The Ganzenmuller Electrical Marketing Award, or GEM Award, was established in honor of George Ganzenmuller, who was chief editor of Electrical Wholesaling magazine for more than 30 years until his death in 1986.
George was a man whose integrity, fairness and industry knowledge won the respect of the entire electrical industry for nearly four decades. Since 1989, Electrical Wholesaling magazine has awarded the GEM Award to honor those independent manufacturers' reps who exhibit these same leadership qualities. A companion award, the GEM Rising Star Award, recognizes those independent reps whose early careers and industry contributions show promise of leadership and insight, and who have already demonstrated the determination to excel.
The editors of Electrical Wholesaling believe the electrical industry can learn from the business careers and personal philosophies of this year's winners of the GEM Award and GEM Rising Star Award.
C&O Electric Sales, Lenexa, Kan. Doug Carlson, president; Kevin O'Neil, principal; and Jim Stanker, principal
Traditionally, the GEM Award has gone to one rep whose industry accomplishments stand as a model for other reps to emulate. But during this year's selection process, when the name C&O Electric Sales came up, it was tough to pick just one person. The company's principals, Doug Carlson, Kevin O'Neil and Jim Stanker have worked together so closely for so long, it's impossible to pick out the accomplishments of just one as the most responsible for making the 37-year-old, 14-employee company one of the Midwest's most respected rep agencies.
Doug Carlson, the company's president, says in working together for more than 15 years, the three men naturally gravitated toward their strengths. “Jim has a strong background calling on engineers, while I have more of a business background. Kevin always has called on the distributors.”
“As we added people it enabled us to do different things,” says Kevin O'Neil, son of the company's founder Jack O'Neil, who started the company in 1965 with Dean Clendenen. “I am calling on fewer distributors, as is Jim. But I am dealing more with engineers and contractors now. It's still evolving. We are trying to utilize our people assets to the best of our abilities. It's all about creating demand for our products and for our factories.
“We have been able to continue our face time at the distributors with other salespeople. We had to forge those relationships. A lot of the guys that I called on working the counter at Rensenhouse or Glasco are now managers. We still call on those guys. If we don't have distributors, we can't make an order happen.”
During a visit to the company's office in suburban Kansas City, one quickly gets a feel for the business style and interests of the principals, who enjoy their work, customers, golf, sports in general, and working with each other.
From the classy copper C&O logo over the front door to walls covered with photos of customer outings, vendor meetings, sports memorabilia and the company's history, it's apparent that these are three guys who like to work hard and play hard. Along with showcasing some of the company's products, the company's training room doubles as a break room for employees and a party room for the company's customer appreciation barbecues and cookouts.
“We want to take care of our friends, and our friends take care of us,” says O'Neil. “They know we are out there on their behalf. We care, and we have a lot of pride. I have had the good fortune of being in this business all of my life and watching my father over the years. I still have the image of sitting with him in a car before a sales call in 1968. We are out in western Kansas, and it's hot as all get out. We have driven for several hours, but he still takes time to comb his hair and set himself. He had a lot of pride in himself and his relationships. That image sticks with me to this day.”
Although O'Neil, Stanker and Carlson value their customer relationships above everything else, they have had to evolve with the industry and devote more time to different areas. For instance, to help distributors plug into the many marketing programs now offered by manufacturers and through the industry's buying/marketing groups, the company took one of its top inside salespeople and moved her into a marketing role.
Mary Coldiron now manages the development of flyers, brochures and promotions. To build up C&O's marketing capabilities, the company had to invest in a top-of-the-line laser printer and upgrade software for desktop publishing, contact management and Web-page development. Coldiron recently produced a 140-slide presentation for the C&O booth at a recent trade show sponsored by the Electric League of Missouri and Kansas.
“She is the hub, and all of that flows into her,” says Doug Carlson. “It helps us tremendously for her to manage that for us.”
Carlson, Stanker and O'Neil have more than 80 years of combined experience in the electrical industry. All three have completed the Certified Professional Manufacturer Representative (CPMR) program, and are active with the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Tarrytown, N.Y. Jim Stanker is currently on NEMRA's board of governors.