Said over and over, “Good lines attract good lines, and good people attract good people,” these words serve almost as a mantra for Don Kaminski and Dave Mehrer, principals of Allied Group Sales Inc., Phoenix. Kaminski and Mehrer acquired the rep firm, formerly Allied Geis Sales, in May 1997.
Kaminski and Mehrer met several years ago while playing softball. “When the opportunity developed in 1997 to purchase the agency, Dave appeared prominently on the short list of people I'd like to partner with,” said Kaminski. “Six months later we were the owners of Allied.”
From the outset, they faced two tasks — finding the right lines and the right people for the agency.
“When we took over, we found an agency with some good lines, but they were ones that offered very little synergy,” said Kaminski. “Immediately our efforts were geared to putting lines together that worked well. Our goal was to take on the No. 1 or No. 2 line in a given category.”
Kaminski and Mehrer attacked the task with a vengeance. “Five years ago, Web sites for reps weren't all that common. To get manufacturer attention, one of the first things we did was get that up and running,” said Kaminski. Then we advertised in local electrical publications, and worked all the industry contacts we developed over more than two decades in the industry.”
A key to forging relationships with manufacturers, according to Kaminski, resided in selling themselves. “When you buy an agency, you don't buy anything but relationships and services. With manufacturers especially, we had to sell ourselves. Part of that sales job was contacting all their regional and national sales managers to ensure that they would be comfortable with us.”
Today, Allied Group Sales is a major force in the marketplaces it serves: Phoenix; Tucson, Ariz.; Las Vegas; El Paso, Texas; and Albuquerque, N.M.
When Kaminski and Mehrer acquired the agency, there were nine employees. That staff has grown to 19 today. “From the start, you've got to learn how to identify employees who would be comfortable with changes — because that's how we began things, by changing the phone system, e-mail, building a Web site — virtually changing the way business had been conducted,” said Kaminski.
Getting the right good people has been a priority for the two entrepreneurs. “For instance, our operations manager came to us from a competitor,” said Kaminski. “We had been in business for less than a year. She voiced an interest in getting together just to find out what we were doing and what we were about. After that meeting she let us know that if there were ever any openings, she would be interested. We liked her aggressive approach and felt she could be an important piece to the puzzle we were putting together.
“Then there was the outside salesperson we attracted from a manufacturer. He was someone I had a personal relationship with. He, along with a few other key staff members, helped put us on the map.
“Both of these people serve as examples of how we've been able to grow. We don't want just route salespeople. We want people with a manufacturing background — people who can walk the walk that manufacturers want. It's a matter of gaining good lines that attract more good lines; and good people attracting more good people.”
Setting and meeting goals has also been a key to the agency's growth. “We regularly provide our manufacturers with a one-page snapshot or update of what's going on,” said Kaminski. “We'll let them know how we're performing with sales, their activity with new product launches and what's going on with our staff. We also share a portion of our business plan with manufacturers, and they get regular updates from us at the NAED and NEMRA meetings. As a result of this level of communication, we hope they consider us an integral part of their organization. Likewise, with distributors, we communicate goals with them on a quarterly basis. With the latter, we know this works because our distributors have told us that if we provide them with goals they have to shoot for, while they might not make it with each individual manufacturer, they're confident that their bottom line will be right on the mark.”
In addition to tracking the Allied sales force's monthly performance, Kaminski explains, “we're looking for more than just bottom-line sales. The manufacturer wants more than that and so do we. We look at their daily activity reports and consider how they're performing with everything from new-product introductions, quotations and purchase orders.”
If all this change, activity and communication makes Kaminski and Mehrer sound like they've found the magic elixir for success — forget about it. “Dave and I laugh at that notion,” said Kaminski. “All we know is that we think the formula we've settled on and understand is one that works for us and the people we sell to. Distributors are our customers. We also sell — ourselves — to our manufacturers. Our philosophy is that without our manufacturers we are nothing.”
The real truth in those words is heard in what he says next. “Let's assume for the sake of conversation, I have 130 customers and one pipe manufacturer. If I don't service that manufacturer well, they can terminate our relationship. That's a major blow to the agency. The ‘fear factor’ is the major consideration. If, on the other hand, I lose one of my 130 customers, I still have 129 to sell to — and we still have time to develop more customers. I'd say that we do better than many when it comes to treating our manufacturers well — that's our No. 1 priority.”
If that's where Allied Group Sales is today, don't think they'll be the same in the future. According to Kaminski, “If you come back in just five years, you'll find a different organization. In the future I can see us having a complete lighting division in addition to a commodity division. I also can see us getting bigger in the marketplaces that we serve. Then, there's the possibility of us covering more geography. For whatever we do the timing has to be right. But whatever we do, we'll still possess the same ethical and business practices that have made us successful so far.”
Don't miss the 2004 Annual NEMRA Conference March 3-6 in Philadelphia. In response to members' requests, the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association has streamlined the conference format, with final sessions scheduled on Saturday — one day earlier than the traditional ending date. Highlights include Martin Regalia, chief economist, U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the keynote speaker; and a forum titled “Understanding the Three-Legged Stool - Representatives, Manufacturers and Distributors.” For more information, please visit the NEMRA Web site at www.nemra.org.
Penn-Union Corp., Edinboro, Pa., has appointed C.C. Pierce Co. Inc., Weymouth, Mass., as its manufacturers' representative for power products in the states of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Southern Pipe Inc., New London, N.C., announced L. P. Chick Co. Inc., Louisville, Ky., will be its rep for Kentucky and the eastern counties in Indiana.
Russound, Newmarket, N.H., has appointed two new specialty sales and marketing representatives. Associated Network Systems Representatives (ANSR) is a newly formed division of Associated Lighting Representatives located in Oakland, Calif. ANSR is responsible for covering Russound Sales in the northern California territory. Russound has also appointed Audio Video Resources Inc. (AVR Inc.), Phoenix. AVR is responsible for Russound sales in the southeast territory, comprised of the standard six southeast states.