When you grow up with 30 relatives working in the industry in your market area, it's tough to not give the electrical market some consideration as a career.
This year's GEM Rising Star winner, Kristina Steiger, Schaeffer Marketing Group, St. Louis, Mo., took an interest in the electrical business early on. Her mom, Brenda, says it might have been at least in part through osmosis. You might say Kristina was born into Schaeffer Marketing Group — she is was born one month before her parents started the agency in 1976. Like a lot of daughters and sons at rep agencies, she has been around the family business forever and heard many discussions about customers and manufacturers around the dinner table. She received college scholarships from NEMRA and the St. Louis Electrical Board to help pay for studies at the University of Missouri, where she earned a business degree. During her college summers and holiday breaks, she worked at St. Louis electrical distributors Frost Electric Supply and United Rexel. She even did an independent study project on bar coding at Frost Electric Supply. “I always kind of tailored my degree to logistics and operations,” she says. “I always thought that would help me understand manufacturers and if I had some marketing background, that it would help me with the marketing of those products.”
When some of her classmates tried to convince her to become a pharmaceutical sales rep, she tried to convince them to try electrical sales. She told them it was still sales, but that instead of calling on doctors' offices you called on electrical distributors and contractors. She liked what she heard about the electrical business from her parents and enjoyed her work in the industry during college, so after graduation she took a marketing job with Frost Electric. But the call of the family business was strong.
Says her dad, Mike Schaeffer, who was an engineer with Southwestern Bell before starting the agency with a cousin in 1976, “We had an opening one day and we talked with Kris about it. I said, ‘You seem to have an interest in the electrical business, and we seem to have an opening. Would you like to come into the business?’ She said yes. If I had tried to push her into this business she would have said no. That was 11 years ago.”
Today, Schaeffer Marketing Group is a hybrid agency that carries a blend of conduit, fittings and related products and a broad offering of energy-efficiency lighting products. The agency has carried the Carlon line for close to 35 years, and after taking on Jefferson Electric's ballast and transformer lines in the early 1980s, they began building an expertise in lighting. They took on the Crescent Stonco line on the recommendation of a local distributor about a decade ago, and since that time have added a number of complementary lighting lines. Since the company focuses on stock lighting products and isn't a specification rep, it often calls on many of the same distributors and contractors with its lighting package as it does with its conduit and conduit-related products. “Some people are confused if are we a supply or lighting rep, says Kristina. “It's the same relationships and the same consultative sell.”
The company has developed a very marketable expertise in helping customers get rebates from the St. Louis area's largest local utility, Ameren, and is a value-added partner for the utility, which means Ameren gives referrals to Schaeffer Marketing Group if they need help servicing a customer's lighting retrofit. Last year, the company also won the Philips Lighting Sustainable Lighting Division rep of the year award for its sales efforts with the Crescent Stonco line, which is quite an honor considering Philips now has approximately 40 different lighting brands.
Kristina is carrying on the family tradition of being active in the local St. Louis electrical community. Her grandfather, who ran Schaeffer Electric Co., one of St. Louis' largest electrical contractors, was president of the local chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), and her dad is currently chairman of the Electrical Board of Missouri and Illinois. Kristina volunteers her time with the electrical board and is first female president of the St. Louis Electrical Reps Organization (ERO).
When asked what she likes best about her job at Schaeffer Marketing Group, she says it's calling on so many customers who are business friends. “It's working with people I enjoy being around. I like taking a new product or a great idea and being able to solve problems with it — offering solutions to customers when they are in a bind. If you solve the problem, then you save the day.”