I remember this agency's namesake, Ed Os, from my early days in the industry. He came across as a good guy who took time to befriend big shots and little people alike - a natural-born sales personality. In many ways, he was the quintessential manufacturers rep of the 1970s and '80s, parlaying his people skills into a good living, and disdaining the headaches that came with getting big.
Ed started the agency in 1975 as a one-man operation with a part-time secretary. Sons Rob and Gene and daughter Cindy joined the firm in the 1980s, along with Gene's wife Joanie, but it remained a home-based business staffed entirely by family members.
That old way of life became hard to sustain as time passed. Vendors put more and more demands on their reps and began to look for bigger agencies with smaller territories. By 1989 the Os business had 11 employees and was compelled to move out of Ed's home into a new building that included 7,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space, which still serves as company headquarters. In 1990, they merged with a small New England heating rep firm, R.K. Ramey. (That merger was chronicled in a feature article in the October 1990 edition of this magazine.) The agency still was not very large, but bigger than before and more diversified with both plumbing and heating lines, which helped iron out troublesome seasonal swings in business.
Health problems led Ed to retire in 1999 and turn the agency over to son Rob and former daughter-in-law Joanie, who are now co-owners. (Gene and Joanie Os divorced, but in one of the industry's more unusual business twists, Gene left the company while Joanie remains as part-owner, vice president and, functionally, operations manager. “Our customers wouldn't let me leave,” she jokes.)
At the time of the turnover, the agency had retrenched to seven employees. Now, six years after Rob and Joanie took over, sales have tripled and they are about to hire a 25th employee.
Downstream Sales EmphasisSome of the growth spurt comes from the acquisition last year of Hardware Agents, a rep firm that brought with it several stylish bathroom lines - Crystal Vessel, Justyna Collections and Mico Designs - geared to showroom sales. Also, Aker Plastics, a line EDOS had represented ever since 1981, was purchased by MAAX, which gave EDOS access to the MAAX Pearl line, and in February 2004 they picked up MAAX's Doors and Cabinets and Collection products. Additionally, Gerber - a company represented by EDOS from the start - benefited from renewed product development vigor after their 2003 acquisition by Globe Union, to the point where they now fit into full line residential, commercial and showroom markets. EDOS' entry into the showroom market caused them to add a second warehouse in Canton, Mass.
“Showrooms are a big and growing wholesaler market,” notes Rob Os. “You need to wear an entirely different hat when calling on them, not just stop by on the way out of a supply house. We've changed our business to focus on this market in a relatively short period of time, and now have three of our 11 outside salespeople dedicated to showroom sales.”
Showrooms are just one aspect of a strategic plan that places more emphasis on downstream contacts. When Rob and Joanie took over the agency six years ago, about 80% of selling face time was with traditional wholesaler customers. They are about a year away from achieving their goal of a 50/50 call ratio between wholesalers and downstream players such as engineers, architects, contractors, builders, oil dealers and anyone else that may influence a sale.
“Make no mistake about it, we are 100% dedicated to two-step distribution. We choose not to sell retail or to anyone except the wholesaler,” says Rob. “It's just that in the old days, the contractor would buy what the wholesaler offered. Now, that wholesaler will generally buy what the contractor wants. So wherever we can best impact a sale, that's where we as reps need to be.”
Adds Joanie: “If we can get a contractor to buy one of our lines, we can benefit three or four customers, because contractors don't just buy from a single source.”
The company also has turned more attention to the specification market. Gastite, Honeywell Water Solutions, Crown Boilers, Hydrolevel and Gerber are lines with significant commercial applications. A couple of EDOS reps now spend around 80% of their time calling on commercial accounts, and all of them call on more engineers and mechanical contractors than they used to.
Inside Role GrowsWhile researching this firm as a potential Rep of the Year selection, the name “Joanie!” spilled from the lips of vendors and wholesalers like a Pavlovian response. Ever since she joined the agency in 1982, she has handled the inside sales role, which has grown into a job supervising a staff of 10 sales and administrative people.
“Our inside people have an incredible relationship with the customers they deal with,” says Rob. “They genuinely like calling Joanie and the rest of her staff. Frequently they get into conversations about the kids and stuff, but most important, they trust our inside staff to get them correct information and resolve any issues.
“That's what gives our outside salespeople time to call on everyone. A rep covering a territory has a lot of ground to cover and can be hard to get hold of. Without that inside support, our guys would be spending too much time gathering information and putting out fires to do much selling.”
“Vendor demands are increasing, but I don't think the burden is overwhelming,” Joanie remarked in response to a question about a common rep complaint. “That's because we've geared our agency to handle it.” She noted that last year the agency hired an executive assistant specifically to compile and format field reports from the company's 11 outside salespeople. This is not a company that was ever big on paperwork, but vendors want information, and EDOS had to figure out a way to provide it and package it in a format they find useful.
“Keeping up with changes in the industry can be difficult, but by and large those changes have been good for us,” says Rob. “We've picked up new lines and new products and been given new opportunities by the vendors we represent. So it's up to us to adapt to their needs, and adapt quickly.”
Putting People FirstUnusual for a rep firm, EDOS does not pay commissions to sales personnel. All are salaried, and share in quarterly bonuses offered to all employees, along with occasional spiffs from vendor sales promotions. However, Rob estimates base salaries account for around 90% of their income. He thinks it's the only way to get the entire company pulling together as a team and willing to embrace all the changes thrown at them.
In particular, it would be hard to convince a sales rep to spend more time on downstream selling if s/he saw it eating into next month's paycheck. Same with territory realignments. “We do not want our people worrying about how much their next paycheck will be, and we don't have time to deal with issues that arise from lost commissions in going from wholesaler calls to channel calls,” says Rob. “I know our guys work just as hard as commissioned reps. They are professionals.”
Stress and burnout are a common affliction among sales reps, and a big reason the EDOS owners keep adding personnel is to make sure the demands that come with explosive growth don't become unbearable. Fridays are designated as preparation days when field reps are invited to work in their offices on paperwork and prepare for the week ahead. EDOS employees are encouraged to take time off as needed to attend kids' ball games and school functions, as well as what Joanie refers to as “stress relief days.” It helps to compensate for the large doses of early morning and after-hours training and trade show duties they endure. In return, staffers go the extra mile covering for one another and putting in whatever time is needed to get a job done. “Our people genuinely like helping one another out,” says Rob. “When we hire a person, a big factor in the decision is how well they fit with our team.”
Salaried personnel boost overhead, of course, and it wouldn't be viable for a rep firm to keep adding people unless income kept pace. That's been happening at EDOS. Added lines and products, coupled with better market penetration thanks to deeper channel relationships, have enabled them to support the heady growth of recent years, with more sure to come.
“I think the reps who will be here a long time will be those who can adapt quickly to the changes taking place in the industry,” Rob remarks. “When Joanie and I bought the agency, we had three outside salespeople. Now we have 11. I think continued growth will be inevitable. It's the only way to truly impact the channel, and this agency will continue to compress territories and get more and more impact.”
Joanie adds: “We're lucky to be able to build on an incredible foundation laid by Ed. He taught us how to budget, how to sell, how to do everything associated with running an agency. I'd hate to try to deal with all the changes without that foundation.”
Sidebar: EDOS Manufacturers' Reps In ProfileContact Information: Main Office, EDOS Manufacturers' Reps, P.O. Box 378 - 8-B West State St., Granby, MA 01033, 800-295-3367. www.edosonline.com. (Canton) 2 Pequot Way, Canton, MA 02021-2306, 781-830-1000.
Cozy Heating Products, Crown Boiler, Embassy Industries, Firomatic, Gastite, Gerber, Honeywell (select accounts), Honeywell Water Solutions, Hydrolevel, MAAX/Aker, Noble Co., Anaheim.
Crystal Vessel, Justyna Collections, Lippert, MAAX Collection, MAAX Doors & Cabinets, MAAX Pearl, Siro, Smedbo, The TonJon Co.
All six New England states.
Headquarters/warehouse in Granby, Mass., second office/warehouse in Canton, Mass.
Robert Os, president/sales manager; Joanie Os, vice president/office manager.
Wholesale Sales Reps:
Chuck Eckhardt (RI, eastern MA & Cape Cod); Dale Emerson (NH & VT); John Loughlin (western & central MA & CT); Tom Metzger (western MA & CT); Bill Van Norman (North Shore, MA); David Parker (ME); Joe Scalata (RI, eastern MA, Cape Code & North Shore).
Showroom Sales Reps:
Bryan Copeland (showroom sales manager); Darryl Copeland (showroom operations manager); Tina Jacovino (western MA & CT).
(Granby) Bill Eskett, Eric Zepke, Jim O'Donnell, Jessie Stankowski. (Canton) Marc Miller, Greg Wallace.
(Granby) Bob Godfrey, Lora Os, Brenda Shields, Angela Fillion, Candy Palaia. (Canton) Ryan Truczinkas, Carl Le Tang.