Leader – Category : Nicole Bretzing, Bretzing & Associates, San Ramon, Calif.
How did you get started in the industry?
I got into the lighting industry quite by accident. While going to college, I responded to an ad for a part-time position in customer service in the office of a local manufacturer’s representative. I was majoring in Liberal Studies and intending to become an elementary school teacher and possibly – someday – a principal. When I graduated a few years later, the rep I was working for offered me a position in outside sales. After giving it some thought, I decided to give sales a chance. At the time I remember feeling as though I was navigating away from my dream of becoming a teacher, but now after 20 years of sales, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love the challenge of selling, and I love the people!
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
The biggest change I’ve seen over the past 20 years is the general buying habits of the consumer, and specifically the tendency to purchase online as a result of the development of e-commerce. The interesting thing about e-commerce is that it can be argued both as a positive and negative. I have always enjoyed servicing the small dealers, the “mom and pop” showrooms. The expansion of online purchasing has had a negative impact on some of those small showrooms who really rely on a high level of customer service through face-to-face contact. The benefit of e-commerce, however, has been a broader exposure of lighting and ceiling fans to the public. Anyone with access to a computer and the Internet can browse through an entire inventory of a showroom to see what they like and then make an online purchase. I do believe that – with the proper leveraging – most, if not all, lighting showrooms can benefit from e-commerce.
What has been the greatest challenge?
For our industry, and most others I suppose, is the need to remain relevant. Relevancy is paramount in successfully navigating the ups and downs of our economic landscape. One way I remain relevant is through the diversification of both product and distribution outlets. I am very fortunate to have a vast array of products from a variety of manufacturers and I sell to a broad spectrum of customers, including showrooms, box stores, and e-commerce. They all play an important part in the struggle to remain relevant in this challenging industry.
What is the key to your success?
There are several important personality traits that contribute to the success of a sales representative including being driven, energetic, motivated, and organized. I feel I possess all of those traits, but if I had to focus on one that has influenced my career most, it would have to be having a strong relationship-building skill set.
I have found that a significant component of building strong relationships is remembering that service and follow-through are as important as the “sale.” It is very important for me to connect with each person in a retail store, from the warehouse staff and management to the sales team on the floor. They all play a significant role in selling my product and all deserve my full attention.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing about survival and success in this business, it would be to remain positive – even when a situation appears dire. Changes in manufacturer representation and economic fluctuations are two examples of situations that can arise at any time and create waves in a sometimes tumultuous and unstable business environment. I have faced my share of adversities in the past 20 years and have learned to remain positive despite them. I work hard to remain focused on those things over which I have control and remember there are always ways to develop new business, expand on existing business, and grow in spite of challenges.
What do you think the future holds?
The future of this industry holds an increase in e-commerce business. I do believe this will be a good thing for the majority of retailers. I have made a concerted effort to learn more about the nuance of e-commerce and how it can be properly leveraged.
I am very excited to see the economy finally begin to rebound in the West. I am forecasting a 20- to as much as 40-percent increase in overall sales in 2014. I am also excited about styles and technology changes within the field, including advancements in technology in the area of energy savings. I see the steady progress in energy-efficient product design playing a big part in my projected sales increase.
When I think about what aspects of this business may fade from existence, I think of warehousing. I have seen numerous retailers already adopt the “just in time” method of purchasing and I believe the trend will continue.