Episode 14: Effective Manufacturer-Rep Relationships
Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host Andy Vawter.
In this episode, I sit down with one of our newest reps. His name is Ethan Schaefer and he’s with Inside Evolutions, our Texas rep firm. Ethan recently moved from Wisconsin where he worked for a major manufacturer there and headed south. So he took a job in Austin, Texas and is now working for an independent rep firm. So he reps MPS as well as several other manufacturers. And he calls on the A&D and dealer community in Austin, Texas. I wanted to sit down with him because Ethan has been quickly wanting to ramp up his knowledge, his understanding of how we work and leveraging the tools and people that we have here to help him be successful. And I thought that might be very helpful to share some of those experiences and some of the things that are working for him with our larger audience, especially those reps that work with us around the country. And I really think that a lot of this information will be really helpful for dealers as well. Just highlighting some of the ways you can work with our company and with our salespeople and how we’d make things as simple and easy as possible. We ended up sitting outside for this one, so it’s a little bit noisy, so hopefully, you can work through that. But the content I believe is going to be really helpful.
We are here in Austin, Texas. It’s about, I don’t know, 90, 93 right now. It’s probably 106. It feels like it’s for sure. So you’re gonna hear some background noise. We’re actually sitting outside kind of in a busy area, but it was just kind of felt right for us to sit down and chat here for a minute. Two guys from Wisconsin, I grew up there. You grew up there or you’ve just recently moved to Texas. So one of our newest reps here through for Inside Evolutions here in Austin, Texas. And so I just thought, let’s sit down and chat a little bit about what it was like.
Cause you used to work for a manufacturer and then you moved down here to work for an independent rep firm. So what is that transition like? And then also, you know, how did you latch onto kind of what we do and how we did, how was the experience like learning about MPS and acoustical products and then, you know, we’ll just kind of see where it goes from there but just kinda want to start off and where’d you grow up? Tell us a little bit about yourself and then we’ll more about what you’re doing here in Austin.
Yeah, Perfect. So I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a huge Packer fan by default. But four years ago I was in college at the Mississippi there in Wisconsin and graduated and was looking for a job. And I got my first job out of college with a furniture manufacturer, spent 4 years there and inside sales. Really kind of opened my eyes to the whole world of furnishings. You know, it’s like I was saying before, it’s crazy how complex interiors it gets, right? So it took me 4 years to really learn it but then I finally had an opportunity to come down here to Austin to be a sales rep for an independent firm and that’s how I got connected with MPS.
So yeah, so that for Inside Evolutions rep represents MPS as well as a few other manufacturers. So you were able to come here and you had learned about acoustics and not just furniture. But pretty quickly, I think we jumped in there with you pretty fast. What were some of the things that made it easy for you?
So what makes like of the same before we even started recording this what I like about MPS is that really emphasizing the simplicity of the entire product, right? Or if the entire line and the entire way we do business. But what, to answer your question, what really made it easy was that, everyone who was teaching me stuff made it very accessible for information. I didn’t have to go on like hunting for any type of info. Jeff Adams, the sales guy in Dallas there, he makes everything extremely easy for me. I have any questions, he’s an expert on it. So just making my life easier by getting information when I need it and being there for me when I need help. It’s just a no brainer.
Sure. Yeah. So do you feel like you’re an acoustics expert at this point?
No, I don’t. But I know that Jeff does which makes me feel even more confident, right? Because it’s easy to have that conversation knowing that you have the backup if you don’t know all the answers and then you don’t have to lie, right? You don’t have to lie to your clients that, oh yeah, I know everything when you really don’t.
Well, we’re trying to teach that to our dealers, our reps, everybody. I mean, Jeff would even say there are acoustical things that he doesn’t understand. He’s always learning as well. (Ethan: Absolutely. I’m just going to say that.) But that ability for you to have a trust to know that like I can have these conversations because the guy that probably has the answer was just a phone call away or an email away. I hope it was pretty helpful.
Oh, for sure. Yeah, absolutely. Everyone’s been super accessible even via text. I think I texted Fred. That was great. I don’t think I could do that with my other manufacturers.
Yeah. And you know, there’s a reason we named ourselves Making Privacy Simple. There was a purpose for that. So you’re down here in Austin, you are calling on the dealers that we have relationships with as well as trying to build new relationships. You’re calling on the architecture and design community. What has been your message both as it relates to MPS but also just, you know, you represent multiple manufacturers so that probably gives you a little bit more ammunition to have these conversations. How have you been? What’s been your approach?
Yeah, so my whole goal to how I sell is providing like easy ability no matter what line it is, right? I want my clients to feel like they can come to me with anything. No, they’ll get an answer right away. And that it’s easy. I want to make people’s life easier. I don’t want my life to be hard. I don’t anyone else life to be hard. So what makes that really easy as MPS is simple, right? Which is what we’re kind of getting at here, right? So like I said before, having that accessibility that Jeff and all those guys, I really pitch that to A&D firms and the dealers knowing that all they need to do is bring the drawing and we can get you a solution very quickly.
So how different is the message between the A&D firms and the dealers or is it the same? Is your message very similar to both audiences?
Yeah, I think it’s probably the exact same message. If you think about it A&D firms and dealers are probably very similar in the aspect that they have clients that they want to take care of and they have to provide things on a timeline very quickly. So that’s how I just approached both of them the same way, right? It’s simple, it’s easy, it makes your life easier. It’s a no brainer.
Excellent. So how has your experience of Texas been or the Texans? I’m open to a guy from Wisconsin coming and talking to them.
I think people make fun of my accent when I say bowlers from long old vowels. But yeah, I like what you’re saying before. Everyone’s super nice down here. Everyone’s very open to seeing new ideas which I think is very helpful. Especially when you’re having conversations about something that people don’t necessarily think of all the time, which is an acoustic solutions, right? So having that ability to just provide something that’s simple and having the open-mindedness really helps a lot. (Andy: And then they just get to make fun interacts with it. Everybody can laugh, right?) Hey, as long as they listen to what I have to say, they can call me anything.
When I first moved to Texas, I worked with a bunch of football coaches that dip tobacco from East Texas, I’m sure it’s just a little different. They all wore cowboy boots. Like, and that was when they were dressing up and it was just very strange to me and you know but they made fun of my accent so much. Like daily they would say, and I would purposely say I wasn’t from Wisconsin. They’d say like, whatever that Minnesota accent is, or the Canadian accent, like North Dakota, they’d pick all these like northern states. But be sure not to say Wisconsin just pissed me off so much. So I went through it quite a bit when I first moved here. (Ethan: Obviously, to say but when I saw you this morning, I didn’t think that you have a Wisconsin accent.) I think I got beat out of me. It really did. I was tortured there for a while. Like if I opened my mouth, I would do if someone was making fun of me. So I think it just kind of morphed away. So I’ll go back to Wisconsin like my family. (Ethan: They think you’re weird now.) I was like I don’t sound like them anymore. It’s just very strange.
But you did tell me that one of the interesting ways that you’ve been able to get appointments with some of these A&D firms down here. It’s a little bit unique because you just moved here geographically you don’t have any connections in this part of the world. So what’s been your kind of go-to tactic to get an appointment at an A&D firm?
Yeah. Honestly, it’s just that I use my Wisconsin blood to an advantage maybe. So I welcome the fact that they may make fun of me as long as I can get in there, right? Cause that’s my entire goal is just to get in the door and then talk about it. So I just call them and say, Hey, I’m brand new from Wisconsin. I try to maybe stress the old sounds. (Andy: Like your accent even, right?) Right. And just say, I’d love to meet you. And so far everyone’s said yes. So maybe I’m incredibly lucky or incredibly charming on the phone. I don’t know.
You mentioned that acoustic solutions are something that has helped get you in the door. If you walk in and say, Hey, I represent a furniture manufacturer. Get in line behind these other a hundred companies.
Sure, absolutely. Absolutely. I think there’s been more of an influx of people who want to see more acoustic solutions. I was just telling you before that I went to update a library at A&D firm. If someone just stopped in there and said, hey, how are you? Can I help you with anything? And I said, I just looking at your library, updating my acoustic solution. And they said, Oh, you have acoustic solutions. What is it? You know, impromptu, very easy, another lead right there.
Absolutely. One of the things that we’re really looking to do is leverage CEU that we have about acoustics and visual privacy and things like that. I know you were at one of the CEUs that we did recently down here in Austin. How do you think that’s going to be able to be leveraged as you get more comfortable and get more connections made around here. What do you think that’s going to? How do you use that?
It’s funny like that from that CEU that you gave that I was at, I already have one scheduled over on that one, so I just scheduled it this week. (Andy: I didn’t even know that so I didn’t do that question up for you.) No, it worked out well. Yeah. But I think what makes the CEU so powerful is that some of us know about acoustic solutions but a large majority of maybe the people we interact with on a day to day basis do not know anything about it. And they could be in the A&D firm for the A&D world. So having that education of just talking about it and really opening up people’s eyes to, hey, there’s more to it to an interior than just furniture and carpet, right. Really provides a lot of benefits. It just gives you a platform.
We’re really starting to focus our message on the thing you just said there, where it’s, you know, the A&D community, as well as the dealer community, are trying to create the right type of space for their clients. We’re trying to maximize the space. And one of the things that help maximize that space is the acoustic environment is the inherent privacy needed and the acoustical productivity that comes from having better acoustics. And so yeah, just training people, educating people like not even we’ll say, not even selling, right. It just you may not have even thought about this but these are some of the things you need to be thinking about as it’. I think it’s really resonated with a lot of A&D firms.
Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think if you take the approach of, you know, you’re genuinely interested in helping your customers as opposed to just selling them a solution. And educating them on new cutting edge stuff, I think that goes a long way with a lot of people.
In the end, this is still a face to face person to person business. So, you know, we do the CEU we do a lot of those in person. We can do them via Webinar. But one of the other things that we do at MPS is we have an end-user presentation. It’s a web presentation where we share our screen and go through, you know, why these solutions matter, we answer questions, we talk specifically about what’s being proposed and you recently did one of those with Jeff. On a project and I wanted you to share with everybody kind of what that was like. So the scenario was we had a dealer with a sound masking opportunity so we did our typical thing, right? We did the design for the sound masking. We turn that around quickly. The dealer and new lined up a presentation so that Jeff was able to share a screen and present. And so you were there with the demo kit in this space so you can physically demo it and you and the dealer were able to kind of be the face of that presentation. Jeff from his office in Dallas was able to present.
So tell us a little bit about how that went down once that’s the setup, right? So you’re all there and Jeff has a presentation. What was the result of that?
Yeah, so like I said before, Jeff is really the expert, right? Which makes it a lot easier cause Jeff can talk about the theory behind acoustic solutions. How it makes your work easier, your environment, easier to work in, fewer distractions, things like that. But what makes the webinars so powerful is that while you’re informing people, Jeff’s also asking the questions that he knows to ask right about how is your environment? And so by doing all these questions that he asked, we actually found out that there are more issues to this one customer that just what we were talking about at the time. And so by the Webinar, we created one project. We turned one project into three projects actually. So it really expanded based on just what we said before, right? Educating the client on what this says how it can help them. And then asking those pointed questions about what would their thoughts and opinions on the solution.
So then the net result there does not only do you likely make that sale at a much higher probability because just the way it was presented and the way their questions were answered and we kind of went to the next level to help them. But then we also uncovered multiple other solutions to problems they had which then makes you as a rep more valuable to the dealer because, you kind of put all this together. It makes the dealer more valuable to the end-user because they brought in a really cool partner that uncovered more problems that they could help them solve. Everybody makes more money and the clients have more problems solved. Like it just makes a whole lot of sense all the way through that. (Ethan: Yeah. And if the whole scenario goes really well, the hope is that your customer recommends you to other customers they have, right.)
That experience was like nobody else we’ve worked with. You really should call them and have actually turned into that. And you know, Jeff’s really good about that. He’s got at the very beginning of his presentation, he has a series of questions where he’s asking them about their environment. Some of the common problems that we see, and it looks so innocent when he does it but he does it with a purpose. The purpose is, sure you, you asked the dealer or the dealer asked us to do a sound masking proposal but if you’re experiencing some of these other problems, we might want to also look at maybe some solutions for them as well. So by just simply asking those questions at the beginning of this presentation here, and he knows, am I just going to hammer home this sound masking solution and just really try and make sure they feel good about that, or do I need to completely uncover some other areas that are causing pain in their organization. And that model, Jeff’s certainly perfected it but I think we want to teach all of our reps first to leverage those presentations with your account managers. And that’s gonna be one way that you can show value to the dealers until your customers are you’ve got this partner that can come on here as you said, is an acoustics expert and make us all look at, right?
And what’s great about the webinars for someone who’s new to this like I was, you know, you’re still learning every day, right? So every time you do a Webinar, it just reinforcing those questions you should be asking and that mindset you should get yourself into. Jeff really kind of helps me be a better rep in a sense. Like we talked about, Jeff is really good at managing a lot of our sales activities. So just daily interactions or Webinar interactions really enforce it home for me, it gives me more confidence.
So you end up getting multiple times, let’s say a week. Every time you’re working on a project, Jeff is interacting with you. And then if you’re able to do a presentation, it’s one more opportunity for the two of you to interact. And also he’s training you because at that point he’s presenting and now you’re hearing answers to questions and ways that things are phrased so you’re picking up that. [17:03] And then also you mentioned that you guys do a biweekly kind of catch up call where you go over your book of business and plan for the future and how does he help you? How do you help him? And so, you were explained to me earlier that was really one of the key things that have helped you, let’s say, ramp up with us so quickly. You got down here, you didn’t really know a whole lot of people but we were accessible and we were wanting to partner with you. So you were quickly able to get up to speed and start having success.
Yeah. Right. Absolutely. So that weekly meeting that we were talking about, it’s just another way to really reinforce the mastery of the subject so you don’t have that confidence the next time you go there or let’s say the Webinar doesn’t work cause there’s a lot of I.T problems, right? Eventually, that’s going to happen sometime. So it just kind of gives you the confidence to know that if something goes wrong or Jeff can’t make it or if I just have an impromptu conversation, I can still be that subject matter expert.
Yeah. Because the goal would be six months a year into this, you’re just as knowledgeable as an extension of us and your dealers are looking to you as an acoustics expert. And so when you start getting perceived that way by a file of your peers and the people you call on. To me, that’s the next level to where you’re taken care of cause someone behind you has got your back. But now all the architects, designers and dealers feel like well someone here in Austin has our back too. That’s an acoustic expert, right? Then hopefully you get some dealers and, and people that have enough experience with us as they start learning the language and learning the messages. That’s the goal and just take some time. But it all starts really where you’re at. And that’s why I wanted to sit down and chat with you for a few minutes was because you’re new, but you’re also new to being a rep. So it’s kind of a year in new geography. You’re new to us and you’re new to your roles. So I really want him to kind of find out from you what are some of the things that have helped you be successful. Because I think you are having success, especially as it relates to us. And so how do we further that? And then how do we share that with others? So that way, maybe someone who’s been doing this for 15 years. Here’s something that you just said and was like, Oh, I’ve never thought of it doing it that way so that’s the point.
So yeah, absolutely. Like I said before, it’s just easy for you guys. Some of my other manufacturers are not the same. Even from my position that came before. There’s a lot of information that isn’t easily accessible but just asking those questions making sure that I know that I have the support just makes it goes a long way. It makes it very easy.
Awesome. Well, we’re gonna leave it at that cause I think you can’t really leave a better message for everybody then. We make it easy and that’s why I do it. So appreciate your time.
Absolutely. Thank you so much.