Distributor Salesperson of the Year Finalist - Bruce Irvine

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Bruce Irvine
Proforma Irvine Group (asi/300094)

One of the hallmarks of a successful distributor is not only having high sales numbers and big-name clients, but showing how far you’ll go to please customers when something doesn’t quite turn out right. Because, as Proforma’s Bruce Irvine says, “it’s just a matter of when you’re going to make a mistake, not if.”

Irvine, who finished 2016 with around $3.5 million in sales and whose clients include two large quick-service restaurants, recently produced an order of imprinted mugs for a law firm customer. The mugs looked pretty good – just not amazing – and the client said he wasn’t going to pay for them. The supplier, meanwhile, offered to give a small discount – but that was it – even though the company understood the customer’s point.

“I was caught between a rock and hard place. I just ate the order, it was $3,000 at my cost,” Irvine says. “I think the customer knew he was being picky, but appreciated the fact that I took all the stuff back. How you deal with challenges goes a long way in showing customers how the rest of the relationship is going to be.”

With renewed faith in Irvine, the law firm ended up ordering a more expensive item: a long-neck flashlight that twisted. “It increased my business with them because they knew I was in it for the long haul,” he says. “Sometimes you have to take a step back, even when you’re not wrong. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about making sure the client is taken care of. At the end of the day, your reputation is all you really have.”

His integrity and concern for customers has produced great karma for Irvine, whose firm earned a spot on the 2016 Inc 5000 list. With so much going his way, what’s next for Irvine? A 2017 sales goal of a cool $5 million.

“We’ve got some large accounts that are coming on, and we’ve acquired a couple of other distributors that we’ll be landing up in the first two quarters of 2017,” he says. “I’ve been able to bring on new salespeople and CSRs and they’ve done a fantastic job, so we expect 2017 to be a big year with a 40% or 50% increase from 2016.” – Joan Chaykin