14 INDUSTRIAL DISTRIBUTION / March/April 2014 www.inddist.com
Addressing the Problem of Inexperience
BY ALAN SIPE
Istarted my tool career in 1977 as a District Manager (field salesman) for Klein Tools in Pittsburgh and am
proud to say I am still in the hand tool
business, now as President of KNIPEX
Tools in North America. I guess you
could say with 37 years under my
somewhat larger belt, I’ve seen a lot of
changes in our industry: 800 numbers,
Depending our your stomach for change you can look upon these
“newfangled ideas” as good or bad, but I must admit that the
professional hand tool business has been growing pretty steadily
for manufacturers and distributors alike who have accepted these
changes and used them. Yet, there are still manufacturers who
are afraid of these new sales and marketing aids and the newer
channels of distribution.
Recently I was asked by a heavy duty product manufacturer
about selling through Amazon. I told him he already was on
Amazon and just didn’t know it. We got online, went to Amazon,
typed in his product name, and there it was — as big as life. After
that, and a few calls to customers who already thought he was on
Amazon, he is now a stocked vendor at Amazon.
Another manufacturer recently called and asked if I thought
he should look into sending out email blasts to his customers and
prospects. Certainly, I answered yes. With an email list of over
10,000 names and an open rate of almost 40 percent, we would be
hard to find a more focused marketing tool.
With all these changes and advancements, the thing I see at
many distributors that concerns me are the untrained and inexpe-
rienced employees who are being put in positions of responsibility
and the revolving door of position tenure. We have huge distribu-
tor customers who change product managers as often as I change
my socks! One mega distributor has had seven buyer changes in
four years. We have many distributors who bring in a new em-
ployee right out of school, put them in a product management or
marketing position even though they have no idea what a custom-
er looks like, smells like, or what getting an order even tastes
like. They simply look at their computers and make inexperienced
decisions all day. Experience provides you with the ability to see
through and understand trends in our industry. Product or pur-
chasing managers with a strong financial background certainly can
see the short term bottom line impact of their decisions; however,
looking back and reviewing trends and how they can impact the
future becomes cloudier with the less knowledgeable employee.
Yes the sales, profit, co-op, and rebate numbers are great guide-
lines to managing product lines, but EXPERIENCE in the industry,
continuity, and relationships are what make the whole thing work
well. There is not a salesperson out there that hasn’t run in to one,
and probably both, of the following scenarios.
Scenario 1: A manufacturer takes back some inventory he probably shouldn’t have – as a favor – and is promised a promotion in
the next quarter. The buyer changes jobs or leaves the company.
The new buyer knows nothing about the promise and no promotion is ordered. Result: the manufacturer is less likely to trust that
distributor again. The distributor loses and so does the manufacturer.
Scenario 2: A manufacturer shows a new, inexperienced buyer
a new product that is the next best thing since sliced bread. The
inexperienced buyer knows less than nothing about his users and
says he has not had any calls for this product and says no. Result:
a distributor down the street who has a buyer who knows the customers and what they do puts the new product in and has great
success. Now the owner of the first distributor calls the manufacturer, upset that he doesn’t have this product and the relationship
takes a negative hit. Again, the distributor loses and so does the
The funny part of this trend is that the managers of these distributors are the same consumers who complain when they go to
a big box or department store and can’t find anyone who knows
anything about their products or customer’s needs.
Do you have people making important decisions in your business who don’t know their … from first base?
Take the time to on-board these people correctly and thoroughly. Have them spend a month or two in the warehouse, at the sales
counter, in the field making sales calls, and even at manufacturers
training classes. If you take the time to train and indoctrinate your
new employees correctly they will be happier, more productive,
and stay with you longer.
Alan Sipe is President and GM, North America – KNIPEX Tools.