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2003 Independent Rep GEM AWARDS

May 1, 2003
The Ganzenmuller Electrical Marketing Award, or GEM Award, was established in honor of George Ganzenmuller, who was chief editor of Electrical Wholesaling

The Ganzenmuller Electrical Marketing Award, or GEM Award, was established in honor of George Ganzenmuller, who was chief editor of Electrical Wholesaling magazine for more than 30 years until his death in 1986.

George was a man whose integrity, fairness and industry knowledge won the respect of the entire electrical industry for nearly four decades. Since 1989, Electrical Wholesaling magazine has awarded the GEM Award to honor those independent manufacturers' reps who exhibit these same leadership qualities. A companion award, the GEM Rising Star Award, recognizes those independent reps whose early careers and industry contributions show promise of leadership and insight, and who have already demonstrated the determination to excel.

The editors of Electrical Wholesaling believe the electrical industry can learn from the business careers and personal philosophies of this year's winners of the GEM Award and GEM Rising Star Award.


1989: Allen Rudolph, Rudolph & Co., Boston, Mass. Walter Yusen, Yusen Associates, Woburn, Mass. 1990: Lawrence Rodger, Jr., Jacobson — Rodger Associates, Willow Grove, Pa. 1991: John Maddox, Maddox Sales Co., Pico Rivera, Calif. 1992: Byron Brewer, Sr., Harby Associates, Inc., Wallingford, Conn. 1993: Gary Brusacoram, Andrews Johnson Brusacoram, Minneapolis, Minn. 1994: Jim Edwards, Jim Edwards Co., Houston, Texas 1995: Jerry Haines, Haines Sales Corp., East Syracuse, N.Y. 1996: Gene Biben, Joseph E. Biben Sales Co., Philadelphia, Pa. 1997: John Marietti, Cleaves-Bessmer-Marietti, Kansas City, Mo. 1998: Peter Ewing, Ewing-Foley, Cupertino, Calif. 1999: Ron Haedt, Electrorep, Sausalito, Calif. 2000: Jack Floyd, Downie, Turner & Buress, Columbia, Md. 2001: Joe Yore, Electrical Marketing Services, Altamonte Springs, Fla. 2002: Doug Carlson, Jim Stanker & Kevin O'Neil, C&O Electrical Sales, Overland Park, Kan.


1989: John Roth Mooney, Jr., Roth-Mooney Electrical Agency, Inc., Indianapolis, Ind. 1990: Nancy Martin, Martin Electrical Sales, Kirkwood, Mo. 1991: Michael Criste, Criste & Co., Scott Depot, W. Va. 1992: Barr Kennedy, Paul Lumpkin Co., Charlotte, N.C. 1993: Jeff Cleveland, C&S Sales, Orlando, Fla. 1994: David Weinstein, Yusen Associates, Inc., Woburn, Mass. 1995: Jim Amey, Robert A. Amey Co., Portland, Ore. 1996: Todd & Kurt Nelson, Nelson & Associates, Sante Fe Springs, Calif. 1997: John Greenwald, Intelligent Control Devices, Denver, Col. 1998: Howard Pickett, George Pickett & Associates, Inc., Cary, N.C. 1999: Joe Bertsch, Jr., Joe Bertsch Electrical Sales Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa 2000: Samuel Johnson, Electra-Tek Carolinas, Greensboro, N.C. 2001: Steve Gallagher, Synergy Electrical Sales, Inc., Fairless Hills, Pa. 2002: Greg Reynolds, Flynn-Reynolds Agency, Inc., Lowell, Mass.

2003 GEM


Take a love of Chicago's electrical world first nurtured by trips to the Chicago union hall with his father, a union electrician for 50 years. Add the entrepreneurial spirit that burns brightly within any independent manufacturers' representative. Stir it up with 30 years of electrical industry sales experience, first with Daniel Woodhead, then with the agency he owns with his brother, Kevin O'Neil. Give it a shake or two and you get a pretty good idea of what drives Dennis McDonald, McDonald Associates, Arlington Heights, Ill., to continually reinvent the firm and add to its arsenal of marketing services. The winner of the 2003 GEM Award for Independent Reps and his brother own an agency that's not quite like any other independent rep, with its high-tech focus, a division that serves catalog houses, and a new venture in the security market.

McDonald Associates got its start in 1986, when the McDonald brothers saw a need in the Chicago area for an independent rep agency that could support the area's industrial manufacturing base.

“We wanted to set ourselves apart,” says Dennis McDonald. “It's a big enough market to support an agency dedicated to high-tech products. We are somewhat technical people, but we are not engineers. We understand electricity and how products work and are not afraid to take courses and study. Early on we got into some of the more technical products.”

Kevin McDonald says when they wrote their first business plan nearly 20 years ago, it focused on the importance of developing personal relationships in the market with end-user calls, getting products specified and working with distributors. The company now spends 70 percent of its sales time making end-user calls. “We have to be out there creating demand,” says Dennis McDonald.

The company's market mix has changed. Like many regions in the United States, Chicago's industrial base is shrinking, so they must look outside their historical base for new business. But they say Chicago's industrial base, which they serve from locations in Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago, and Rockford, Ill. The Rockford location is managed by their brother Mac.

They say their market is more diversified than in many cities, and that this diversity has helped the company weather the recession since it saw business drop off in October 2000.

“There is no question this is as bad as we have seen it,” says Dennis McDonald. “We have seen a couple of turnarounds since then, but they have always fallen back. But we are in a unique market. We are not as dependent on the automotive market, like Detroit. We are into food processing, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals, too.”

While McDonald Associates has evolved over the years, some things don't seem to change, he says. “This business is all people. Our competition is not the other agents in Chicago. It's manufacturers with direct sales forces. We beat them every time. One of the reasons is we are not going anywhere. From a direct-sales-force point, if they are good, they get promoted. If not, they either get fired or stay. The feet on the street are constantly changing.”

“In this trading area, the one constant has been the independent rep, not only the principals but down through the sales positions,” adds Kevin McDonald.

One of the biggest challenges for the company is the increasing cost of sales, specifically the amount of time spent tracking compensation through the zone warehouses.

“It's a black hole that no one seems to be able to get their hands around,” says Dennis McDonald. “Our cost of sales have gone up so much over the past few years, and zone warehouses are one of the things that have driven them up. I spend so much time going over our commission statements to see what we are and aren't getting paid for.”



Tom Fisher has always enjoyed calling on end users. It probably started when he was driving a 30-foot Winnebago outfitted as a demo room on wheels for ITT Blackburn back in the early 1980s. The Winnebago was loaded with Blackburn lugs, splices and grounding products. Fisher, or “Fish” as his many industry friends call him, would visit job sites, industrial facilities, trade shows and counter days throughout the western United States to sell the company's products.

Today, as the principal of Fishco and Associates, St. Louis, the eight-person independent rep agency he founded in 1998, Fisher still enjoys calling on end users in eastern Missouri, the St. Louis metropolitan area and throughout western and southern Illinois.

Fisher and his outside sales team currently spend about 30 percent of their time calling on end users, and the remainder of time with electrical distributors. His goal is to boost the selling time he and the salespeople spend with end users to 40 to 45 percent.

The St. Louis market is feeling the impact of the economic recession, and Fisher is concerned about the factories that have moved out of the area. But with its diverse industrial and commercial base and some big-dollar construction projects underway and on the drawing board, the St. Louis market is still more vibrant than many cities. Major construction has been underway at the St. Louis airport for some time, and the city's light-rail system is undergoing significant expansion.

Bids will go out this summer for a new $300 million-plus stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals. Eventually, Ballpark Village, a commercial and housing development will be built adjacent to the stadium.

The atmosphere in the Fishco office reflects the family neighborhood in which it's located. “The Hill” in St. Louis is a predominantly Italian neighborhood of tidy homes, bustling shops and restaurants. Fishco is a tight-knit group of industry veterans who enjoy working together. The Fishco team of five outside salespeople and two inside salespeople has a combined total of over 80 years of industry sales experience working at St. Louis area reps, distributors and reps.

In just five years, Fisher has assembled a package of blue-chip lines that would make any rep proud. When he launched the business in 1998, his first two lines were O-Z Gedney and Senator Wire and Cable. Since that time, he has taken on Ideal Industries, Pass and Seymour/Legrand, Picoma, McGill, Liquidtite, Littelfuse, Indalex, Tork, Galvan and Appleton.

Despite the fact that the 5-year-old agency is still in its formative years, Fisher is a “lifer” in the electrical business with 21 years of experience working for ITT Blackburn, Thomas and Betts Corp., the Ken Way Co., and Cleaves Bessmer Marrietti (CBM) after its acquisition of Ken Way.

Some of the mentors who have helped him learn the business include Tom Latanision, Thomas and Betts (now with Crescent Electric Supply); Bob Bukowski, Ideal Industries; Tom Frary and Wayne Purvis, EGS Electric; Randy Almon, Senator Wire and Cable; Bob Smith and Mark Barthel, Pass and Seymour/Legrand; Jeff Salt, Littelfuse; and Doug Carlson, C&O Sales.