next call.
I’m about to turn into the distributor’s driveway, but I see him passing me on the way out. I still have 10 minutes, so maybe he is heading to the corner store.
I walk in the door with my samples and catalogs. The receptionist tells me that the distributor has just taken a phone call from a customer, and decided to head over there. She says he wants me to leave catalogs.
It makes me wonder about priorities and respect for appointments, but it happens more times than I think it should.
I’m back in the car to check phone calls and e-mails. I let my scheduler know about the last appointment so she can make a note in my database. A quick glance at the map on my iPad and I see there are a number of distributors in this area. There are two accounts that have given me permission to do drive-bys anytime I’m in town. It’s getting a little late in the day to catch all the salespeople without a set appointment, but I’m going to head over there anyway.
I arrive at drive-by No. 1, and I grab my iPad and a handful of flyers. I spend a few minutes with the receptionist asking who is in, and then head out to make the circuit of the offices. I’m in luck—more than half of them are in their offices.
Two of them have projects going on. The second needs custom awards, so we talk about my custom acrylic line, BCH Unique. It could wind up being a nice project. He e-mails me the artwork, and I forward it immediately to BCH to start a virtual. Isn’t technology wonderful?
I’m at drive-by No. 2. Only the owner is in, and we spend a few minutes catching up on industry news. I confirm an appointment with him for the next time I’m in town, leave a flyer and head out the door.
One more drive-by, just in case. Again, only one person in the office. This is a “C” account (the remaining 80 percent in my sales territory), and they’ve only done one order this year with one of my lines. I bring out the Maple Ridge sample box and talk about how much money they can make with food gifts. We talk about a spec, and I get a promise that I’ll get artwork by the next afternoon.
Back in the car, I make a note for tomorrow to follow up by lunchtime if I haven’t seen the artwork. Sometimes people forget to follow up, but with my trusty “electronic brain,” I can make it easy for them.
Dinner. There is a great Chinese buffet near my hotel. I have to make sure everything can fit on one plate, as that’s my limit. Otherwise I’d have to walk for two hours in the morning.
I’m back in the hotel room. There are several e-mails to follow up on. Some customers want extended pricing and some want project ideas. I’m on one company’s intranet e-mail for their salespeople, and there are three different salespeople asking for project ideas.
With the iPad, I’m a little restricted on what I can access and send back out, so I try to cut and paste links to products and pricing from my suppliers rather than trying to create entire virtual presentations. I think the websites have more information than I can copy, so I don’t try to recreate the wheel.
I finally have the day’s e-mails caught up. I hope everyone likes the ideas I’ve put together. I’m going to take a short break and walk around to stretch out.
Back onto the Southern New Hampshire University online website. This quarter’s classes are on Advertising and Promotions, and Consumer Behavior. You’d think that the A&P class would fit right in with what we do, but like most classes, this one is built around being a traditional full-service advertising agency. Promotional products barely get a mention.
Oh, well. We’ve got a group project to come up with an ad campaign for a restaurant. Maybe I can teach my classmates something about promotional products. The Consumer Behavior class is interesting. This professor is more interested in how we act and react rather than trying to predict behavior.
Bedtime. Part of being on the road is taking care of myself. Besides the walking, I go to bed at the same time every night (even at home), so I can try and get a good night’s sleep. It’s important because tomorrow the alarm goes off at 6:30 am, and I have to start all over again.
All About Alan
How he spends his free time: Motorcycle riding or woodworking. Both require intense concentration, so it’s easy to forget about everything else for a few hours.
His hidden talent: I can wiggle my ears and nose at the same time.
Book he’s currently reading: A Game of Thrones. It’s also a series on HBO, so it’s fun to follow along.
His favorite indulgence: White-chocolate anything
Who he admires most: My wife. She’s put up with me for almost 30 years.
Meal he’s known for: I don’t get to cook much, but I love Chinese and Indian food.
His can’t-miss TV show: “Rick Steves’ Europe” followed by “This Old House”
Where he wants to travel: China, Australia and Russia
He’s proudest of: My two daughters. Kids are truly the only thing we leave behind that people will remember.
His next goal: To break the fundraising record for PPEF [Promotional Products Education Foundation]. Watch for a fun campaign for the Chairman’s Challenge. [Christopher is PPEF’s 2012 incoming chair.]