The Distributor–Manufacturer Rep Relationship

A win-win idea for everybody

We all agree that we LOVE our customers.

There is nothing better then partnering with a customer. There’s nothing better than growing with our customers. To introduce them to a new technology, product, or mode change and see that customer accept our ideas, adapt them, resulting in a measured savings in time or money or improved safety is pure satisfaction. To match the right customer with the right technology or product is a whole lot more satisfying than saving them two cents on a welding tip.

Our salespeople are top notch and share these same beliefs, and we enjoy spending time together after hours. They’re knowledgeable and eager to participate in our vendor’s seminars and training programs. Averaging 20 years of industry experience, they know 95 percent of what they need to know about welding and cutting. It’s the five percent of product knowledge that they lack, that knowledge that will help them get down to the brass tacks of selling products representing over 100 different manufacturers lines that we need help with. That’s where our beloved manufacturers representative comes in.

Lincoln’s District Sales Manager Shawn Vincel Receive's the Hubee Equipment Award

President Loren Huber (left) presents Lincoln’s District Sales Manager Shawn Vincel the Hubee Equipment Award.

Our reps provide us with the knowledge that we would never achieve alone. They make us look good. Picture this: Located in north central Iowa and south central Minnesota, our reps come from over 100 miles away. On several occasions, a rep walking through a customer’s plant has mentioned, “We’ve got a better product for that,” or “We can prove a better way.” They provide us with “contact expertise.” Did you know there are over five uses for a flint renewal?

Twenty-two years ago, my dad, Loren Huber, hosted the first Annual Customer Appreciation Day, held on the Friday following Labor Day. At last year’s event, we provided 1,875 pork patties and 1,200 cans of pop, illustrating how much we LOVE our customers. It’s hard to quantify the value of the day. Among the attendees are customers as well as prospects from area schools’ welding and vocational agriculture classes. As an example of our success, since attending an open house 15 years ago, Andy from Lake Mills High School has purchased over $12,000 in equipment alone. Prior to our party, he didn’t know we existed. But I digress…(by using this term in a published article, I’ve accomplished one of my life’s goals. Now all I have left is to see a live tornado and/or a hurricane!)

My dad, our sales manager, Brian Wood, and our purchasing manager, Sam Stoltenberg, were bowled over by the performance of our reps at our last open house. Ninety-degree weather did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of our reps throughout the seven hours spent talking with over 1,000 customers. We decided it was necessary to recognize their amazing performance throughout the year and to showcase their efforts.

By mimicking BOC’s (now Linde’s) President’s Award Ceremony, because we knew that even if we couldn’t duplicate a “Grace Mario” event, our reps, employees and their spouses could truly enjoy themselves. Plus, the event could double as a company picnic.

We chose the Thursday night preceding our open house, after many of the reps had spent the afternoon setting up their booths, because we hoped that 75 percent of them would attend a party held on the “Lady of the Lake” paddle boat. Clear Lake, about 10 miles away, was the perfect location. Attendance was 100%. (Two were late, having missed the boat!)

Beverages supplied by the boat company and pizzas from one of our favorite restaurants, the Other Place Pizza in Clear Lake, were a hit, except we misjudged our employees and our reps. Expecting that we would need one pizza for every three guests, we ordered 20 pizzas. At the end of the evening, with half of the pizzas remaining, we learned that reps in this region are more thirsty than hungry! Securing special room rates, our reps stayed at the same hotel and traveled to and from the party by trolley. (I was more concerned about the trip back to the hotel after the party!)

Awards were given to three “Hubee Newbees,” new reps who had come on board during the past year. A single winner was the “Crowd Favorite,” based on crowd and employee response to the rep’s efforts at the previous open house. Five “Hubee Awards” for percent of increased sales based on margins compared to the previous year were awarded, two for tools, two for consumables, and one for equipment. The last award provided the advantage of an easy-to-measure criteria without providing hard numbers.

To sum it up: The bar bill for 27 thirsty reps: $618.00. Boat rental for two hours: $886.00. The look on a rep’s face receiving a Hubee…priceless!

Pictures were taken by an employee, Sue Wood, as awards were distributed by Loren Huber, and provided in a special frame to each rep as a souvenir. Hint: A malfunctioning flash reminded us of the need to bring a spare camera (or at least we could have invited John Zak of Airweld who owns the biggest camera allowed by law).

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I have to admit it: During the week prior to our open house, I regretted the idea of a “Rep Appreciation Night.” There are only so many hours in a day to prepare for an open house and to still operate a business. Still, the results were more than what we could ever have hoped for. With the awards given out early, there was lots of time for mixing and mingling. Seventy-four degrees, just a wisp of clouds and no wind provided a great backdrop for our employees to get to know our reps better, to share jokes and stories. As one rep said, “In 30 years, I’ve never experienced this type of gratitude or recognition.”

I know we operate our businesses with the philosophy that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Like our open house, the impact of our Rep Appreciation Night is hard to measure. But in my gut, I know we did the right thing. Count on it. We will host our Second Annual Rep Appreciation Night on Thursday, September 4, 2008, at 7:00 P.M.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
81b_huberdoug Meet the Author
Doug Huber is vice president of Huber Supply Company Inc., located in Mason City, Iowa, and on the Web at