Distributor Salesperson of the Year: Mike Welker, Touchstone

This young sales star is always there for his clients - and has the revenue growth to prove it.

The Advantages Distributor Salesperson of the Year and award finalists were determined by a panel of ASI staff using the following criteria: annual sales, year-over-year increase in sales, colleague testimonials, prestige of clients and creativity in recent promotional campaigns. (Scroll to the end to see profiles of all our Salesperson of the Year finalists.)

Mike Welker is never off duty.

He’s plenty busy as the vice president of retail sales at Touchstone, devising comprehensive programs and promotions for a bevy of large clients. Then in the afternoon, he coaches his alma mater’s varsity soccer team at Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati. (They won the conference championship this year, naturally). Then he drives home to help his wife Megan raise their eight-month-old twin boys.

And all throughout the day and night, Welker stays on top of his clients’ needs through phone and email, subscribing to the doctor’s “always on call” mentality that defines the new breed of salesperson.

It’s a juggling act that would impress the Ringling Brothers – all the more awe-inspiring when you consider his annual sales skyrocketed 138% over 2016, now totaling eight figures in revenue. And considering that Welker is just 33, it’s not the promise of a bright future that defines this star – because the present is already as good as it gets for our Distributor Salesperson of the Year. “I’m terrified to fail,” Welker admits. “I always thought success would drive me. Once you achieve it, you realize it’s not just about success. It’s all about the people that depend on me to perform.”

Luckily for them, Welker has made a habit of succeeding since joining Touchstone in 2009, significantly growing his revenue every year. This year was his largest leap yet, but there’s no magic secret. “We’ve built great partnerships, and as our clients have grown, we’ve grown with them,” says the Cincinnati resident.

Welker has certainly made good on the promise that earned him a “Rookie on the Rise” honor from Advantages seven years ago. And yet, even though sales is in his blood – his dad was a sales executive whose advice Welker seeks often – it wasn’t always his destiny. (Neither was shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, his initial childhood ambition.) Welker actually earned a marketing degree from Ohio State University, and dreamed of being a brand manager for a large company like Procter & Gamble.

But in his senior year, he received a compelling offer from Newell Rubbermaid and sold blinds to Home Depot, Lowe’s and JCPenney. Two years later, he was promoted to account manager for Sanford Business-to-Business (asi/84833). But then the pharma ban hit, and Welker had three months to find a new job.

Seeking opportunities on the distributor side, he received offers from other large Cincinnati-area distributors. His ultimate goal was to join Touchstone, the fastest-growing distributor in the industry at the time. But there were no openings. “I knew it was the right place for me,” Welker says. “It was a cool spot with a really big warehouse and it felt like they were cutting edge.”

Refusing to take no for an answer, Welker offered to work for free for three months to prove himself. On day 88, he secured a contract with Chiquita, turning the popular banana brand into a $500,000 drop-ship client with additional sales of $250,000 for its online store. “It was a massive win for Touchstone and allowed me to start my career,” Welker says.

Touchstone President Derek Block says Welker’s growth as an individual, both professionally and personally, has been a joy to watch. “Mike is the real deal,” Block says. “He’s been consistent with the entrepreneurial spirit of our business. He’s a driven person that finds a way to make things happen regardless of what the circumstances are. He invested in himself, recognized his need to grow, and acted on that.”

For Welker, success means getting the job done no matter what. Weekends and holidays aren’t sacred; he works on Thanksgiving because Black Friday is one of the busiest days of the year for a top client. Three years ago when the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets faced off to go to the World Series – with a massive sum of hot market shirts that needed to be ready – Welker spent the majority of his honeymoon on his laptop. Even up to an hour before his twin boys were born, Welker was still reachable to help with the launch of a new brand. “You don’t set up false obstacles, you just have to do it,” he says. “Sales isn’t making a ton of money. It’s building partnerships. We talk on the phone, we Facetime, we get it done together.”

CJ Schmidt, president of Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products (asi/61125) and a Power 50 mainstay, has seen Welker in action, having worked with him since Welker’s start in the industry. “Mike has taken the traditional distributor sales role to the next level,” Schmidt says. “He’s embraced advancements in technology and social media, and has established relationships and accounts accordingly. I love the mentality he manages his business with, in that no project is too challenging for him. We’ve worked on some pretty complicated projects within very tight timeframes, and Mike and his team have been a pleasure to deal with along the way.”

Welker prides himself on the diverse portfolio (a variety of large clients including insurance, women’s fashion, sports media, engineering and more) and long-lasting relationships he’s built. Even when issues arise from time to time, Welker sees those as opportunities to over-deliver for the customer. “The positive experiences you have with customer service, you always remember that,” he says. “When something goes wrong, make it right and make it great.”

Finalists

Sharon Mann
GE Distribution Services (asi/200158)

In 2013, Sharon Mann’s future was uncertain – not just her professional career, but her life. Read more.


Jacques Marais
Creative Marketing Concepts (asi/170631)

Jacques Marais is enthusiastic about his career: “Sometimes I think, ‘I’ve reached a ceiling. It can’t possibly get better than this,’” he says. Read more.


Larry Alford
Axis Promotions (asi/128263)

A 30-year veteran of the promotional products industry, Larry Alford has weathered the winds of change, adapting to technological advancements and shifting sales philosophies. Read more.


Diane Ciepiela
Corporate Imaging Concepts LLC (CIC, asi/168962)

In her previous job as a recruiter, Diane Ciepiela made her living by placing qualified hires in new job positions. Read more.


Kevin Mullaney
Brandito (asi/325944)

As Shockoe Marketing Group’s first hire, Kevin Mullaney was tasked with rebranding the Richmond, VA-based company. Read more.


Tricia Murray
Staples Promotional Products (asi/120601)

Tricia Murray calls herself “a firm believer in having a strategic plan.” Read more.


Aaron Greenberg
Genumark (asi/204588)

This year will mark Aaron Greenberg’s 30th anniversary with Toronto-based Genumark – an impressive career for a self-described “aimless” college student whose father (a doctor for Canadian boxing champions) wanted nothing more than for his son to go to medical school. Read more.


Rose Sarro
Promo Direct (asi/300477)

Rose Sarro worked as a cardio technician for a number of years, but when the recession hit, she was forced to find a new job. Read more.


Steve Flaughers
Proforma 3rd Degree Marketing (asi/300094)

As a delivery boy in college, Steve Flaughers brought gourmet salads to a Proforma franchise owner, who happened to tip quite generously. Read more.