The whole industry would gain if more companies invested in their people.

One of the most common complaints that manufacturers have about their wholesaler partners is that wholesalers don't know how to sell their products. No one knows that better than Charlie Banks, president and CEO of Ferguson Enterprises.

Banks was chairman of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors last year when that group released a report that found, in part, that distributors fall short of vendors' expectations in marketing. In fact, only 19% of manufacturers surveyed thought that wholesalers do a good job of marketing their products. The "Facing the Forces of Change" report, written by Arthur Andersen, is significant, and Banks made the cover of Supply House Times when it was released.

Now Banks is in the news again because he has sent a letter to manufacturers and their independent reps to warn them not to "raid" Ferguson employees. Banks doesn't believe that vendors and reps should take advantage of doing business with Ferguson to hire away its highly recruited and trained employees in sales, marketing and other positions.

That Ferguson invests heavily in recruiting and training is well-documented. Twice in the last 26 years, Supply House Times has named Ferguson our Wholesaler of the Year, and both times we recognized the company's innovative career development programs.

Some could argue that Ferguson's efforts in human resources raise the stature of the entire industry, regardless of where its employees end up working. That certainly is true. Still, it strikes us as a little unfair that some vendors complain that wholesalers don't know how to sell after they hire away wholesalers' good people in sales and marketing positions.

What seems to particularly rankle Banks, however, is losing people to companies that do not make the same commitment as Ferguson to recruiting and training their people. These firms find it easier just to hire people away from other companies that find and educate them.

One way for these firms to answer Ferguson's warning would be for them to be able to say that they have made the same commitment to developing the careers of their employees. The whole industry would stand to gain if more companies invested in their people.

To the extent that Ferguson is losing people in sales and marketing positions to manufacturers reps and to vendors, the wholesaler's investment in training must be paying off. The NAW report and manufacturers' complaints to the contrary, at least some wholesalers must know how to sell, after all.