It's no secret that getting products into the hands of distributors, end users and other buying influences is still one of the most effective methods for an independent manufacturers' rep to create demand for that product. When one Florida rep converted a pull-along trailer into a mobile showroom to utilize that strategy, he was delighted with the results.

“We had to figure out a better way to get our products in front of the customer than what we had been doing in the past,” says James Yore, president, Electrical Marketing Services (EMS), Altamonte Springs, Fla. “Historically, we had to depend entirely upon the skills that our salespeople possessed. But, even if he was a skilled salesperson and could be depended upon to get his time in front of the customer, he would still be lucky to get the time needed to go over just three or four of your products.

“But when you throw into the mix considerations of carrying product samples, having a good supply of literature and catalogs and then getting sufficient time to do a lot more than just three or four product presentations, it's a whole different ballgame. Our thinking was that we had to come up with a better way to get the job done.”

The EMS mobile showroom is outfitted with manufacturers' products, samples, catalogs and other sales literature. When it rolls into town, the company's customers can count on learning about the latest new products that EMS sells, getting ample supplies of product literature and a free barbecue lunch. Yore got the idea for the mobile showroom from a cover story in Electrical Wholesaling magazine several years ago that described the 32-foot mobile showroom developed by RB Sales Corp. Marion, Iowa (See “Going Mobile,” EW — Jan. 2006, p. 14, or type “going mobile” into the search engine at www.ewweb.com).

Yore says the article on RB Sales gave him confidence that a mobile showroom would work in his market, too. A recent trip with a vendor's annual road show also reinforced the value of face-to-face product demonstrations. “The tour took our sales team across the state of Florida to nine different distributors over the course of two weeks,” says EMS' Scott Davis, marketing manager/inside sales. “This provided us with a great opportunity to meet face-to-face with the key players that we deal with on a daily basis.”

Yore's next step was to carry the experiment a step further by making use of a friend's utility trailer equipped with a portable grill — to provide an endless supply of hotdogs and hamburgers. When that experiment went well, EMS bought its own trailer and put it on the road late last year. Armed with promotional dollars from manufacturers, product samples, catalogs and literature, that road trip went well, too. “Our manufacturers quickly saw how effectively we were delivering their message and they couldn't have been any more enthusiastic,” he says. “During some of our stops when one manufacturer had to leave the mobile showroom, the others stepped in to ensure that everyone's message was delivered to customers.”

Adds Scott Davis, “The excitement surrounding the trailer during the tour was undeniable. Distributors, manufacturers, contractors and end users alike were impressed by it and by the professionalism of our salespeople — not to mention the free lunch that was provided.”

Frank Holley, one of EMS' outside salespeople, says the mobile showroom helped the sales force show customers more of the company's product offering. “In the past, our mission was to successfully gain access to the buying decision makers and do our best to cover at least three of the lines we represent,” he says. “Even if we got to those decision makers, having enough time to get the job done was always a challenge. With the advent of the mobile showroom, the excitement was unmistakable on the part of contractors, distributors and customers when they saw — some for the first time — all the lines we represented and were able to get their hands on products. The mobile showroom also provided us with the opportunity to have a generous supply of literature. They all had plenty of time to explore on their own and see much more than just a few of our lines.”

Yore says his company's first experiences with the mobile showroom concept have been so successful that he plans to eventually operate several trailers in his Florida marketplace. “I can see the time when we'll have a trailer in each of the territories in which we work,” he says. “It's shown us that this is just a much better way to tell our story.”