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The Way it Was

July 1, 2011
The author believes in new ideas and technology, but says the personal touch that built so many business relationships still works best.

As we get older, we naturally think about “the way it was” in the good old days and compare the way business is done today.

I really don't live in the past — I'm still very active in business, accept change and acknowledge that today's technology is wonderful and obviously makes a positive impact in both my personal and business life. While I'm somewhat retired from the electrical products world, I'm now involved with plumbing distribution. Other than product, it's basically the same concept.

Why does doing business today between a distributor and some vendors have to be difficult? Why can't communications be easy? Why can't a sales executive make a simple decision to do a deal? Do all of these decisions really now need to be made by the finance or legal departments? The customer can wait for days or weeks before accountants or lawyers in the back room make a decision and communicate it to the salespeople on the front lines.

I recently had a discussion with a former customer friend who at the time of my tenure at Carol Cable was the vendor contact person for a large national chain distributor with whom I worked as Carol Cable's customer liaison. We were reminiscing about how easy it was to work together. Both the electrical distributor and Carol Cable were large companies, but in spite of our size and market position, we created the program between our two companies on a cocktail napkin. We both signed that napkin in a Pittsburgh restaurant and it was eventually stapled to an 8½-inch by 11-inch piece of paper in my file. Done deal, simple. No accountant or lawyer was involved — but we helped our companies do millions of dollars of business together for many years without a hitch.

Today's electrical distributors, electrical manufacturers and independent manufacturers' reps were raised in a different environment than my generation, and that's a positive thing because new ideas and methods of improving processes are all contributing factors to growing any business. However, in some cases, companies have too many back-office executives who do not have field sales experience. As a result, those companies lost the distinction of being sales-driven organizations. That's not good when the going gets tough.

It may be time to change. The writer James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Let's keep it simple and go back to “the way it was” because it was not so bad. We got the job done. Factory sales executives need to be empowered again to make the important sales decisions. Unfortunately, in some companies job justification seems to cloud the decision process.

Bob Snyder is a well-known senior executive in distribution industry circles. In addition to his 25-year tenure at Carol Cable Co. from 1965 to 1990 and his position there as senior vice president of marketing and sales and minority owner, he was a senior executive with Equity Electrical Associates and then Equity/EDN after the merger, and with IMARK after its acquisition of Equity/EDN.

After retiring from IMARK earlier this year, he became V.P. of vendor relations for the Equity Plumbing marketing/buying group based in Concord, Ohio. Equity Plumbing is a stand-alone business entity unrelated to IMARK and Equity/EDN. He can be reached by phone at 781-844-3408 and by e-mail at [email protected].

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EW's Speaking Out column is an open forum for readers to express their views about what they have read in Electrical Wholesaling, or on one of the electrical market's burning issues. Interested? Submit your idea for an article to Jim Lucy, chief editor, at [email protected], or Doug Chandler, executive editor, at [email protected]. Most submissions are 700 words or less. If accepted for publication, we will need a high-resolution digital image (300 dpi or better) and a brief bio with contact information.

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