Manufacturer reps share the reality of their more-than-full-time jobs
By Michelle L. Cramer
It’s long hours spent on the road. It’s being on call 24/7. It’s no such thing as set business hours. It’s friendships and comradery. This is a spa manufacturer sales rep: A hodge-podge career where a rep’s professional and personal life are often indistinguishable.
On the Road Again
“Go, go, go, — weekends included,” says Joe Sullivan, vice president of sales and marketing at Dream Maker Spas. Sullivan can spend upwards of 130 days a year traveling and estimates on-the-road travel consists of 50% of his work time, with dealer meetings overlapping with travel time at an estimated 65%, including calls while on the road, video calls and in-person meetings.
“My normal work week is nontraditional in the sense that I don’t work a normal 9-to-5 job Monday through Friday,” says Mike Wright, northeast sales manager for Master Spas, which encompasses 25 markets covered by seven dealers with multiple locations. “I often travel for business on the weekends in addition to the normal weekdays. This equals four or five days each week spent traveling.” He estimates he’s on the road 180 to 200
days a year.
Adam Patrick, regional sales manager for Bullfrog Spas, estimates he travels at least 120 days a year, usually more because of home shows, fairs and events. Patrick covers the Southeast region, with nearly 40 dealers and 50 locations. He tries to spend a week on the road, followed by a week in the office. “A week on the road would be visiting two stores per day and then driving to the next city in the evening,” he says, “answering emails when I get to the hotel late and taking calls throughout the day in-between dealer appointments.”
Once Patrick is in the office, he spends that time tackling administrative duties, attending conference calls, planning trips, strategizing for existing dealer growth and new business, visiting nearby local dealerships and assisting dealers by phone. Then the next week, he’s on the road again.
Alain Henderson, corporate regional sales representative for Arctic Spas, says his busy season for travel is March to November, especially when there are shows and major dealer events to attend, ranging from three to 10 days. Henderson is responsible for 15 dealers spanning Ontario and the U.S. East Coast. “March of this year is an example of a busy month [for me], with 21 days away from the office,” Henderson says. Typically, 70% of his time in a fiscal year is spent traveling. “My role is to be here for owners and sales staff, so there are no restrictions as to my availability for them.”
No Line in the Sand
That is the way of the hot tub manufacturer sales rep: Always available.
“I feel like that is the most important aspect of my job,” Wright says. “I am available to my dealers 24/7. There are many times I have conversations with dealers outside of the normal workday. Our dealers’ busiest times are typically on the weekends, and I need to make sure I am available to the sales staff in case they are with a customer and have a question for me.”
Overall, the consensus is that hot tub dealers don’t really have time for posing questions to reps until the work day is over, requiring night or weekend phone calls. Taking almost all of those calls is part of the job requirements. It’s expected that there is little separation between personal life and professional life, these reps say.
“Dealers frequently have questions, need resolutions or clarification, even a pep talk,” Sullivan says. “They work weekends — we work weekends. Evenings are commonplace for dealers for their planning and thinking while the retail store is closed. So we work evenings.”
There are some circumstances in which the regular manufacturer rep may not be available, but if the lines of communication remain constantly open, then the dealer knows who to fall back on as a secondary contact in those moments.
“I have always told my dealers to never hesitate to call me anytime,” Patrick says. “If I am in a meeting or in the hospital, I probably won’t answer, but they should still call me because, 99% of the time, I can make myself available for them. If I cannot answer, I will text them back and try to assist them that way. More and more, my dealers prefer to text with me versus a phone call anyway.”
Rep = Business Partner
A manufacturer rep should be invested in the success of the dealer’s business.
“Adam is more than a rep — he is a teammate and advisor,” says Sherry Buckman, owner of Pride Pools, Spas & Leisure Products in Savannah, Georgia, and one of Patrick’s dealers. “He has done his research, he knows our market and is always helpful to identify a solution to any problem. He does all of this with a smile while constantly training our sales staff during events.”
Part of being a business partner, Patrick says, is not being afraid to suggest ways to improve or point out new opportunities for a dealer.
“Deal with issues head on,” Patrick says. “Follow up and follow through on what you say you will do. I was told by a peer many years ago that ‘My job is not done when I sell a truckload of spas — that is just the beginning — but my job is to help that dealer all the way through to the sale of the last spa off that truckload.’ I took that statement to heart and with that approach, I am not just another vendor, manufacturer rep or sales person to them. I have become more of a manager or partner.”
Sullivan says a manufacturer rep should be working to get a seat at the decision-making table.
“In many cases, the table is crowded, so once you get there, be participative, constructive, persuasive, resilient and, most importantly, valuable,” Sullivan says. “Be brave enough to share your business building perspectives and ideas.”
Sullivan also says reps should know their place. “We should position ourselves as selling much more than hot tubs,” he says. “We are fortunate to participate and influence dealers’ businesses, their lives, their livelihoods. Sometimes we have to muster the strength as a true solution provider to excuse ourselves from the table and be a valid partner in their success. Offer the truth — even if it’s not an immediate win.”
The Dealers’ Part
The dealer/rep relationship isn’t one-sided, and there are ways dealers can make their working relationships more effective and easier for reps to attend to dealers.
“Communicate as much as possible,” Wright says of the dealer’s part. “We sometimes run into requests or situations [with dealers] that could be avoided, simply because we didn’t know about a particular issue or scenario soon enough.”
Open-mindedness is also paramount, Patrick says. “I would ask that all dealers be open to new ideas and not be afraid to try something that has been proven to be successful in a similar market,” Patrick says. “Ask your rep what they see that is working in other markets and then ask them to help you develop a plan and execute it.”
Many dealers have been in the business for 20 or more years, Henderson says, and some take more time to accept those new ideas. “My preference is to have open communication at all times and getting dealers to embrace my role as being here for them — an extension of their staff who brings ideas and acquired knowledge to the showroom floor,” he says.
Allowing the manufacturer rep to train sales staff, new and old, can take pressure off the dealers too, Henderson adds.
Henderson loves seeing success stories from his dealer partners. “An email from a salesperson about the recent deal they closed using new methods we were able to share with them [is fulfilling],” Henderson says. “Or an owner telling us how many new customers they brought on board at the event they just wrapped up based on the new models and technologies we manufacture. Their success, passion and belief in our products and willingness to grow is why we show up for work every day.”
“Success to me has more than dollar signs,” Sullivan says. “It’s that perfect moment in time when all of the planning, ideas and hard work hooks to the success train. It could be something as simple as an eureka moment with a new salesperson or a resistant prospect.”
Over time, when that trust is well established, manufacturer reps become even more than business partners with dealers. They become friends — and those relationships are what Patrick loves most about his job. “Taking the partner approach and helping them grow is very rewarding,” he says.
Wright agrees. “We are in a fun industry and we sell fun, relaxation and therapy as our job,” he says. “What’s better than that?”
Thoughts From the Dealer
“Reps today are expected to be a friend, teacher and confidant, as well as filling that role of adviser and teammate. Over 35 years in the business, I’ve learned to get your rep to understand how you do business and then how you want him or her to be a part of your business. If those two things are understood, the relationship is solid.”
Owner, Pride Pools, Spas & Leisure Products
Product Rep: Adam Patrick of Bullfrog Spas
“It’s the dealer’s responsibility to ethically and profitably sell as much product as possible and take care of customers over the long haul. If you have a good rep, they will help you achieve your goal. However, if you are not putting in enough effort and resources to sell and service your product effectively, don’t expect your rep to save the day. That is not the rep’s responsibility.”
President, East Coast Spas
Product Rep: Mike Wright, Master Spas