This 2003 “Rep of the Year” - owner of Premier Marketing in California - discusses partnering with showrooms.

Over the years I've written several articles and delivered a number of talks on what makes a great manufacturers representative. The rep can be a direct factory employee or an independent - the fundamentals and “little things” that make a rep great apply to both.

Every once in awhile I do an article on a specific showroom/company that in my opinion runs a first-class operation. In this article, for the first time, I'm going to highlight a great decorative plumbing and hardware rep. This isn't just my opinion. In 2003 Premier Marketing, based in Danville, Calif., and its owner, Mary Labowitz, were recognized by the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association as DPHA's first annual “Rep of the Year” in the United States. Mary, her company and her team, were singled out for this prestigious honor by folks from all across America.

Writing this article is a double privilege for me because Mary and her husband Alan are good friends of mine. My old business, The Plumbery, was one of their very first clients.

My hope is that both showroom managers and employees, as well as other reps, will pick up a few tips on how showrooms and reps can partner together to add value to the whole marketing/sales equation.

Following is my interview with Mary Labowitz, president, owner and key salesperson for Premier Marketing:

Hank: “Mary, let's start with a little background on you.”

Mary: “My first job in the industry was with Crane Co. - where I started as a secretary in 1977. I then moved on to sales rep jobs with Auburn Brass and Hydrabaths. I 'retired' in 1991 to become a stay-at-home mom. My husband Alan was a sales rep for Rohl Corp., selling KWC faucets. He was involved in a serious automobile accident in 1993 and we were forced to switch roles. Alan stayed home and I became the KWC rep for Rohl Corp. When KWC and Rohl split in 1998, I started Premier Marketing with KWC as my only line.”

Hank: “What are your main lines today?”

Mary: “We're fortunate to represent some great manufacturers. Our main lines are KWC, Ginger, Newport Brass, Brasstech, Robern, Chicago Faucet (residential), Jason, Geberit, Cole and Co., Native Trails and Le Bijou.”

Hank: “How many people do you employ?”

Mary: “We have eight members on our team, three inside and five outside.”

Hank: “I know you service decorative plumbing showrooms, the “big boxes” and kitchen and bath dealers. How does your business break out between these customers?”

Mary: “That varies by the makeup of each territory within our territory, but as a general guide we believe the 80/20 rule fits pretty well. We spend roughly 80% of our time calling on 20% of our customer base, regardless of what customer type they are. Each player fills a role in our industry and we service them based upon their role and needs.”

Hank: “You recently received a very special honor from the DPHA. Tell me about that.”

Mary: “Needless to say, I was proud and very honored to have our company singled out. DPHA is doing a great job and to receive this honor from my peers makes all the time and effort I have put into this great industry worth it. A recognition like this is more precious than anything else.”

Hank: “Okay, so what in your opinion makes your business so unique?”

Mary: “We build long-term relationships with our manufacturer partners, distributors, showrooms and designers. We work very hard at supporting our customers with strong “pull through” sales - so they in turn support and stock our family of products.”

Hank: “My personal experience and opinion is that 25% of the reps are professional, 50% are very average and the final 25% are flat out poor. What puts you in the professional group?”

Mary: “The level of commitment and degree of motivation at our company is different. Our Mission Statement clearly reads that we will strive to be the very best and most professional agency in our industry. To that end, we are constantly educating ourselves, join and actively participate in many industry trade organizations and do everything in our power to live up to our Mission Statement. I also have to add that I expect each team member to be accountable for the goals he or she is trying to achieve. Follow-up is our top priority!”

Hank: “How do you motivate, challenge and excite your team?”

Mary: “Premier Marketing is an extended family of people working as a team. Once an employee completes his or her training period, everyone has the same title. Our bonus and incentive programs are based on how the company does as a whole. We do several company parties each year with everyone's family involved. We do monthly meetings and quarterly 'open forum' meetings with everyone being encouraged to participate.”

Hank: “How important is a good rep to a showroom?”

Mary: “Very important. If you're a good rep, the showroom will count on you for support, technical training and warranty issues - and to be the liaison to the manufacturer. These are important issues to showrooms because their staffs may change frequently and the better you do your job, the more they will support your products.”

Hank: “From your point of view, what makes a good showroom customer? What makes one showroom better than another?”

Mary: “From my perspective, a great showroom is one that believes in developing relationships with manufacturers and their reps. It believes in well trained and professional salespeople. Some showrooms attempt to be “all things to all people.” This tactic doesn't work. Nobody has enough display space or money or educated salespeople to effectively try to cater to the desires of every consumer. Showrooms that do well over the long haul are the ones that have defined who they are and what their customer base is.”

Hank: “How important is product training?”

Mary: “From our perspective, it's the foundation of our business. Our salespeople do a minimum of four “PKs” per week (product knowledge training). Many of our lines are quite technical and require that we educate, educate, educate!”

Hank: “If there were a “Ten Commandments” for being a good rep, what would they be?”

Mary: “Wow, a good, but tough question. From my vantage point, I'd have to list them as follows:

Organize - If you're not organized, you can't be successful in sales.

Believe in what you do - People always know when you love your job!

Knowledge - We must understand and know our products.

Honesty and trust - When you're honest with people, the trust follows.

Follow-through - This is the KEY to success! If you make a commitment - stand by it!

Relationships - Great relationships are built by using these Ten Commandments.

Integrity - We have to let our customers know that we have their best interests at heart.

Discipline - All salespeople must be efficient with their sales calls and believe that they can get the job done.

Time management - We must be able to set our priorities and then achieve them above everything else.

Respect - We must respect our customers' time, their needs and their expectations.

Hank: “That's a terrific list! I believe these would apply to showroom salespeople as well. Do you have a three year +/- Business Plan?”

Mary: “Yes, we have a short-term plan for each year, and a long-term plan which takes us out three to five years.”

Hank: “Where do you see yourself and your agency in five years?”

Mary: “With all the mergers and acquisitions in this industry, it makes that a tough question to answer. My goal is to position Premier Marketing as one of the 'premier' agencies in my market. I want us to be known for our professionalism and quality of service to both the manufacturer and the dealer.

Hank: “What advice would you give other reps?”

Mary: “Get involved with your industry. Take pride in your company and the service you provide. Be an advocate for your manufacturers, your customers and at the same time, your company. Most importantly, believe in yourself. Continually strive to be a true professional.”

Hank: “What advice would you give showroom managers and staff?”

Mary: “Rely on and support the better reps in the industry. They really are there to help you. If you build a relationship with them, they will help your business and bottom line tremendously.”

Now there's a great lady! All 100 pounds of her! She truly does operate one of the very best rep agencies I ever had the pleasure of working with. Thank you, Mary, for sharing your thoughts and ideas. I hope both the reps and showrooms gain some valuable insight that will help everyone become more professional and successful. <<