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Rick French, Polyconcept North America
By Michele Bell
November/December 2011

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When moving from the free-and-easy capital of the U.S. – California – to the deep South – Raleigh, North Carolina, one has to be, among other things, adaptable. And in the multitude of effusive distributor testimonials that came into SGR for this year’s Supplier Sales Rep of the Year contest, “adaptable” is one of the many complimentary adjectives with which Rick French – field sales manager for Polyconcept North America (PCNA) – was described. But it’s the description of “hero” that’s particularly apt, considering that French once played Prince Charming at Disneyland. Seriously.

Save-the-Day Service

Rick FrenchHaving joined the industry in 1995 as a distributor salesperson and with Leed’s and Polyconcept for the last eight years now, French’s impact on the company and the industry has been notable to say the least. He’s consistently named “Sales Partner of the Year” to some of the industry’s largest distributors and in the past year alone, has had 24% sales growth – putting his annual sales into double-digit millions. But it’s in his dedication, follow-through and commitment to his clients where French really shines.

“Back in 2009 I had the honor of becoming Advantages magazine’s Salesperson of the Year, and I couldn’t do that without the support of supplier partners like Rick,” says Gentry Harrington, account executive with Bluegrass Promotional Marketing (asi/141964). “I’ve had the pleasure of working with him for two years now, and Rick takes the time to learn my clients’ needs and works with me to create virtual and spec samples to generate sales. He also keeps me in tune to not only new product introductions, but to industry trends and issues.”

Harrington points out that early on in their business relationship, he and French sat down to map out a sales strategy. “I increased my personal sales with Leed’s from $80,000 to over $300,000,” Harrington says. “In the meantime, Rick attended every end-user call I’ve asked him to and has been there to dig me out of holes when needed. He always returns an after-hours phone call or e-mail, even on the weekends.” 

A perfect example of French’s dedication happened just recently, Harrington says. “I had a job that went bad with another supplier at 4 p.m. on a Friday, and my customer needed a theme-specific item to be delivered on Saturday – as in the next day Saturday,” he recounts. “In a panic I called Rick, who happened to be on vacation. He made some calls to the factory and identified some products we could get printed and put on the last UPS pick-up that same day. He was able to get 1,500 pieces that worked with my customer’s theme out the door in less than four hours. Rick took the time out of his vacation to pull off a miracle for me – that’s a true partner.”

French has an almost intuitive sense of what his clients need from him. “I had a coworker at my first industry sales job who said, ‘We’re selling tools, Rick. Our products are sold to help other people sell their products,’” French remembers. “Once I made that distinction, I was lucky enough to have the creativity to begin tying products to sales efforts. More training came from some very smart people at PCNA that helped me identify and understand an end-user audience. Always knowing when to be there when clients need me was a bit more intuitive. If I’m able to facilitate change or assist a customer with a problem, I do it.”

Danny Rosin, president of BrandFuel (asi/145025), has seen French’s level of commitment in action. “The guy is solid,” says Rosin. “Sure, he shows us what’s new at Leed’s and bends over backwards. We expect that. But what’s best about Rick is that he shows us how to sell and who to sell to and why these strategies will not only help us make more money, but help our customers and prospects.”

From Prince Charming to the King of Convenience

“Whether you’re a supplier or a distributor, your primary mission should be to make your customer’s job easy and profitable,” French says. “If you do this, you become indispensible. The real trick is understanding that what’s easy for one client, isn’t for another. Once you know this and understand your customers’ high-value needs, you can choose from the menu of resources at your disposal that are the most relevant to your customer. The message here is to make sure you invest in learning what each customer’s individual needs are.”  

French is quick to give credit to his coaches and mentors for the success of his selling strategies. “Here’s what I’ve learned: First, focus precedes success. I plan almost everything I do and it keeps me on track,” he says. “Second, distinguish noise from opportunity. I field 50 calls and well over 200 e-mails a day. If I don’t know which ones require action right away, I won’t accomplish anything. Third, trust your team. I learned some time ago that when a customer requests that I do something for them, they just want it done. It doesn’t matter if the solution comes from me or one of my team members, just that it gets done. This paradigm keeps me moving forward with the sales process.”  

“Since Rick has taken over our account, our business with Leed’s, Bullet Line and Journal books has exploded,” says Doug Vaughn of Lake Pointe Advertising and Awards (asi/247748). “Rick is very quick to respond, and always honest and creative in coming up with solutions for problems or needs that we might have. Our goal at Lake Pointe is to do business with suppliers we can count on and trust, and Rick is on our gold list. If it’s something he sells, he is our ‘go to’ first and always.”

Early on in his career, French concedes, he was a control freak – much to the detriment of his selling ability. “I tried to do everything myself, the result of which was that nothing got done – there was simply too much,” he says. “I learned to trust my teammates and to communicate well and often with them. The other thing to which I attribute success is a lesson from my first mentor, the then CFO of Coca-Cola Enterprises. The lesson was to never accept the status quo – that if I thought there was a better way to do something, I should do it. It’s stuck with me, and it’s paid off big. I’ve failed several times as well using this mentality, but the failures have put me in a position to learn.”

Which he clearly has, says Frank Thompson, president of Planet Logo Inc. (asi/296361). “Rick is one of the most creative, responsive and strategic reps in the industry,” Thompson maintains. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and Rick is one of the best, if not the best.”

Thompson points to French’s proactiveness in doing spec samples and offering suggestions and ideas that are very client-specific. “Rick gets to know the distributor and their clients,” Thompson says. “He doesn’t give broad-based industry examples like most reps, but nails down ideas that are specific to my clients. By going that extra mile and learning about my clients, Rick really gives me an advantage and knows quality products with high perceived value and functionality.”

For French, he stands in awe of the raw opportunity this industry offers in terms of dollars. “There are billions of dollars of market share to be earned,” he says. “What salesperson doesn’t love that?”

Matt Bryant, Logomark

Matt BryantIf there’s one word Matt Bryant’s customers use repeatedly and consistently to describe him, it’s “responsive.” Having been an inside sales rep at Counselor Top 40 supplier Logomark for over four years, Bryant has attracted throngs of distributor fans, as is evidenced by the voluminous amounts of nominations he received for SGR’s Supplier Sales Rep of the Year contest and the fact that his sales have increased nearly 20% from last year. But don’t take our word for it; listen to some of the clients who took the time to sing his praises.

“Matt has worked with me on some special customer projects, and has gone the extra mile by not only sourcing several ideas and suggestions, but making sure that I had the appropriate samples and production proofs available for all my presentations,” says Chris D’Apuzzo of the distributor Graphic Language. “On one particular instance, Matt was scheduled to leave on vacation the next day, but purposely stayed late to ensure that all of my needs were met before he left for the day. In addition, he made sure that I was properly taken care of by his support staff while he was gone. I’m happy to say, I secured the projects and looked like a hero to my customers, mostly due to Matt’s attention to detail.”

So in tune is Bryant with his clients that he’s known for sending at least one e-mail to them every other day just to stay top-of-mind. “Most distributors have a list and preference of suppliers they choose to do business with,” Bryant says. “Your challenge as a supplier rep is to get your organization at the top of the list and win favor with each distributor. One part of doing this is staying in front of your customer. You can easily become out of sight/out of mind if you don’t. And that’s where finding solutions has really helped me stay in front of distributors. I want to achieve a win/win relationship with every customer.”

Beverly Krug with the distributorship Allen Advertising Inc. concurs. “Matt frequently e-mails new ideas, repeat order follow-ups, sends no-charge random and spec samples, makes certain I have ample top-notch sales tools and generally goes out of his way to make me look good to customers,” Krug says. “Even though we’re a very small, one-person office with a specific market niche, federal government agencies, Matt has served me and these very particular clients well ever since I received my certified government vendor GSA contract six years ago. With Matt’s help, my years of doing a service recognition program for the Dept. of Transportation have been very successful. Logomark supplies our 15 Years of Service recognition gift, and I get compliments and thank yous from recipients regularly, which I attribute to Matt’s involvement.”

First Responder

His prodigious multitasking skills are another notable talent of which Bryant’s clients stand in awe. “Matt regularly contacts us with product ideas and is consistent in responding to meet our needs for order placement as well as the extra support with new prototypes, etc., to get the sale,” says Bev Berg with Blue Sky Promotions (asi/141943).

Rich Curry with the distributorship M 7 Business Systems (asi/258368) points out that Bryant seems to thrive under pressure. “He has continuously been a great asset to me in my business, often working under very tight deadlines and difficult circumstances,” Curry says. “He is responsive, creative, dependable and a pleasure to work with.”

And as if all that isn’t impressive enough, Bryant is getting his master’s degree in organizational leadership/leadership development, while simultaneously working at Logomark and raising a toddler with his wife. Multitasker indeed.

“Over the last two years, my role has been to launch, grow and maintain the promotional products division from scratch,” says Shawn Keeler, the promotional manager of ReThink Advertising. “I could not have done it without Logomark’s support, but more specifically, Matt’s expertise in the industry, his constant updates with new product information and closeout sales and lastly, his genuine willingness to do what it takes to make sure we’re on top with our clients. He stops at nothing, and deserves everything.”

Andrew Hughes, IDProductsource

Andrew HughesLike professions that equate length of time at a job with achievement, this industry puts a lot of emphasis on tenure and can be a tad skeptical of rookies and newbies. Well, we invite you to consider Andrew Hughes, sales manager for FL-based IDProductsource (IDPaspinline). With the company – and in the ad specialty industry – for less than a year, he has not only contributed to IDProductsource’s double-digit sales growth; he’s also garnered the respect and loyalty of industry distributors who point to Hughes as a sales rep extraordinaire and a breath of fresh air in our business. Even more so when you factor in that he has a month-old baby girl at home, is a triathlete and competes in Iron Man races.

“I’ve been in the business 14 years and thought I’d seen everything,” says Tom Gordin, of FL-based distributor Tagwear Inc. (asi/341397). “But one of my customers came to me requesting that we embroider a huge hotdog uniform for one of his restaurants with a giant logo on the back. This was an incredibly small order, but Andrew treated it like it was a huge order and these patches looked spectacular. Everybody jumps to attention for the big orders. I was impressed by how Andrew handled a small order that needed some really unique attention. This guy and this company impresses me every time I use them.”

One of the secrets to his success? Hughes is that rare combination of a big picture/little details kind of guy. “I know it sounds elementary, but being diligent and following through on every request and inquiry – big or small – and impeccable record-taking are necessary,” he says. “I also believe success is a reflection of the people you surround yourself with, and I have the honor of being surrounded by a great team of ambitious and ingenious individuals.”

Jasmine Corapci of the distributorship Unique Forms (asi/348436) maintains that having worked with Hughes on a few orders, she’s come to enjoy a level of confidence in his abilities. “I know if an order is in Andrew’s hands, it will be taken care of,” Corapci says. “Unfortunately there are suppliers out there that you have to constantly check up on, ask for details and hand-hold, but when Andrew is in charge of my order, I feel confident that my standards will be met.”

Joyce Bolin of the distributor Allogram Inc. had an issue where a client needed a very specific type of lanyard, and that search brought her to IDPaspinline. “Although he did not have an exact match of all the features I needed, Andrew collected all my details, gathered all the necessary information and had the factory custom-make the lanyard, imprinted exactly to my customer’s specs,” says Bolin. “Andrew sent me samples, kept in touch during the entire process and followed up at the end of the sale. He went above and beyond to see that I was able to fulfill my customer’s needs and provided the exact product my customer wanted. Working with Andrew was profitable and enjoyable, and the product he supplied made me look great to my customer. I hope to get many more custom lanyard inquiries so I can work with Andrew again.”

For Hughes, he believes that above all else honesty and critical thinking – thinking things through and examining all sides before commencing any undertaking – are crucial to succeeding in the industry. “The key lesson I’ve learned is that communication is of cardinal importance, and lack of communication leads to frustration,” he says, offering a solution to that frustration: “Just smile and learn to laugh at yourself. Know your limitations and if you need additional resources, reach out. Don’t get caught committing to something you’re not certain of just to close a deal.”

SGR Supplier Sales Rep of the Year Honorable Mention

  • Chris Piper, Western regional sales rep, ProTowels Etc.
  • Barbara Forde, regional business development manager, BagMakers
  • Megan Erber, Mid-Atlantic sales manager, Jetline

Michele Bell is editor of Supplier Global Resource and senior editor of its sister publication, Counselor magazine.

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