On The Road Again
Ten of the best muli-line reps open up about what it’s like inside their businesses.
Being a multi-line rep is not a job for just anybody. Multi-line reps spend countless nights away from home. They must recall and explain details on dozens of products within multiple lines. They are constantly feeding suppliers information in an effort to improve the company’s business processes and sales but have little control over the companies they represent and the business decisions made. Their job is to make sure both suppliers and distributors are happy. They start every month with no guarantee of income—but recognize that the opportunity to expand their income is almost limitless. They are exceptional communicators, and they must be highly organized and self-motivated because the work they do is critical to supplier sales.
This is the bold and brave life of a promotional products multi-line rep. And most of them would not have it any other way.
In the following profiles, you’ll meet this year’s PPB Best Multi-Line Reps—10 individuals nominated by their suppliers and distributor customers for their superb performance, and selected by PPB in our annual tribute to these hard-working souls who keep the gears of the industry moving perfectly in sync.
Walter Brzyski, or WalterB as his friends call him, got his first taste of the promotional products industry while attending college—he worked part-time packing orders and stacking shelves at one of the industry’s top suppliers. After graduation, it was an easy choice. He went to work for the company, moving up through the ranks to national sales manager before launching his own rep company in Lincroft, New Jersey, in 2003. Today, with 28 years in the industry under his belt, he looks back on his decisions and is sure he got it right.
Being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs but his favorite part of the job is running his rep agency and implementing all the aspects of sales, marketing and customer support. The most difficult part? “Having the time to run a business and implement strategies when I’m constantly in the field selling,” he says. Still, Brzyski has made it work—and has turned many clients into fans in the process.
Among those fans is nominator Bill Alonge, MAS, marketing manager at distributor On Target Impressions, LLC, who is impressed with how quickly and seamlessly Brzyski makes things happen for his clients. Alonge met Brzyski at a trade show and talked to him about one of his clients. “Walter said, ‘Send me their logo; I’ll make up samples for you.’ The samples sold the job,” recalls Alonge. “He remembers my clients from show to show and suggests something for them by mentioning them each time I see him.”
Nominator Lisa Pine, VP of sales and marketing at distributor Axis Promotions, Inc., praises Brzyski’s ability to make every client feel important. “He’s present. He knows his audience. He’s available. He knows the product and how to support creative projects,” she explains. “He cares, offers incentives and has a team behind him and a well-rounded product line.” Her teammate and fellow nominator Sandy Poster, sales executive at Axis, says Brzyski also offers ease of contact, quick responses and understands the importance of free samples and spec samples to get orders.”
One On One With Walter Brzyski
On the exclusiveness of his lines: I feel you need a portfolio of lines to keep your business afloat, have resources to invest in your business and maintain or increase momentum year after year. Having lines with products that are mutually exclusive of one another is challenging as lines often diversify into other overlapping segments, so you must look at the fundamentals of what that line developed, brought to market and is known for, such as apparel, writing instruments, etc.
On giving equal attention to all lines he reps: With top industry promotional suppliers that have several/multiple lines, you must “read” your clients to see where the selling opportunities lie, formulate a presentation to satisfy those needs, secure the line/client connection and dovetail other aspects of the lines once the initial contact has been established.
On how multi-line reps can stay relevant in a changing industry: Top distributors prefer to see a multi-line rep, as they offer more than one category of product, more new products (not just from one vendor but from several) and new ideas from new companies. MLRs are the first line of introduction for new firms entering the market with fresh ideas and products. Many suppliers start with MLRs, then hire factory reps once the volume grows. However, they often go back to MLRs after they review the ROI, especially when they look at sales comparing the MLR to a factory rep. With MLRs, they can reap the sales performance benefits while reducing their cost per client.
On what motivates him: Being commission-based (versus salary-based) we “eat what we kill,” so if you don’t sell, you don’t eat. That’s a huge motivator to get out there and seize every opportunity available, make every call, return every email and service every account. It’s not only how we take care of our families, but we have the overhead of covering all our costs: lodging, health insurance, support staff, gas, tolls, meals, shows, etc.
On how distributors can help him serve them better: Choose the ‘uncola.’ Since we’re all creatures of habit (myself included), many of us just go with what we know. So even though I may have the greatest and newest widget or service since sliced bread, when my clients go back to their desks and receive a widget request, they simply default to their habitual widget since it’s what they know. Give your MLR the chance to make it easy to break this habit, which may increase your profit, enable you to offer newer products and ideas, and expand your product assortment. A three-second email is all it takes.
Flanagan And Associates
Matt Carter grew up with unique exposure to the world of promotional products. As a child, he often helped his father, who owned a distributorship, package products for clients. “I can recall helping him fulfill projects over the weekend when I was a child,” he says. “He would have all the items spread out in the kitchen and we would package them up like an assembly line.” With this hands-on perspective, it was only natural that, after college, he joined his father in the family business. “It’s all I’ve ever known,” says Carter. From there, he met Tom Flanagan and eventually moved to the supplier side of the industry as a multi-line rep.
“Working for Tom Flanagan [who was named a PPB Best Multi-Line Rep in 2014] and the suppliers we represent is something I am grateful for every single day,” says Carter, who covers Alabama and Georgia from his home base in Atlanta. “We are so fortunate to represent the supplier leaders in their respective categories and the teams at each of those companies are very special.”
He says working in this industry is also extremely rewarding. “It’s a wonderful feeling when a customer calls, texts or emails to let us know that our ideas helped secure the order,” he says. “To see an order start as an idea or a conversation, and move through the process to the end result, is what makes our jobs so much fun. I say ‘our’ because my inside sales teams are second to none. Their dedication, professionalism and attention to detail provide the support I need to best serve my customers. It truly is a team effort.”
His distributor clients also value the strong commitment to teamwork he brings to their relationships. “Matt just does an excellent job,” says client and nominator Chris Clark, CAS, managing director at distributor Radius Marketing Solutions. “He’s very responsive; he returns calls and responds to emails quickly. He gets involved whenever there’s an issue with an order. He does an excellent job of communicating to us any current promotions or deals. He visits regularly and leaves behind plenty of samples and sales tools. He does what he says he’ll do. He’s also served on the Georgia Area Promotional Products Professionals (GAPPP) board of directors and he advocates for GAPPP on his sales calls.”
Clark jokes, “His only downfall is that he’s an Ole Miss alumnus, but thankfully his daughter is going to [the University of] Georgia so he gets a pass there.”
Clark is also impressed with the way Carter exceeds his expectations. “We had an opportunity to sponsor the name badges and lanyards for one of our clients’ annual conventions,” Clark recalls. “We called Matt to find out what our self-promo pricing would be. He asked what we were doing and then paid for the order for us. He didn’t have to do that—we didn’t ask him to—but he did and that was a good demonstration of going the extra mile for us.”
One On One With Matt Carter
On the challenges of being a multi-line rep: Not surprisingly, Carter cites the delicate balance of work and family life. “We all work long hours, travel frequently and are always ‘on call’ via phone and email. It is a blessing to be busy, though, so I do my best to balance it all.”
On the exclusiveness of his lines: As multi-line reps, we try to look for suppliers that focus on specific products that don’t overlap with our other suppliers. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to avoid a little overlap. However, our suppliers hired us for a reason and know we have their best interests at heart. Flanagan and Associates has the longest tenure with our suppliers of any other multi-line rep group in our territory. Our reputation is extremely important and our bond between us and our suppliers is very strong. They are family. We try to give all our suppliers equal time by scheduling our meetings and seminars a bit longer than most because we have so many solutions and case histories to share with our distributors.
On how reps can remain relevant in a changing industry: Company acquisitions are making our job a little bit harder in regard to the fact that all suppliers want to grow in this industry and an acquisition sometimes can create somewhat of an overlap of the products we represent per supplier. At the end of the day, distributors go to specific suppliers for specific items that they manufacture and decorate better than the other supplier. That won’t change, unless the supplier goes all in and buys the same high-tech machinery to either produce a better product or be able to decorate it better. It definitely can be challenging. Thank goodness our loyal distributors really try to sell the lines we represent because they know we give them multiple suggestions and solutions for each project.
On how distributors can help him serve them better: Reach out and ask for help more often. I try to be as proactive as I can by asking questions during my office visits and asking for artwork so that I can forward it to appropriate suppliers for virtual samples. These lead to specs, and specs typically result in orders. It’s all about getting the ball rolling—as we all know, time can kill deals.
Dale Johnson Cornell
Dale B. Johnson (DBJ) Associates
When Dale Johnson Cornell answered a help-wanted ad in The Boston Globe for a New England territory manager, she had no idea that she was breaking new ground. (“The ad had the word ‘advertising’ in it so I thought it would be right up my alley,” says the former broadcast advertising sales pro.) But that move into the ad specialty division of Sheaffer Eaton won her the distinction of being the first woman hired in the division and, in 1985, she became the first female multi-line rep in the promotional products industry when she opened her own rep firm. Today, from her home base halfway between Boston and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, she covers a territory from Maine to Washington, D.C., traveling approximately 35,000 miles every year.
Her more than 30 years of expertise in the field, and a solid reputation based on performance, give her suppliers a much-needed boost of reassurance and peace of mind.
That experience is most often appreciated when problems arise. Nominator Tami Wainscott, MAS, national sales manager at supplier The Allen Company, recalls this example. “There had been an order gone awry and Dale reworked her entire sales week to fly to the distributor’s warehouse and personally inspect the products. Due to Dale’s quick action and proactive resolution, we were able to immediately make it right for one of our top distributors, who in turn created a win for their top client. We have had multiple reorders ever since.”
She also says The Allen Company personally travels with its multi-line sales representatives to see what they are up against out in the field. “I have never experienced any negativity in working with Dale and Cheryl [Wainscott also nominated Cheryl Lickteig at DBJ Associates and her profile is on the next page] in our travels together. Their schedules can be truly hectic at times, with back-to-back trade shows, sales calls, etc., but these professional women go at it from sun up ’til sundown without hesitation, because they feel it in their bones—they love this industry. They are passionate about the opportunities that come their way daily in helping our promotional professionals find solutions to their clients’ needs and helping them grow their business.”
Nominator Lisa Antinelli, vice president at supplier Diamond Cosmetics, Inc., says Johnson Cornell contacted her company asking to represent it because of its unique, niche product line. “Her input is invaluable as she has her hand on the pulse of the market and assists us in creating new products by bringing us new ideas and insight,” adds Antinelli, who also nominated DBJ Associates rep Cheryl Lickteig. “Dale and Cheryl are true professionals. They are our biggest and best advocates, and we would not be doing the amount of business we do without them.”
One On One With Dale Johnson Cornell
On the part of the role she likes best: I totally enjoy the diversity of working with multiple suppliers and many creative distributors. Every meeting and trade show is open to new opportunities. If one product line does not fit well into a customer’s program, I’m sure we’ll find something from one of the other product lines. I love being a very organized and self-motivated individual.
On managing the challenges: She says asking family and friends to coordinate their schedules around hers is difficult, as is scheduling and coordinating appointments with distributors, plus the constant follow-up with both suppliers and distributors. “And in-between, the frustration of not being able to work while driving,” she adds.
On maintaining the exclusivity of her lines: As a multi-line rep it is very important to represent product lines that do not compete in a single category. Representing non-competing suppliers allows me to present multiple ideas in a short period of time. As a multi-line sales representative, my job is to educate and help market and increase sales for each company I represent.
On how reps can remain relevant in a changing industry: Multi-line reps are not always affected by the mergers and acquisitions in our industry unless there is a conflict with the product category. It is often a win-win situation for all. Many of these supplier companies recognize and appreciate the relationship the multi-line rep has with the distributor firms. In order to remain relevant in today’s industry, a multi-line rep must be service-oriented as well as sales-oriented. Understanding and working with the challenges of a changing and growing market place is essential.
On how distributors can help her serve them better: I would love to have more distributors ask for assistance with their projects. For example, ask for ideas, creative applications of existing products and assistance in acquiring unique products through the companies I represent.
Dale B. Johnson (DBJ) Associates
Cheryl Lickteig first fell in love with promotional products while managing a high-tech company’s marketing group. “I occasionally purchased promotional products,” she says. “My promo distributor rep introduced me to so many interesting products that could be used to promote our brand and reward our customers that I was intrigued and excited about the possibilities in this industry.” She later went to work as an account manager for a supplier and then a distributor before joining Dale Johnson Cornell at DBJ Associates.
The job checked all the boxes for Lickteig, who has since spent the past 25 years helping her clients solve their problems. “I like the opportunity to work with my distributors to solve their customers’ challenges by offering a variety of products and decorating solutions,” says Lickteig, who is based in Groton, Massachusetts, and covers New England and Upstate New York. “I also enjoy working with such diverse distributor companies that range in size, organization and business approach.”
Among those who nominated Lickteig is Sharon J. Walsh, president of distributor Sun Specialties, Inc., who notes her rep’s honesty and integrity, and her willingness to consistently go the extra mile. “She has driven to my office with samples for a rush presentation,” says Walsh, “and supplied no-charge spec samples on a brand name line that does not usually offer that. It resulted in an order!” She was also impressed with the extra product education that resulted when Lickteig brought supplier company executives to some of Sun Specialties’ meetings.
Nominator Tami Wainscott at The Allen Company, who nominated Lickteig along with DBJ principal Dale Johnson Cornell (See Cornell’s profile on the previous page), adds, “… your immediate sense of knowing you are working with and speaking to a class-act multi-line representative team is more than reassuring. It’s peace of mind and that is what you will experience in working with Dale and Cheryl.”
One On One With Cheryl Lickteig
On the difficulties of the job: Capturing the distributor’s time and attention is a huge challenge. Our distributors are extremely busy trying to service their customers, stay ahead of their competition and compete with the internet. Hopefully they learn to value our help and support.
On maintaining exclusivity of product lines: It has become more difficult to have lines that are focused only on one product category. We have worked to maintain suppliers who have one major category so we can give them strong product and line recognition. We educate our distributors on how each of our suppliers offers the best products to fill their needs for specific opportunities.
On keeping multi-line reps relevant: We work with both our distributors and suppliers to make sure we are on top of current promotional product and retail business trends. Reading industry updates, attending educational opportunities and checking the competition are important as well.
On how distributors can help her serve them better: We are partners working to gain more business—so put us to work.
During his senior year of college, Steve Donlin jumped at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play football for leagues in Italy and England. He says a year immersed in the sport was a great experience, but he knew his future was back home in the promotional products industry. After all, it was the family business. Donlin had grown up working summers with his father, Dick Donlin, who opened a multi-line rep firm in 1982. “Dad hired me when I got back for $500 a month and sent me to parts of the Midwest that most people would never dare to go to,” he says with a chuckle. “He handed me samples and catalogs and told me to get out there and call on people.” Twenty-six years later Donlin is running the company based in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
What keeps him coming back every day is the enthusiasm he’s able to bring to his distributor clients. “When you are presenting products and ideas to distributor salespeople and they light up as they understand what you are presenting and where it applies, it’s the coolest thing in the world,” he says. “That’s what I enjoy doing the most—bringing new and different ideas to people.”
It’s evident that his clients feel the same way about Donlin—four nominated him for this year’s recognition. Among them is Dan Livengood, CAS, VP of marketing and business development at 2020 Brand Solutions, who appreciates Donlin’s genuine interest in the business. “Steve has always been responsive to whatever my or my colleagues’ needs are,” he says. “Steve is a relationship person who not only values the business side when interacting but, most importantly, the human side. He’s insistent in connecting the dots and making introductions to strengthen relationships inside and outside of the industry. In short, Steve cares about the industry, the people and making sure everyone has a voice, a place and a chance to prosper.”
Other nominators are Mike McElligott, president of MEM Advertising Co.; H.A. Gross, sales manager at Plaza Printers; and Paul Hohenwald, owner of Spartan Promotional Group. “Donlin is always on top of his game,” says Hohenwald. “Out of all the multi-line reps out there I feel like a partner with him, not just a sales number.” McElligott says he also appreciates the training Donlin provides on his lines. “It’s very educational and packed with samples and specific ideas.” Gross agrees adding, “Steve shows me how to sell the lines and products that he represents. I liked his approach from the beginning. I also like the way he thinks of me and my company when he talking to the suppliers he works with—that makes me feel valuable.”
One On One With Steve Donlin
On maintaining the exclusivity of his lines: I find suppliers who manufacture or have single-mindedness in one category because they are experts at one thing. They aren’t going to add powerbanks to a glove line. It really is about finding suppliers who are very focused.
On giving equal attention to all lines: I’m a heavy project-based guy. If someone sends me artwork and says there are 1,000 employees, I’ll take that artwork and route it to all my suppliers and get them involved. Then, I’ll come back to that distributor with vinyl graphics for a trade show, recognition products and a bunch of different things that they’ve ever thought about showing their client. Over the years, distributors have learned to lean on me. They may not have time to [think through all the creative]—they’ll say, “Let’s throw this to the multi-line rep.” You can ‘wow’ them with ideas they’ve never thought of before.
On how reps can remain relevant in a changing industry: We’ve all had to change over the years. I’ve lost more lines to acquisitions than to anything else. Again, I go back to working with suppliers who are experts in categories—they might be smaller suppliers who need help growing their business. You need to be looking out for the next company that needs help. Be willing to understand the distributor salesperson and the clients. Build a level of trust. If a distributor trusts you to handle artwork and work on projects, then that would keep you relevant. Building those relationships is something that no acquisition can ever take away.
“Lori is as creative as she is supportive,” says client and nominator Rachael Wahlgreen at Boundless Network. “She’s always proactive and looking for ways to better serve our account—and you would think that each line is her only one.”
That personal touch, honed through years of customer relations experience in the wholesale apparel business and then within the promotional products industry since 2001, is what attracts and keeps her clients happy. From her home base in Trophy Club, Texas (located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area), she covers the state as well as Oklahoma for several apparel and hard goods lines and racks up more than 35,000 miles every year to call on customers.
Eaton started her career with a company that developed and produced private-label apparel for distribution primarily to middle-tier retailers. The company, seeing a decline in their overseas sourcing business due to acquisitions, moved into the promotional space as an alternate outlet for their golf shirts. “I got the job of calling on promotional products distributors directly and immediately fell in love with the customers,” she says, adding that she didn’t know at the time how perfect a match the job was for her skill set. “I spent years honing the craft of communicating about all aspects of developing product with customers and the overseas factories.”
That dependable and clear communication is one characteristic that won over client and nominator Julie James, corporate branding rep at HALO Branded Solutions. “Lori is top-notch in customer service and follow-through. You can take her word to the bank,” she says. “Lori truly cares about her customers and will go out of her way to get what we need—after hours, weekends, you name it. She offers suggestions too.”
James says she often asks Eaton for customer ideas—and gets plenty, plus virtual proofs. “Lori works hard to give us good, quality offers that have a good value for potential sales, and she will even go to the client with me if needed to help close a deal. She’s friendly, professional, easy to work with and I think she rocks!”
One On One With Lori Eaton
On what she likes most about being a multi-line rep: Generally, I like getting to help people; specifically, I like the variety of solutions and resources I have when my customers have a need.
On the challenges: There is the two-pronged challenge of keeping my sample line pristine, fresh and up to date with current specials and removing out of stocks, and keeping all the printed materials organized and accessible. There are also the little nuances to each supplier’s often- changing go-to-market strategy that can also take time to master.
This has also made me very empathetic to the distributors’ hardships and, I think, made me understand what I need to do to keep things simple. I know that my suppliers hear from me a lot about how to improve our customers’ experiences. I’m very fortunate to work with suppliers who are open to feedback and really want to improve the customer experience.
On how she manages her lines: I have lines that have products in the same category but they fit a different customer profile (either by price or design) and I tailor my presentations or product solutions to the audience. For the most part, my meetings will cover each supplier’s best and trending best sellers, as well as that supplier’s strengths. I do not think the information I provide should not only be about product.
On the future of multi-line reps: To remain relevant, I utilize my vantage point to observe market trends, and I have positioned myself as a consultant. The lines I represent offer alternative solutions to the mainstream, and I tend to attract and be attracted to customers who are also trying to be different and/or ahead of the curve. I have also hired my son, Mike, a Millennial, to help me and my clients with ideas to reach a younger audience.
On how her customers can help her serve them better: Let me assist you with product ideas. This is my favorite part of my job and too often, the only time when I get to develop case history experience. Also, please let me know about problems you have with products or procedures. Please don’t assume someone from the factory told me about the problem you had or are having. I may be able to see a solution that the people in the middle of the problem don’t see, or I may at least be able to address it so it doesn’t happen again to you or someone else.
In 2001 Jamie Hudson took the plunge into the promotional products industry and became a multi-line rep after many years as a sales rep and district manager for Energizer Battery Company. He owes the decision to the recommendation of his good friend and fellow multi-line rep Bill McDonald, principal of the McDonald Terry Group in Athens, Georgia. McDonald was right; the industry has been a great fit for Hudson, who enjoys representing several lines with different products and working with multiple suppliers.
Among the lines Hudson represents is supplier LarLu. In the three years he’s repped the company, it has shown significant sales growth, a trend his nominator Joe Durand, LarLu senior vice president of sales, attributes in part to Hudson’s hard work. “I believe his best asset is in the number of sales calls he makes,” says Durand. “He is always in some city within his region making calls. This is a tough business because each distributor salesperson is like an individual company; being face-to-face within distributor offices is key to for multi-line reps for being in the right place at the right time.”
Durand also praises Hudson’s quick follow-up on emails and phone calls—a key to winning the business—and his natural ability for putting others at ease. “He always has a way of making people feel comfortable around him,” adds Durand. “He is very approachable for distributor salespeople and always shows respect.”
One On One With Jamie Hudson
On the difficulties multi-line reps face: We have no control over how long we represent a line—even if our sales are up they sometime make a change.
On how reps can remain relevant: We have to be able to adjust as this business changes year to year. Reps are very important because distributors need to see the quality of the product and new ideas that are coming into the market. Also, if a distributor has an issue, multi-line reps can help them out. It is all about relationships.
On how distributors can help him serve them better: They should always send us artwork for virtual and/or spec samples. Those two things really help them close the deal. Also, they should try to give multi-line reps their full attention during presentations so they don’t miss any new ideas or products.
Friedman’s Corporate Apparel
After managing a college bookstore and spending 11 years as a multi-line rep in the golf, resort and college bookstore industries, Seth Friedman was offered a job with supplier Cutter and Buck when it formed a promotional products division in 1996.
“I took a chance changing markets with a company that had no exposure in this industry,” he explains. “Twenty-one years later it was the best move I ever made. This is a wonderful industry.”
From his home base in Chalfont, Pennsylvania, he reps Cutter and Buck, Ahead and Logomark in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, logging about 38,000 miles every year.
Not only does Friedman enjoy working in the promotional products industry, he also likes being an entrepreneur and working with other entrepreneurs. “I love to travel and not being tied down to an office,” he says. “No day is ever the same and waking up at the beginning of each month with no income is highly motivating.”
One of his nominators, Kevin Mullaney, partner and vice president at distributor Brandito, explains why he calls Friedman an outstanding rep. “I’ve always made time for Seth because he always makes time for me,” says Mullaney. “If I reach out to him via text, phone or email, he is extremely responsive, which is extremely important to me.” He also notes that Friedman reps a number of different lines, and doesn’t push any of them. “Instead, he starts with ‘What’s up, how are things going?’ He is fantastic at listening, asking the right questions, and then listening more. He takes all these notes in his head, and then when he starts walking you through his line, he hits on every pain point you expressed.”
Mullaney says when he calls Friedman, he is always willing to move mountains for him and his team. “Just recently he worked up a quote on back-ordered inventory to meet my end-of-year budget, helping to close a $30,000 order. Seth just gets this industry and is pretty much a part of the Brandito team.”
Nominator Andrea Coffman, account manager at McClung Companies, says Friedman is one of a handful of multi-line reps who consistently reaches out to provide samples, catalogs, ideas and suggestions to grow sales. “He has a fun sense of humor, is respectful and professional,” she says, “and he has always stood out with my clients who have met him at end-user shows and events.”
Nominator Bob Lowy, branch manager at Proforma Spectrum Graphics, adds, “Just in the past month and as recently as today, whenever I’ve asked Seth for most anything—whether to provide a clear path to a problem at the home office, provide a creative selling solution or even lend a hand in a client visit—Seth always goes the extra mile to provide customer and sales support.”
One On One With Seth Friedman
On the challenges multi-line reps face: Being away from my home and family is the most difficult thing. Changes in sales management at my lines from time to time have been very challenging. Traveling in lousy weather to meet with clients is no fun at all. The absolute biggest challenge currently is getting enough time with your clients to be effective for them and your suppliers.
On giving equal time to all of his lines: Equal attention is relatively easy, as your clients look at you as being a resource, rather than a rep for a particular company. I help them find solutions for their clients across a very broad spectrum of products, categories and companies. I like to equate it to being a “lending library” of experience and solutions.
On how distributors can help him serve them better: Tell us what your expectations are up front, and how you see us fitting in. Let us know if we are doing a good job and, if we aren’t, tell us how we can better serve your team’s needs. Realize that we truly are entrepreneurs just like you.
There was a time when Greg Jackson made his living as a bartender and Santa Monica lifeguard. In 1983, he started repping a line of recreational marine products. Life was good. But it got even better in 1990 when one of his marine lines came out with a bomber jacket; it opened an enormous new sales area for Jackson.
“I sold a mast to a distributor who was having a custom sail boat built,” he says. “He saw the bomber jacket, asked how much, and said he had a 100-piece opportunity; did I have a sample? My reply was, ‘A 100-piece opportunity? I only have this one, take it!’ His name was Greg Murdock and we sold about $30,000 through him that first year. I was hooked.”
What’s kept him motivated in the years since is the ability to pick the suppliers he wants to work with and to be more than a one-product source for his distributors. Today, from its home base in Seattle, Northwest Reps consists of three full-time reps who cover Washington, Oregon and Idaho. “We like to think we are different,” says Jackson. “We give it our all every time. And I include our suppliers as part of our team. We can’t do it without them—and we don’t think they can do it as well without us.”
“Greg Jackson and his team are always thinking of creative ways to separate his lines from their industry counterparts,” says nominator Teddy Scott, vice president, sales at supplier AZX Sport. “Jackson is always on the road making sure his lines stay front of mind with distributors in the area and he does whatever it takes to ensure our customers are pleased with their orders even if that means delivering orders himself. Jackson is a fantastic partner and hands down one of the best reps in the business.” Among the unique features Jackson brings to his customers are good-quality videos that showcase new product ideas for all of his lines, says Scott, and the weekly barbecues held at the company office/showroom for top distributors. “Sometimes a boat ride on the lake is also part of the event.”
One On One With Greg Jackson
On what’s most difficult about being a rep: Not making the cut with suppliers. We are huge team players; we like being part of the team and when the coach/supplier decides to cut us, it hurts, not just monetarily but to the core. It’s like we’re not adding enough value to make the team.
On exclusivity and giving equal attention to each line: We try not to overlap but it happens. Most of our lines specialize in one category but when you have a great line like Starline, it’s hard not to overlap. They hit multiple categories so there’s bound to be an overlap here or there. Equal attention, that’s the great part about being a multi-line rep. We have some awesome lines, and because of that we can book appointments when others can’t. We try to get in at least two appointments minimum per season and feature half of our suppliers at each presentation. We always take our line card and a smattering of the other line samples with us to remind distributors of what we have.
On multi-line reps remaining relevant: If your line is affected by a supplier’s acquisition, you have to remain positive; there will always be acquisitions. You have to continue to add value to the supplier and value to the distributor. The multi-line is the buffer between the two, the advocate for both.
On how distributors can help him serve them better: There are many things we can do to help them, they just have to ask.
West Coast Branded Solutions
Fresh with a marketing degree from California State University-Chico, Daniel Sachs was eager to find a job where he could apply that education and, even more importantly, gain additional knowledge and contacts upon which he could build a strong and sustainable career.
He got his first break at supplier Castelli Diaries where he spent two years as a sales executive right out of college, and then at supplier Prime Resources/VisionUSA/Graphic Vinyl where he was senior regional sales manager for almost four years. Those experiences proved the right mix to take the next leap.
In 2003 he launched Global Product Source LLC, a multi-line rep agency, which he still operates as West Coast Branded Solutions, with a team of four marketing specialists.
Over the past 10 years, Sachs has established a solid reputation among the suppliers he represents and distributor clients alike. One of his eight nominators, Les Dorfman, executive vice president at supplier High Caliber Line, says, “I have been working with multi-line reps for close to 30 years and I have never met a MLR who treats each line like he is a factory rep. Daniel follows up on everything from a quote to once it becomes an order. He’s a great communicator as well as a good listener. He’s always thinking out of the box and is always selling.”
Nominator Craig Hughes at distributor Geiger likes the way Sachs handles preparation on the front end. “He always comes to our meetings with a plan and totally prepared with all materials and samples to make a great presentation,” he says.
Nominator Jim Conway at distributor American Solutions For Business is keen on Sachs’s strong follow-up skills. “Daniel is the best at communication back to his factories with whatever we discuss after a meeting. If we asked for samples or marketing materials, he sends communication the same or next day to his factories.” That way, he says, when the samples arrive, what they discussed is still fresh on their minds regarding the product and the end-user solution.
One On One With Daniel Sachs
On the difficulties he faces as a rep: Each supplier handles our communication and needs differently, making it challenging at times. Having strong communication is a must have.
On maintaining exclusivity of his lines: We try to minimize the amount of like product categories, but there are some categories where it’s almost impossible to do so. We’ve done a good job of partnering with suppliers that are leaders in their category—who own their market. Our presentation is less about product, and more about telling a story. We give distributors a reason to partner with us.
On how industry acquisitions are affecting the future of multi-line reps: For us, our suppliers have been the ones acquiring companies, so it’s been a positive thing. Acquisitions give us more tools in our tool chest, and always turn into increased sales. We remain relevant by watching retail and industry trends, and capitalizing on those trends.
On how his clients can help him do a better job: Pay attention to what we say, as we have knowledge that can directly affect distributors’ sales growth. We are the eyes and ears in the industry, having access to both suppliers and distributor trends—we know what’s hot, and what’s not.
Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.
MLR Hiring Checklist
If you are thinking about hiring a multi-line rep to service your supplier company, consider these tips:
- Plan to provide ongoing training on products and production on all lines.
- Keep reps in the loop whenever there are challenges with inventory, product quality, customer service, etc., so they can be prepared when meeting with distributors.
- The sales agreement must include specifics about the territory covered, a description of job responsibilities for both parties, and clearly defined sales expectations, compensation, and show and sample budgets. If there are house accounts, be clear about them. Also, include a termination notice of, ideally, 30 days in the first year and 60 days in the second and subsequent years on orders placed.
- Give your multi-line rep the authority to make sales decisions.
- Recognize that the rep wants to be an integral part of your company.
- Include reps in industry trade shows and distributor events.
- Don’t expect skyrocketing sales increases in the first six months—good things take time.
- Ask the rep for a business plan that clearly maps out the rep’s strategy.
- Find a rep who is responsive. Don’t pinch pennies to lose dollars.
- Don’t ask for call reports. If these are needed, consider a full-time factory rep instead.
- Pay the multi-line rep for all orders that come in from the states he or she covers including national accounts if they have offices in that territory.
- To find good reps, query distributors in that territory. Ask which multi-line reps are working the territory and who they would recommend.
- Be respectful and thoughtful about when and how often you travel with a multi-line rep. One or two trips per year may be sufficient.
- Be careful about taking multi-line reps off the road for long sales meetings. Not making calls costs them money.
10 Questions Suppliers Should Ask When Hiring MLRs:
- How many lines do you currently represent?
- Do you have any competing product lines?
- What can you do for us and what are your expectations for my product line?
- Do our territories match up geographically?
- How many lines have you lost in the past five years and why did that happen?
- Who are your 10 biggest clients and can I speak with them about you?
- What will you need from us to do your best job?
- How knowledgeable are you about the promotional products supplier arena?
- Have you worked for a factory directly? In sales? Management? Production?
- How are you reaching out to distributor clients other than through personal visits? (For example, social media, digital marketing, websites.)
The Mark Of Excellence
Each of this year’s recipients receives a custom, silver-plated lapel pin that identifies them as a PPB Best Multi-Line Rep. The pin is generously designed and donated by Harvey Mackler, MAS, president of PPAI supplier member Gempire/gwi (PPAI 113471).
Multi-line reps have long played a significant role in the development and success of the promotional products industry. At The PPAI Expo 2017, some of the industry’s earliest multi-line reps were among those honored as PPAI Pioneers. Learn more about them here.