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2007 Independent Rep GEM Awards

March 1, 2007
The 2007 GEM Awards recognize Art Andrews and Rick Johnson of AJB Sales Corp as electrical reps who exemplify the best in the industry, and Bill Devereaux of RB Sales Corp as a Rising Star in the field.

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.

2007 GEM Award

Rick Johnson and Art Andrews
AJB Sales Corp.
Minneapolis, Minn.

When Rick Johnson and Art Andrews joined NEMRA shortly after founding Johnson Andrews Sales in 1984, they came to NEMRA conferences like sponges, soaking up every bit of knowledge about the rep profession. Both had years of experience in the electrical market, but neither had been a rep.

After graduating from St. Olaf College, working for a major manufacturer for several years and earning his MBA at night from St. Thomas College, Rick Johnson decided to start up a rep firm.

Art Andrews was on a similar path. After graduating from the University of Minnesota and working for an electrical distributor and he met Johnson while they were working at the same manufacture. Andrews also earning his MBA at night from St. Thomas College, and saw running a rep firm as an attractive career move. They sometimes talked about how much fun it would be to one day have their own rep firm.

Their plans started came together in 1984 when Johnson was able to secure the Daniel Woodhead line, and they founded Johnson Andrews Sales. Part of the firm's business plan has its roots in a class on entrepreneurship that Andrews attended while working on his MBA. Students had to develop business plans, and while many other students in the class were from Fortune 500 companies and developed business plans for imaginary companies, the business plan that Andrews developed was for a living, breathing company — Johnson Andrews Sales.

The business plan had to take into account the unique geographic and business parameters of the geographic market they cover for their vendors. While 60 percent of the available business is within 30 miles of Minneapolis, their sales territory stretches hundreds of miles from northern Minnesota through South Dakota and North Dakota. Says Andrews, “Vendors for years viewed the Dakotas as incremental sales. Because of that, the factories that had direct factory people would get to the Dakotas three or four times max. “Texas is the same geography in terms of square miles as our territory, but there are 25 million people in Texas and there are 6.3 million people in our market.”

Johnson and Andrews still have their own sales territories because it helps them stay connected to customers and sense any changes in the market. Says Johnson, “Art still covers North Dakota. I still cover South Dakota. It might be unusual that the two principals do most of the travel. Bu we have good business out there and it keeps us in the middle of things so we understand what's going on in the sales cycle.”

Johnson and Andrews are generalists in the sense that they must know all of the firm's product lines well, but they send other AJB Sales salespeople with specific product or application expertise to call on their accounts when the situation demands more in-depth technical knowledge. Andrews says this approach works because of their hiring strategy, and their willingness to invest in what he calls “the best sales force in the marketplace.” “The key is that we have been able to attract and keep people who are better than we are,” he says. “They fill in weaknesses that we have. Some people are threatened to hire people who are better than they are. They are afraid to be challenged.”

Another defining feature of their agency is the close working relationship they have with Gary Brusacoram. Johnson and Andrews merged Johnson Andrews Sales with Brusacoram's agency in 1993, and for the past 14 years they have worked together to build the business. In the early years of the united agency, Brusacoram mentored Andrews and Johnson and urged them to get involved with NEMRA. He impressed upon them the importance of networking with fellow reps and with talking directly to the senior executives at their principals when they had serious concerns about a product line.

2007 GEM Rising Star

Bill Devereaux
RB Sales Corp., Marion, Iowa

The numbers jump off the page at you: Six straight years where annual growth topped 30 percent and 415 percent sales growth over the past seven years. But the story behind the astronomical sales figures at RB Sales Corp., Marion, Iowa, is where things really get interesting. It's a tale of a successful succession plan, innovative marketing strategies and a company that devotes itself to the service and product knowledge requirements of its customers in Iowa and Nebraska.

Bill Devereaux says RB Sales' story is also about a bunch of people who really enjoy working together as they create customer demand and sales for their vendors in a vast market area that takes five hours to drive north to south, and 17 hours to drive from the Iowa-Illinois border along the Mississippi River, west to the Colorado state line. He attributes much of the company's success to the blue-collar background and related work ethic of RB Sales employees. “About 70 percent of the employees come from a blue-collar background and are first-generation college graduates,” says Devereaux. He jokes that the motivation driving RB Sales employees to close sales is similar to that of a hungry hunter. “We like to say, ‘If we don't kill it and drag it home, we aren't going to eat.’”

Devereaux started learning the electrical business early on. His father is an electrical contractor, and Bill spent time helping his dad on jobs. The years Devereaux spent in sales for electrical distributors gave him a perspective on the financial end of the supply business. He uses this background to help distributors analyze the profitability of the product lines RB Sales sells them. Says Devereaux, “We ask distributors, ‘What is the gross margin return on investment (GMROI) on our product lines? If it isn't better than last year, how can we improve it?’”

Another big part of Devereaux's background is the succession plan that Bob Benton, his father-in-law, developed. “Bob brought me in as a salesman, and then general manager before I became the principal,” he says. “That was critical because you first have to understand the customer base. Then you have to understand the manufacturers. The whole other side to the rep business is the financial side, which is just as important. The succession plan allowed me to grow and mature as an individual and to get to know my sales force, manufacturers and customers base.”

He has been principal for the past two years, but says, “Much of the credit really goes to our team. I'd like to think I give direction and focus to our efforts, and then I give the team room to do their job as each person sees best. The average age of our staff is 36 years old, and the average industry experience is 14 years. It has been a successful formula.”

Devereaux is also a believer in the Certified Professional Manufacturers Representative (CPMR) program because it challenged him to look at the business analytically. He plans to have one RB Sales employee working toward his or her CPMR each year for the next 10 years.

Devereaux invests in CPMR training, Certified Sales Professional (CSP) training and other employee education because he knows it will pay dividends down the road for his company and the vendors it represents. He has also invested in marketing in a big way to position RB Sales as thoroughly professional provider of product knowledge and support for customers in Iowa and Nebraska. For instance, the company's training facility at its headquarters is top-shelf in every way — from the training tools and audio-visual equipment used to conduct classes, to the china and flatware they use to serve customers meals between sessions. Another key element of the company's training and marketing strategy is its mobile showroom. The 32-foot mobile showroom can be customized call-by-call with 65 interchangeable display boards loaded with products from the vendors the agency represents. More than 20,000 end users, buying influences and distributors visited the mobile showroom during the past year at trade shows, counter days, job sites and technical schools.

Devereaux says the mobile showroom, customer training and related marketing, sales and educational efforts are intended to increase the company's influence with end users. “One of Bob Benton's favorite phrases has never been more true than today,” he says. “He who controls the end user controls the market.”

Past Winners

Past GEM Award Winners

1989: Allen Rudolph, Rudolph & Co., Boston; 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

1994: Jim Edwards, Jim Edwards Co., Houston

1995: Jerry Haines, Haines Sales Corp., East Syracuse, N.Y.

1996: Gene Biben, Joseph E. Biben Sales Co., Philadelphia

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 and Kevin O'Neil, C&O Electrical Sales, Overland Park, Kan.

2003: Dennis McDonald, McDonald Associates, Arlington Heights, Ill.

2004: Robert Benton, RB Sales Corp., Marion, Iowa

2005: Kurt and Todd Nelson, Nelson Associates, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

2006: Charles Todaro, General Power and Control Corp., Jefferson, La.

Past GEM Rising Star Winners

1989: John Roth Mooney Jr., Roth-Mooney Electrical Agency Inc., Indianapolis

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 and Kurt Nelson, Nelson & Associates, Sante Fe Springs, Calif.

1997: John Greenwald, Intelligent Control Devices, Denver

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: Tom Fisher, Fishco & Associates, St. Louis

2004: Richard Whitecraft, Keyline Sales, Albuquerque, N.M.

2005: Jamey Yore, Electrical Marketing Services, Altamonte Springs, Fla.

2006: Barry Oliver, Electrolink Sales, Albuquerque, N.M.