How did you enter the lighting industry?
I had been working for a lumber and building materials distributor until they closed their facility, and I began looking for another position. I was very young and I answered an ad in the newspaper from Maister and Associates. I knew nothing about lighting and thought, “I’m just going to do this for a few months” and here we are today.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
How shopping is done today compared to 10 years ago, and how technology (i.e. Internet and smart phones) has greatly changed the landscape. Today’s consumer is very educated; they know what they want, or have a good idea of what they want, before they make their purchase. They no longer walk into a showroom to see what they think they might like. Consumers today know what look they desire and have an idea of what that product is going to cost them. Can they be educated? Sure they can, and they can be sold better products if it’s explained why they should spend a little extra and provided with an experience they appreciate.
People want to connect and feel important — that never changes. I see consumers with their smart phones all the time, doing price comparisons while they are browsing, just to make sure the retailer is within reason. I also see many people buy on the spot, and they want to leave with the product. Let’s face it, if they have taken the time to come into your store, then they’re your customer.
As far as being a manufacturer’s representative, there is so much more responsibility today than in years past due to the economy and technology. Customers and factories have cut back their work force and the slack has to be picked up.
What has been the key to your success?
First, and most importantly, I absolutely love what I do and the people in this industry. It sounds so cliché, but it really is the truth. My number one personal rule is to treat all people with kindness and respect.
I view my agency as a partnership between my customers and factories. It needs to be a win/win for all. I make it my business to know their business. With each sales call I make, I check the landscape to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything and to check on what has gone on in my absence…and guess what? There is always something! So I work on opportunities and missteps and reevaluate: What can be done to make this more profitable? What can I do to make this better? And What is this customer needing right now? What is the hurdle, and how do I eliminate it so the distributor can focus on growing their business? Then, on the long drive home, I go over the events and think about it all night or all week until I have formulated a solution and strategy.
I never give up: determination, commitment, hard work, flexibility — it all eventually pays off, and I’m in this for the long haul. I care, and customers know who their partners are. I will never turn a blind eye to things and situations that are not working. I ask a lot of questions, and I listen. If a customer is having an issue, I pay close attention because it is an opportunity. I also pay close attention when things are working well. I have been so fortunate to learn so much from my customers and their staff. The knowledge that they have given so generously to me is appreciated and valued.
I will do whatever is necessary to have a successful partnership. There is always something that can be done. Sometimes, I may remove myself from a situation temporarily to look at it
through fresh eyes. I talk to my associates, network a lot, and eventually something will come to me. At times there are hurdles that seem to have no good outcome, but there is always a solution. Sometimes finding it takes patience and a lot of creativity, but we find a way to make it work because we don’t give up.
I also go with my intuition, and it has never let me down. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s not. Everyone needs to be successful, and if it’s not the right mix, then it’s not going to work. I will not put my factory, agency, or customer in that position.
I have the good fortune to have tremendous associates who are creative, hardworking, dedicated, and pleasant. We all enjoy being in the field, and that’s the way we find out what’s going on in the industry. I enjoy them very much; we have different approaches, but we work well together because we all have the same work ethic and goal. We are constantly talking and sharing different experiences and ideas.
In addition, I make myself always accessible by phone, email, or text and I’m a stickler about follow up. At the end of the day success is about commitment, perseverance, working hard, creativity, and really caring about what you do.
What do you wish you knew when you were first starting out?
To take risks! Everyone fails, so what? As long as we learn from our failures, it’s all good since I love to learn. When the worst thing that can happen happens, and you see it’s not the end of the world, you get up because you are a warrior. You just try another approach; sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but you can never stop learning and trying.
What do you envision the lighting sales agency of the future to be like?
I think you will see more agencies partnering and joining forces. For example, it might be a commercial agency and residential one. The mix has to be right. I also see personnel being assigned specifically to handle Internet accounts in order to control things a little bit more.