Ewing-Foley's Ralph Bliquez talks about his goals for the National Association of Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association during his term as chairman.
Q: WOULD YOU GIVE US SOME BACKGROUND ON HOW YOU GOT INTO THE REP BUSINESS AND DESCRIBE WHAT YOU ARE DOING NOW?
A: I first worked with Earl Levin. We worked together at Xerox and he contacted me when his father wanted him to take over the family's rep firm. We grew to represent manufacturers as different as Lutron and Red Dot fittings. Earl was more interested in Lutron than Red Dot, and we separated amicably. He eventually moved completely into lighting design and continues to do that today. I had known Steve Hoyt for many years when he worked at Platt Electric Supply, Beaverton, Ore., and since he was leaving Platt to get into the rep business and start up Hoyt-Northwest about the same time, the purchasing director at Platt, Gary Etlinger, thought we would make a good fit. I started working with Steve Hoyt in 1986 and retired in 2000, when Steve took over Hoyt Northwest by himself. I “flunked” retirement and continued to work on an independent basis doing engineering work for Shafer & Nelson, H&K and Ewing-Foley. I started exclusively with Ewing-Foley at the end of 2006. I don't really have a title as such. Gary Lessing calls me a “business development director.” My responsibilities are company sales training, engineering specifications, technical presentations on products, CEU classes for journeymen electricians and volunteering for NEMRA.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR NEMRA AS CHAIRMAN?
A: My immediate goals for NEMRA as chairman are to increase the membership by recruiting other electrical representatives in lighting, fire and safety and communications who do not presently have a viable association to advocate for them, and to increase the number of representatives who take advantage of professional courses offered by the Manufacturers Representatives' Educational Research Foundation (MRERF) and other sales training agencies. Today's manufacturers' representatives must be more technically competent than ever before. Selling is no longer a “price and delivery” function.
Q: HOW DO YOU PLAN TO INCREASE THE MEMBERSHIP BY RECRUITING OTHER ELECTRICAL REPRESENTATIVES?
A: I want to increase membership by making these other representative groups aware of what NEMRA brings:
Advocacy in the industry, as a common voice is always louder than individual voices;
Networking, by providing access to the best practices for members so those practices can be communicated and refined;
The human need to associate with one's fellow reps who share a common effort. In addition, NEMRA can show manufacturers, distributors, contractors, utilities, specifiers, code people, government agencies and anyone else who has anything to do with building and servicing our electrical world that the salesperson, and particularly the independent salesperson, is vital for the two-way communication that brings new products and methods to market. They help return the intelligence to manufacturers that will get research and development departments on to the next generation of newer and better products and methods. I say “independent” because his/her view is broader than one product line, one management team, or one narrowed market.
Q: How do you plan to increase the number of representatives who take advantage of professional courses?
A: I will tell them that any salespeople who do not invest in their careers by making every effort at self-improvement will not do well in our changing world economy. Many representatives in our association have questioned whether or not to bring their children into the business because they wonder if our function will be made obsolete by technology. I have every faith that the personal sales function will continue and prosper but only for those prepared to prepare for change.
Q: IF IN YOUR ESTIMATION SELLING IS NO LONGER A PRICE AND DELIVERY FUNCTION, WHAT ELSE MUST REPS PROVIDE TO SURVIVE?
A: Representatives must bring value in many ways. The value starts with knowledge of their products and competition. It continues with the ability to communicate that knowledge in many ways: on-site presentations, phone calls, e-mails and links and other references. Reps give value when they recommend better methods or products to do a job, gain a specifier's approval on that product or method, help inspectors by knowing applicable code issues, and work with the contractors who perform the tasks. All of these actions add value and deserve compensation. A product's invoice cost is not as important as any of the above valuable functions.
Q: WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO UPDATE US ON HANK BERGSON'S SUCCESSOR?
A: I cannot update you on Hank's successor other than to say the process is going very well and the selection committee is very satisfied that we will have a great candidate. The announcement probably will be made in the latter part of 2008.
Q: NEMRA'S BEEN INVOLVED WITH SOME INTERESTING PROJECTS RECENTLY, SUCH AS THE CERTIFIED SALES PROFESSIONAL (CSP) PROGRAM AND NEMRA'S ELIMINATING WASTE STUDY. CAN YOU UPDATE US ON THESE PROGRAMS?
A: The Certified Sales Professional program and the Eliminating Waste Study are dynamic programs, and I mean “dynamic” in the accurate way: that they are ongoing, always looking for best practices, and cannot be said ever to be finished.
The reaction to the Eliminating Waste Study was positive at the start but it's now gaining momentum. Too often an effort like this achieves nothing more than the “see and approve” status and is shelved. This study actually has changed entrenched agency and factory practices and made for real self-examination and self-improvement.
Q: HAS EWING-FOLEY TRIED TO IMPLEMENT THE ELIMINATING WASTE STUDY? IF SO, WAS IT SUCCESSFUL?
A: The eliminating waste study is now part of the fabric of Ewing-Foley, as it is now with many effective agencies. The RepConcert program is an example of the time savings available through a good contact resource management (CRM) system that with one entry integrates project, contractor, distributor and factory and gives access to that information from multiple headings. NEMRA will be sending members 31 different methods to improve efficiencies before its 2008 NEMRA National Conference. Many of these improvements have come from the factory members of the NMG group who see the benefits of better integration with their representative partners.
Q: DID YOUR BACKGROUND AS A TEACHER HELP YOU TRAIN YOUNGER SALESPEOPLE?
A: I was a teacher many years ago. If you want to know whether this has helped train younger salespeople, you will have to ask them. All I can say is that in the training I have done, no one threw overly ripe fruit.
Q: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU HAVE SEEN IN THE ELECTRICAL INDUSTRY SINCE YOU STARTED IN 1979?
A: The biggest change I have seen is the consolidation of all areas of the business: fewer distributors, fewer manufacturers, fewer contracting firms and fewer representatives. Each area has more employees working for fewer companies.
Who is Ralph Bliquez?
After teaching and coaching high school students and working as a salesperson for Xerox Corp., Bliquez began his career in the electrical industry in 1979. He worked for several rep agencies in the Pacific Northwest, including Hoyt-Northwest for 10 years, and on an independent basis for Shafer & Nelson and H&K, before coming to Ewing-Foley in 2006.
Bliquez and his wife of 38 years have two children and two grandchildren. Like most fathers, Bliquez is very proud of his children. His son, Andrew, is a teacher in the Oakland, Calif., school district and works with some very difficult students. His daughter, Emily, tutors immigrant workers in Oregon who are trying to learn English and become citizens.
Bliquez says the only industry accomplishment he cares about is his reputation. “For that you'll have to ask somebody else,” he says.
Bliquez has volunteered for years to teach at the Oregon training centers run by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA)/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC). For a week each summer, he volunteers at the local Muscular Dystrophy Summer Camp; he also helps the local NEMRA chapter raise money for the camp.
He began volunteering at NECA/IBEW Local 48 in the 1980s. “I would teach apprentices in a generic way about how the products our company represented were used,” he says. “While the samples and literature were from those companies, I did not let the classes become sales sessions. That's probably why I was invited back. I began teaching IEC classes at junior college in 2000. I was involved in our local NEMRA chapter from my beginning in the industry. At different times, I have served as the secretary, president and board of governors representative of our Oregon Chapter.”
Hobbies and leisure time
Bliquez says his hobbies are simple: “I pretend to play golf and I run. I have never gotten a hole in one, but I have finished 20 marathons. Also in a fit of insanity, I sailed to Hawaii in a 27-foot boat with two other under-insured fools.” The trip from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Hilo, Hawaii, took 23 days. Bliquez served as deck hand, cook and doctor. Bliquez says: “I was pretty good at one out of the three.”
“Marathons are all very different,” he says, “While you can go deaf running the New York Marathon with so many people yelling, you can have a spiritual experience running the Napa Marathon because the Silverado Trail is isolated from all traffic and the only sound is the footfall of the runners. But my favorite would have to be Boston because of the tradition of the event and the Wellesley girls (This last part is understood by anyone who has run the race.)