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.
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.
KURT AND TODD NELSON
NELSON & ASSOCIATES
SANTA FE SPRINGS, CALIF.
Words like “integrity” and “professionalism” pepper countless mission statements. But these words take on a whole new level of meaning when other people use them to define your business.
When discussing candidates for the 2005 GEM Award, electrical industry executives often used these words to describe Kurt and Todd Nelson of Nelson & Associates. “They run a honest business,” said one. “Lots of people say they do. But it's a way of life with the Nelsons.”
Guided by their faith, the Nelson brothers take the business of integrity very seriously. This culture has been a key component of their success and helped them navigate through hard times.
“We took great joy in having our company be a place where our employees felt safe during post 9/11,” said Kurt Nelson, the company's president. “We did not lay anybody off. Our associates are our greatest asset. We did have a temporary wage cut, but we put a plan in place where our team could recoup the loss.”
The Nelson's business philosophy has produced some solid financial results. Since purchasing the firm from their father, Lee, in 1992, revenues have tripled and the company has grown to 70 employees, with 22 field salespeople and 25 inside salespeople. The Nelsons have also expanded into the electronics and datacom markets to supplement the company's historical base in electrical products and lighting.
Kurt and Todd have worked in the family business since they were teenagers. They became recognized on the electrical industry's national stage in the 1990s when they started to win manufacturers' rep awards, sit on rep and distributor advisory councils and earn other industry honors. The Nelsons also won the 1995 GEM Rising Star award; they are the only reps to ever win both the GEM Rising Star and GEM awards. In 2004, they received representative-of-the-year awards from Panduit, PW Eagle, Edwards, Alcan and Stonco.
They say the business has changed over the years. Todd Nelson, vice president of operation and finance, is amazed at the speed of business today. “We used to get orders through the mail,” he says. “Then we evolved to the telex. Now we don't even see some of our orders. They go direct to the manufacturer through VMI and EDI.”
Kurt Nelson notices the difference in the value people place on business relationships. “When I first started in the business, everything was based on relationship only. Now customers are seeking more value. They want a return on investment. Relationships are still important, but value is more important today. The relationship gets you in the door, but in our global economy, our customers need solutions to their business problems.”
He says a major milestone for the firm was taking on the Panduit line in 1994 because it helped them get into the electronic and data markets. It also reinforced the importance of making end-user calls. Today, Nelson and Associates has six salespeople who focus solely on OEM accounts and one salesperson who only calls on electrical contractors. Other salespeople call on both distributors and end users.
The sales staff utilizes the training facilities and demonstration rooms at the company's 120,000-square-foot headquarters.
The Nelson's also learn from other reps through their participation in NEMRA activities and as members of the Market System Solutions (MSS) networking group, where reps share best practices. They are also involved with the Electronics Reps Association (ERA), Chicago.
What's next for the Nelsons? While many reps are expanding into new geographies, Todd Nelson says the company will continue to focus its efforts on its four core market segments. Although both brothers would like to think of themselves as “young guns,” they recognize the reality that they are in the “middle group” and are already focusing their efforts into developing the next generation of leaders at Nelson.
2005 GEM RISING STAR
JAMES “JAMEY” YORE
ELECTRICAL MARKETING SERVICES INC.
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, FLA.
When Jamey Yore received the GEM Rising Star Award at the 2005 NEMRA Annual Conference, it marked the first time that a father and son had won GEM Awards. Jamey's father, Joe Yore, won the GEM Award in 2001.
Stellar performance as an independent manufacturers' rep may be in the Yore family's genes, but it was never a given that Jamey would follow his father into the electrical market. When Yore reflects on his evolving role at the 18-year-old Electrical Marketing Services Inc., he says it reminds him of Bill Murray in the comedy, “What About Bob?”
Like Murray, it's been “baby steps” for Yore over the past 10 years as he has learned different aspects of his family's rep business, based in Altamonte Springs, Fla. His father didn't have a succession plan down on paper when Jamey joined the firm in 1995 after graduating from Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture and several years of experience managing a True Value hardware store in Columbus, Ohio.
“My dad and I just broke things up into smaller pieces,” he says. “It wasn't like, ‘You are my succession plan.’ It was, ‘Try it. If you don't like it, I understand.’”
Jamey Yore liked it. His experience working at the family-owned hardware store gave him insight into the challenges of working for a family business. It helped him realize if he came to work for his father, as a son of the boss he would have to earn the respect and trust of the other employees.
After a basic training program for his first six months, he took on an outside sales territory for three years. Yore says working as a field salesperson provided an easier transition into the business than would an inside sales position. The industrial specification mix of the company's product lines requires its inside salespeople to have more in-depth product knowledge and long-term working relationships with customers.
After his first tour of duty as an outside salesperson, Yore was ready for an inside sales position. He also took on some operational responsibilities and worked in the company's IT department. Recently, he moved back to field sales and works in the company's central Florida territory.
Electrical Marketing Services is changing in other ways. Jamey and his father are negotiating with their vendors to expand into Puerto Rico. The younger Yore says the company has several bilingual employees in inside roles who will be integral to the expansion efforts.
Although Electrical Marketing Services is moving into commercial market segments because of the complementary nature of some of its product lines, industrial business is still its primary focus. “Our world is getting bigger, but the foundation is still industrial specifiable products,” says Yore.
Yore says customer training is also part of this foundation, and that the company's instructors have taught 700 students since 1993 in its training facility.
Jamey Yore also learns from other industry partners through his posts on NEMRA's board of directors; with the Your Emerging Talent (YET) group that's part of the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), St. Louis; and through the Market System Solutions (MSS) networking group. He says an experience at a YET seminar reinforced the value of getting to know other reps, distributors and manufacturers.
“I had this picture in my mind of what the electrical channel looked like,” he says. “I visualized a triangle with a manufacturer at top, the distributor in one corner, and the customer in the other corner. I always pictured the reps in the middle as conduit of information for these groups. At the YET meeting, they said, ‘There's a manufacturer, customer and distributor.’ I asked them where I fit in as a rep. They drew a small little corner in the corner of the manufacturer. They didn't think I had any contact with an end user.”
Yore says that experience showed him how important it is to educate distributors and manufacturers on the rep's role. With their penchant for training, EW's editors believe Jamey; his father, Joe; and the rest of the team at Electrical Marketing Services will be being doing a lot of teaching in the years to come.