Kevin Venezia Damin Sales Edison, N.J.

Lots of reps like to say they were born into the electrical industry, but not too many can say they were going out on sales calls when they were 11 years old. The winner of the 2009 GEM Rising Star Award, Kevin Venezia, principal of Damin Sales in Edison, N.J., can make that claim.

When he was a kid, Kevin used to travel with his father, Lou Venezia, during the summer when his dad was a rep with Brazill Brothers & Associates. Says Venezia about those summer days, “I liked what he did, and even liked the business to the point that I bothered him to let me work at an electrical distributor.”

And work at distributorships he did. When other kids his age had paper routes, he secured a job with Howard Electric at age 14. Venezia also worked at Swift Electrical Supply and Jersey Electric while earning an accounting degree from St. Peters College in Jersey City, N.J. He continued learning the other side of the electrical business at Monarch Electric before signing on with Topinka Associates, his first job with an independent manufacturers rep, and then with the New York rep firm Gummersell Cashdan for 14 years before moving on to Damin Sales.

He accomplished one of his career goals in 2005 when he and his business partner Peter Gregory bought the firm from Artie Goldstein and Steve Gershman. They now rep a blue-chip line card with vendors including Arlington Industries, 3M, RAB, Federal Pacific, Genesis Cable/Honeywell, MaxLite, Encore Wire, Priority Wire & Cable, Mono-Systems, Danfoss, USI Electric and Dimplex/Electromode.

Today, Venezia and his team at Damin Sales focus on differentiating themselves from other rep firms in their market with the service they provide. “When the customer calls we try to service that customer so they will call back. We try not to practice sales prevention here,” he says. “There are two types of people that call us — those that want to call Damin Sales and those that have to. The trick is to convert the have-tos to the want-tos.”

It's been a great ride so far for Venezia. He always wanted to own a business, and he has been able to do that in a market that he really enjoys — even if at one time his dad told him to become an accountant and forget about the electrical business as a career. “My dad did not want me to go into the business. But I fell in love with it. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the way the business operates.”

Venezia says attracting young talent is one of the biggest challenges for reps and distributors and estimates that the average age of an inside salesperson at the distributorships in his market is fast approaching 50 years old. “When I started out it was a lot younger,” he says. “The hardest thing to do in our business today is bring up employees. But if you really just put your mind to this business and understand it, you can make a nice living.”