R/B Sales Corp., an independent rep based in Marion, Iowa, is known for its innovative marketing ideas. Several years ago, it put a trailer on the road loaded with product samples, videos and training materials and visited distributor counter days, trade shows and end users throughout Iowa and Nebraska. It was a very innovative marketing strategy, and Electrical Wholesaling's editors were so impressed with the mobile showroom that they wrote a cover story on it in January 2006 (check out the article by typing “going mobile” into the search engine at www.ewweb.com).

The folks at R/B Sales are at it again. To help distributors create sales in their counter areas, Bill Devereaux, the company's president, hired Melissa Delaney, a recent graduate from Iowa State University as a merchandising specialist to increase the visibility, appeal and mix of products in their counter areas.

Says Devereaux, “This position is a responsibility we never felt we were able to support fully with the other time requirements of a traditional salesperson. Our outside salesmen are challenged with end-user assistance, trade school and apprenticeship training, engineering calls, manufacturer management visits and all kinds of other daily tasks. Add to that the multiple layers of the distributor infrastructure (owners and administrators, managers, outside sales, inside sales, purchasing, warehousing, counters, etc.) and you have a customer base too broad and too diverse for us to competently handle each function. With Melissa, we are able to re-focus a few of those layers to a specialist dedicated to marketing initiatives.”

If creating the merchandising specialist position was a novel idea, the way R/B filled it was even more innovative. Instead of following the tried-and-true method of looking for an industry veteran to fill the slot, Devereaux went to a college fair at Iowa State University to meet job candidates and schedule interviews. “Melissa Delaney's interviews, experience and personality separated her from the other applicants,” he says. “It was one of the most rewarding new-hire processes our management team has experienced.”

Delaney says one reason she joined R/B Sales is that she didn't want a desk job. “I wanted to work with people,” she says. “I knew I had much to learn about the products and how the industry works, but it was a challenge and I was willing to meet the challenge. Prior to the interview process, I didn't have any knowledge of how a rep operated. This is a whole new world for me — one that is dynamic and one that I very much enjoy.”

Delaney quickly began de-cluttering products at distributor counter areas, which has helped R/B Sales gain shelf space for the product lines it represents. “The biggest thing she is doing, though, is providing us with an outside employee whose number-one objective that day is what has (unfortunately) been the number three-to-seven objective in the mind of our traditional outside salesperson,” says Devereaux. “Reviews have been very favorable. Distribution seems to appreciate our value-add and understands we are offering them a more expansive service model that can and will increase the profitability of our products at their counter.”

He says because this marketing initiative is still relatively new, it will take time to gauge its full impact on sales. One challenge has been the number of distributors the company serves and the miles between them. R/B Sales serves more than 115 electrical distributor locations, and the travel time in its market area ranges from five hours from the north to the south, and 17 hours from its eastern border on the Mississippi River to western Nebraska and the Colorado state line.

Devereaux says several distributors gave Delaney carte blanche to do what she wants with their counter areas. “In many branches, we have been able to move our product from the back or side of an aisle to the premium locations at the front and ends,” he says.