Vital Connections: Best Multi-Line Reps

 

A multi-line rep connects the dots in the industry’s distribution channel, serving as a mobile extension of the supplier, a knowledgeable pro at trade shows and a savvy resource for promo ideas and product information. This group of energetic road warriors brings hard-won experience and a knowledge of multiple lines that extends suppliers’ brands and gives distributors a helping hand to make them look like heroes in their clients’ eyes. 

PPB annually recognizes reps who go the extra mile in terms of service, accountability and communication. This year’s 2018 Best Multi-Line Reps were selected by an in-house panel from more than 20 nominations. From Upstate New York to the Great Northwest and to all points south and in between, this group of seven logs a collective 200,000-plus miles every year, delivering the account-winning ideas distributors need to close deals. 

They are passionate about what they do, committed to results and prepared for just about anything.

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Alan Rice
Director Of Outside Sales, Northwest Reps

Alan Rice was working as a general contractor before a friend’s coworker introduced him to one of the owners at Northwest Reps. The job sounded like a great opportunity. In the seven years since, Rice has represented supplier companies across five states—Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska—traveling 30,000 miles every year from his base in Seattle to see distributor customers. What he likes best about the job is “working with some pretty great distributor partners and going to work every day and getting to do presentations to and for friends. It’s really hard to beat that side of the job,” he says.

“I don’t see Alan as a rep, but rather as an extension of our team,” says nominator Nikki Simpson, account manager for distributor Black Rhino Marketing. “He is quick to respond, knows our client base and is always able to provide solutions from his wide range of supplier lines. Coupled with a fun and warm personality, Alan is a welcome visitor to our offices, and we always look forward to whatever product he wants to show us or whichever supplier rep he’s hosting in town.” She adds that when she has product questions, he is quick to provide answers, solutions and has often come by twice in a day to drop off a sample. “Although he’s on the supplier side, he understands the needs and quick-responses expected of distributors,” Simpson says. “Alan consistently helps me deliver results for my clients and is a valued and trusted partner.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

Juggling my personal life with my professional life is not novel for a multi-line rep, but finding time to be with the family is a challenge when you have a territory as far flung as mine across the Northwest.

What is the most important issue faced by multi-line reps today?

The consolidation of the industry. On the supplier side, fewer lines offering more product varieties make it harder to find noncompeting lines as a multi-line rep. And with consolidation on the distributor side, we are finding it more and more difficult to connect with the actual salespeople.

What does the future hold for reps and how can they remain relevant?

The challenge will always be how to add value to the industry. Our value is presentations to help with product ideas and with problem resolution. There will always be a need for reps as we are the most cost-effective form of sales. Often, people want to touch a product before they buy 10,000 of them. Being able to get products in customers’ hands faster than UPS is what we do best.

What do you wish more distributors knew about working with reps?

We are paid by suppliers to be a resource for the distributor. Our job is to make it simpler and easier for distributors to sell products. We go to more shows and industry events, and see more solutions [than most people], and we are happy to share that information with our customers.

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Patrick Reinecker
President, Reinecker Marketing Associates, LLC

Patrick Reinecker’s huge and engaging smile makes him easy to read. He’s a guy who loves what he does for a living. With his outgoing personality, sales was a natural career choice for the Houston native. After selling mobile phones in the early ’90s (he sold the classic Motorola 8000 “brick” phone and the Motorola bag phone—both cutting-edge devices at the time), he tried his hand at selling promotional products for his mother’s small distributor company. In his first four months, he had sold one order of matches to a restaurant where he previously worked. It was time for something else. 

He met with multi-line rep Brooks Bradford and was hired to represent his company’s promotional products lines in Colorado, Kansas and Missouri from a new home base in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1997, when Bradford changed lines, Reinecker relocated to Houston and joined multi-line rep group LDK Marketing. “Larry [President Larry Krause] was a tremendous boss as he taught me how to take my energy and focus it a bit differently,” remembers Reinecker. “I consider myself very lucky to have worked with both Brooks and Larry. They both formed a base for me and I will be loyal to them forever for what they did for me.”

Reinecker founded his own multi-line rep company in Houston in 2002, representing lines in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. This year, he celebrates his silver anniversary in the industry. 

It’s not surprising to discover that Reinecker’s clients are thrilled with his quality of service and the promotional ideas he shares. Debbi Chrissinger, president of distributor Taylor MacQuen Advertising, a client and nominator, recalls a recent client meeting where Reinecker was especially impressive. “I had a group of ladies representing a nonprofit who wanted to order hats but had absolutely no idea what they wanted. I talked to them about panels, embroidery vs screen printing, etc. Patrick drove 40 miles to meet with this group, brought samples and calmly explained to them all about hats and embellishment choices. They were very thankful for the knowledge that Patrick provided.” She also recounts a time when he helped with beach towels for another nonprofit group and saved her client money. “He sent several samples that showed imprinting options on the towels and gave us a break in pricing. My clients were impressed, and he made me look like a hero in their eyes.”

Client and nominator Shannon Loredo, president of distributor Business Branders, LLC, has experienced similar service. “Earlier this year, he had his cap factory overnight a sample kit to me at his expense so that I had his hats for my meeting. Because of that, I left his competitor’s caps at my office and gave him the order.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

My toughest challenge is trying to break a distributor’s routine. We bring many lines to the table, so I have to convince them to carry my catalog to an end-user meeting instead of grabbing the same one every time they get a call. We’re all guilty of getting into a comfort level with the lines we show and grab the same catalogs on the way out the door, but all suppliers, even those in the same product category, have different things to offer. Whether the difference is in the product or the service, the challenge is getting them comfortable with the ones I represent.

What is the most important issue faced by multi-line reps today?

I think the most important issue faced by reps today is adjusting to the times. Are we still relevant? How should we do things differently? Who is our ultimate customer—the distributor or the end user? If you are not analyzing the way you work, you ought to be.

What does the future hold for reps and how can they remain relevant?

The future of multi-line reps is still very viable. People will always buy from people, and as old school as that sounds, it gets reiterated to me daily. It might be at a show when a distributor sees a new idea or in a face-to-face meeting when someone says, “I wish you were here yesterday with that product.” I understand that the new generation loves to buy online, but they still make major purchases face to face. And most (maybe not all) of the educated end buyers still buy promotional products through a promotional consultant because the majority of buyers are too busy to sift through websites to find the right product. That is why multi-line reps and distributors are still very relevant. 

What do you wish more distributors knew about working with reps?

I wish more distributors knew about the value we can bring to the table in the variety of products and ideas alone. Not being tied to one line of products opens up our arsenal tenfold. We see trends and hot items before they become mainstream, and we get to hear how products are implemented within promotions. That’s information we can share across the board with our customers. If distributors involved us more in their projects, we could also provide a vast amount of product research from all the suppliers we represent.

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Rick Buckley
President, Incentive Associates

When Rick Buckley came to work at his father’s multi-line rep firm after graduating from Wichita State University in 1984, a gallon of gas cost $1.21 (an expense to consider for a multi-line rep logging thousands of miles a year), product inventory was confirmed with a phone call and orders were mailed to factories using a 20-cent stamp or sent via a newfangled device—the fax machine. 

The industry was quite a bit simpler back then, and even more so when his dad, Jack Buckley, opened the firm in 1962. Rick purchased it 12 years ago and today manages the company from an office in St. Louis, Missouri; he also has an office in Kansas City, Missouri. 

As a second-generation multi-line rep, the promotional products industry is in his blood. “After 34 years, I still love this job,” he says. “I like the creativity and people in the business. I wake up every day wanting to do it.”

Buckley’s job satisfaction carries over into the quality performance he delivers to clients such as Susan Watson, a sales consultant at distributor The Vernon Company. “He is motivational, and you can tell he loves his job,” says Watson, who nominated him for the honor. 

“Rick goes above and beyond the services of a multi-line rep. He is personable, professional and always ready to help on any project,” she says. Watson also appreciates how Buckley helps her meet the needs of her clients by being prompt with quotes, returning voice and email messages quickly and sending samples and spec samples right away. “We requested samples on Monday morning from Rick and had an answer by that afternoon,” she says. He also sent her free samples immediately. “I’m surprised that he has not [been recognized] before. He is very deserving of this honor.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

I believe it is the internet and marketers who buy overseas direct.

What is the most important issue faced by multi-line reps today?

The internet is changing the game because it makes it easy for people to buy direct from the manufacturer or from overseas factories, thus bypassing the traditional supplier/distributor/buyer/end user model.

What does the future hold for reps and how can they remain relevant?

I think we have a future, but it is changing, and we need to adapt to the change.

What do you wish more distributors knew about working with reps?

My distributors know they can come to me for anything and I will answer back that day.

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Dawn Kovar
Multi-Line Rep, West Coast Branded Solutions

With a degree in interior design from San Diego State University,it’s not surprising to expect Dawn Kovar to crave creativity, and she finds it in an unexpected career choice—as a multi-line rep. It wasn’t her first job—she was previously working as an administrative assistant for an engineer when a multi-line rep friend hired her to work in inside sales. “I fell in love with the people and how creative you can be, as well as the fact that every day is so different than the next,” she says. She also likes the independence of managing her own book of business. “We have the flexibility to develop our own strategies for working the territory, representing our lines and growing sales.” With 18 years of industry experience now under her belt, she covers her sales territory in Southern California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada from her home base in Woodland Hills, California. 

Nominator and client Frank Gerberding, national account manager at distributor Apex Advertising, Inc., says Kovar’s level of customer service is exceptional. “Dawn never stops serving her customers. I have called her day and night, and she always gets back to me,” he says. “She is a total professional who goes the extra mile and then some to educate and assist in providing the goods and services that my customers are seeking.” He recalls a problem with an order that had a very time-sensitive deadline. “I contacted Dawn and she resolved the delivery issue, and the order was received on time for the event,” he says. “Without Dawn’s help, the order probably would not have made the on-time delivery, thus causing problems beyond your wildest dreams.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge I have is being the middleman when something goes wrong with an order. Mistakes happen on both sides, but I try to be diplomatic so we can maintain the client relationship far beyond that one order. 

What is the most important issue faced by multi-line reps today?

I’m not sure if this is the most important issue, but we need to remember that our jobs are always uncertain. It is important to make sure we are relevant so our clients continue to support us and our suppliers understand our value.

What does the future hold for reps and how can they remain relevant?

I think predicting the future is impossible. When you think about how much our industry has changed over the years, we’ve seen suppliers switch from factory to multi-line reps and then back again. There are so many benefits of using multi-line reps, but I think carrying a variety of product categories is helpful. I also think the caliber of the suppliers we represent is very important. Both of these add value to the distributor so we can become a part of their research or support team. I have a lot of distributor clients who send me the specs of their project, and I will provide a variety of viable options that fit their needs from several of my factories.

What do you wish more distributors knew about working with reps?

I wish distributors understood more how valuable multi-line reps are as partners. We will do whatever we can to support their sales. I always think it is funny when distributors are shy about telling me who their clients are or what projects they are working on. If I have more insight into their business, I will tailor my presentation to better support their needs.

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Chris Sinatra, CAS
Owner, Sinatra Enterprises

It was Chris Sinatra’s experience working in several Minor League Baseball franchise front offices that won him an interview—and a job offer—with distributor Gardner & Geldmacher in Schaumburg, Illinois, in 1995. He had just relocated to the Chicago area from his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, with no job prospects, but a placement agency thought his background in professional baseball was a good match for the company. He spent three years at G&G learning the industry before moving on to distributor Promac in nearby Elgin, Illinois, as director of sports marketing. There he managed a sales and logistics team that created merchandise programs for eight individual U.S. Olympic Committee sports. In addition, he oversaw on-site event merchandise sales for select sports. 

The knowledge and experience he gained prepared him for his next opportunity with former supplier Atchison Products, where he managed several large distributor accounts. In 2005, he made the leap to entrepreneurship by opening Sinatra Enterprises in Elgin, a multi-line rep firm covering Illinois and Wisconsin for a select number of supplier companies. 

Thirteen years later, he’s confident he made the right decision. “There is a lot of freedom to manage your workload and schedule,” he says of being a multi-line rep. “One must be disciplined to work this way and to get desired results, but I enjoy the balance of pushing myself as I see fit.”

His previous experience as a distributor also has won him a number of fans among his clients. “Chris is incredibly responsive and will always put you in touch with someone at the factory if he’s not available,” says nominator Dawn Ruler, MAS, division sales vice president at distributor Geiger. “He knows his lines very well and will always be honest about his opinion of a product.” Ruler adds that she has taken Sinatra on some end-user visits that resulted in successful presentations. “He is great about showing the product and then guiding the discussion back to me.” 

Another customer and nominator, Renee Granata, program manager at distributor Summit Group, LLC, says, “He keeps his promises and has a can-do attitude.” She also says he’s knowledgeable about her clients and understands their brand guidelines.

Client and nominator Kari Gutstein at distributor American Solutions For Business says Sinatra helped her create a knockout spec sample that won her a nice account and worked with her on some good/better/best apparel options when she was unfamiliar with the product line. “Chris is terrific! He is super responsive, comes up with great ideas and always keeps us in the loop for new product launches and sales.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

I prefer to think about opportunities—sometimes those come from challenges. I have never really thought about my biggest challenge.

What does the future hold for reps and how can they remain relevant?

There are some people who say that reps won’t be needed any longer—that the electronic market (Amazon, etc.) will take over. This is much like in 2000 when people were predicting the demise of paper and pens because the Palm Pilot had been introduced to the public. Journals are still a good-selling category (as are pens), and I am seeing increased sales in both categories. In a similar light, I’d like to think that reps (multi-line or factory) will not go away as there still is a need for personal interaction.  

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Deborah Mann
DMannder in Chief, DMannding Results, Inc.

Deborah Mann has spent the past 26 years in the promotional products industry, including 12 years on the supplier side, almost two years on the distributor side and another two years working for a multi-line rep group. In 2007, she formed the Chicago-based multi-line rep firm DMannding Results, Inc., and today she covers territory including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

A career in the promotional products industry was a surprising turn of events for Mann, who was seeking a marketing/public relations job after graduating from the University of Iowa. “My mom was a friend of George Goldstein, who owned supplier A La Carte,” she says. “He was looking for someone to do marketing for him—catalogs, flyers and the like. I knew very little about desktop publishing (which was a growing field at the time), but I knew more than he did, and it was enough to land me the job!”

An unexpected opportunity got her involved, but it’s the people and variety that have kept her interested and engaged. “I genuinely like our industry and the people who are in it,” she says. “On any given day, I can be in a home office chatting with my client, in a fancy showroom meeting with a large sales team or at a Starbucks running down project ideas with a distributor and his end user. That kind of variety is hard to come by in most jobs, and it makes long days go very quickly.”

Her client and nominator, Aubrey Cocklin, director of sales-major accounts at distributor Consolidus, says, “I have very demanding customers (who doesn’t?) and I recently sent Deborah a long list of wishes from a customer. Within 10 minutes, I had an email back full of suggestions for every wish she had—and I could quickly close the sale. I don’t have the time to get to know each of the lines as I would like, but I know I can count on Deborah to be an extension of myself. She truly personifies what I love so much about this industry. She is a fabulous person, rep and friend.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

Aside from the weather in the Midwest in the dead of winter, it’s the us vs. them mentality. There is so much antagonism built into the supplier-distributor dynamic, and it doesn’t serve anyone. Each thinks the other is making a fortune at their expense. My job puts me in the middle, so I strive to see both sides and pull everyone together. Suppliers need to better understand what distributors really need (it isn’t always something “new” and “cheap”) and distributors need to learn more about what goes into making the goods they sell (the “how hard can it be to do …?” mindset that diminishes what we do every day).

One of the beautiful things about our industry is that people can build their businesses to suit them and be successful. No distributor company operates exactly the same as another. It’s the same thing with suppliers. Yet, there is an expectation and an overgeneralization that “all suppliers should” and “all distributors should.” I embrace the “each” rather than the “all” because my goal is to make sure that everyone involved gets everything they need in every interaction. It’s definitely a challenge, but it isn’t impossible. 

What is the most important issue faced by multi-line reps today?

Everyone wants instant results (including us reps!), and things just don’t happen that way. The lines that work successfully with multi-line reps know this and prepare for it. I can’t grow business overnight. I can’t bring a client to a new line overnight. I can’t overcome past difficulties overnight. We spend so much time talking about the critical need for relationships in this industry but when it comes down to spending the time to truly build those relationships, many simply aren’t in it for the long haul. It makes it challenging to find the right supplier partners. We are the face in the field but not a face in the office, and not every supplier company is comfortable working that way. I am extremely lucky that the lines I represent are strong believers in multi-line reps. I have lines that I have worked with for many years, and I trust them as much as they trust me.

What does the future hold for reps and how can they remain relevant?

I have found that supplier lines turn to multi-line reps for a variety of reasons, and I don’t see those reasons changing. But how we do our jobs—that part has changed—and I think that’s what keeps us relevant. Multi-line reps are business owners and entrepreneurs too, and we are nimble enough to embrace new ways of achieving the goals before us.

What do you wish more distributors knew about working with reps?

I can do so much more for them than waive a set-up charge or move things up the ladder if there happens to be a problem. If they let me know how they like to work, I can work with them better. Do they prefer email or phone calls? Are they concept-driven or project-driven? Do they want to hear from me proactively or wait for them to reach out? The distributor partners who say I help them most are the ones who bring me into the equation early.

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Scott Schaefer
President, SS Enterprises, Inc.

Scott Schaefer got his start with promotional products when the uniform apparel company he represented began selling into the industry. In 1997, he opened his own multi-line rep firm in Canandaigua, New York. It focused on bringing hard goods and apparel from a select number of promotional products suppliers to distributor clients in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania. 

Looking back on his career, Schaefer says it’s the relationships he’s built that have made the biggest impression on him. “What I like most about being a multi-line rep is having developed wonderful friendships with customers and my colleagues over the years,” he says. “I also like the flexibility of managing and running my own business, and helping my customers find unique and creative solutions to their customer’s needs.” 

On the flip side of those relationships, his clients are grateful for the strengths Schaefer has brought to their businesses and end-buyer programs. “He is what all multi-line reps should be,” says client Paul Steinberg, regional vice president at HALO Branded Solutions, one of eight who nominated Schaefer for the honor. “Among a great list of multi-line reps, Scott stands out as one of the very best.” Steinberg says he particularly likes Schaefer’s approach to selling. “Scott doesn’t pollute us with catalog flipping or things that we can discover on our own. He recognizes that we thrive on his ability to teach us what we have not discovered or realized.” 

Nicholas Turano, principal at distributor GetNoticed Promotions, adds, “Scott’s attention to detail and quick responses on several sales over the past year are the reason why I was able to secure substantial business from those customers. From samples to virtuals to pricing, his quick turnaround times are amazing.”

Kim Fravel, brand consultant and co-owner at distributor Cooley Group, Inc., also likes that Schaefer is readily available to help with projects and stops in frequently to present ideas and offer samples. “He also participates in our trade fairs to help us grow our business,” Fravel adds.

What’s your biggest challenge?

My challenge is getting distributors to look at new ideas and emerging industry trends. It’s natural to get in a comfort zone with what we do and sell—we are all guilty of it. And it’s no secret that our industry’s distributor sales force is aging. Attracting recent college graduates and Millennials to our industry has been a challenge. Another challenge is that Millenials are continuing to buy online. 

What is the most important issue faced by multi-line reps today?

Consolidation of the industry on both the supplier and distributor sides is an issue we continue to face. Also, suppliers—large and small—are being purchased by larger companies and/or investment groups.

What does the future hold for reps and how can they remain relevant?

Consolidation is certainly a challenge, but I am fortunate to represent very strong companies, and we can continue to bring more ideas and solutions to our customers in a single meeting. Since time will always mean money, this will become even more important to promotional products distributors going forward.

What do you wish more distributors knew about working with reps?

I would like to make sure they completely understand what our function is. We’re self-employed, commissioned reps and always have their best interests in mind. If the sale doesn’t happen, we make zero. I have noticed that reps’ time spent with distributors is more limited today. Because of that, being able to see a multi-line rep can certainly be more beneficial to the distributor because they can see multiple ideas and solutions in one visit.

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THREE WAYS Distributors Can Boost A Rep’s Value

1. Wondering if you should call the factory or the supplier’s multi-line rep when information is needed? Call both, says Dawn Kovar. Multi-line reps will visit the office, bring new products, work on ideas and meet with end users. On the flip side, factory reps can be a distributor’s go-to for checking stock, order status, production time estimates, etc.

2.  Ask your multi-line rep these insightful questions: 

  • What is working for this market or this audience?
  • How can I present this idea to my client?
  • How does this work (a common question on tech products)?
  • What makes this product or this line better than the competitors?
  • Can you give me a case history?
  • How can your product relate to my customer’s needs or what product can relate to my customer’s needs?
  • How can this product fulfill the problem we are trying to solve, such as attendance, safety and so on?

3.  More detail gets better results. Be prepared to discuss specific client needs and programs, both current and potential. “Distributors are often so protective of their end users that we are shooting in the dark when we are making product or line suggestions,” says Deborah Mann. The more reps know about the end user and what has worked or not worked for them in the past, the more focused reps can be with their assistance and solutions. “We are problem solvers; challenge us,” says Patrick Reinecker.

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Recognizing The Best

Each multi-line rep received a custom, silver-plated lapel pin designed and generously donated by PPAI supplier member Gempire/gwi (UPIC: GEMPIRE). PPB sincerely thanks Gempire President Harvey Mackler, MAS, who has donated the pins for this program since its start in 2011.

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Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

filed under PPB Magazine | Feature | April-2018
Comments (5)
Tina Filipski (1)
April 3, 2018
Peggy, please contact your suppliers for a list of their multi-line reps covering your region. For a calendar of industry trade shows, visit http://www.ppai.org/industry-calendar
Tina Filipski
April 3, 2018
Thank you, Patricia. Phil Sibinski was in our inaugural class of PPB Best Multi-Line Reps in 2011. Here is a list of all previous honorees: http://pubs.ppai.org/ppb-newslink/ppb-best-multi-line-reps-2011-2016/
Keith McKenzie
April 2, 2018
Congratulations Pat, a well deserved recognition.
Peggy Lynch
April 2, 2018
Could I get a list of reps covering Florida as well as any upcoming rep's traveling shows in Jacksonville, FL or nearby?
Patricia LaSpesa
April 2, 2018
The reps you have on list, the ones that I know, are excellent. You left one off your list. Phil Sibinski. Phil is ONE OF THE BEST Multi-Line reps in the industry. The knowledge he has about his lines, the industry and the case histories he shares cannot be surpassed. Phil is an amazing sales person and motivator. The funny thing is when he's giving you his "pitch" you don't feel like you've been pitched. You feel like you've been talking with a friend who has just given you some great ideas. When he leaves our office we can't wait get out there and sell, sell, sell.
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