Strumming his guitar in front of toe-tapping congregations, Matt Wagner is a modern day miracle man. Under his alter ego, James Warren, the former percussion teacher performed 70 shows throughout the Midwest last year, traveling to bars, churches and festivals to play his new country album, Honest Man. Every summer, he organizes the Holy Cross Country Music Festival in Maple Lake, MN, gathering local talent and arranging song selections in between writing and rehearsing. It’s a passion project that demands creativity, efficiency and people skills – three virtues that have led Wagner to be named SGR’s Supplier Sales Rep of the Year.
“A musician is always working to build a fan base,” Wagner says. “In our industry, we’re always working to build a customer base.”
As the director of sales development at Fields Manufacturing, Wagner handles all the top national accounts including those for the recently acquired American Greenwood. Since joining the St. Cloud, MN-based supplier five years ago as the art and order entry manager, he has rapidly ascended the company ladder and is now responsible for 25% of Fields’ annual revenue – about $5 million in sales.
“Matt is extremely passionate about Fields’ customers and finding solutions for their clients,” says Matt Bertram, president of Fields Manufacturing. “He has impeccable follow up and is extremely thoughtful, creative, quick-thinking and sincere.”
Specializing in “creative problem-solving,” Wagner remains motivated by the unpredictable demands of a customized industry and the adrenaline rush of making people’s wishes come true. “We’re always on our toes,” Wagner says. “Every single order is a custom order, so we get to be very creative from an artistic standpoint. We have to figure out how an order needs to be delivered and packaged, and how we’re going to meet the event date.”
Like Charlie Daniels on the fiddle, Wagner’s breakneck pace of turnaround orders and requests is legendary. “Several times, Matt has gone above and beyond for me to get rush orders done in time, or rush proofs or rush virtuals,” says Julie James of Promos by Julie/HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000). “Samples are sent ASAP right after I order; plus, he’ll keep me posted on specials. He is top-notch and always professional.”
That’s his rhythm, says Sage Joiner, senior account manager at Amplifii (asi/338337). “I not only use him exclusively for the catalog of items he offers, but I push many custom ideas his way because I know he will take care of me in the way of communication and speedy service. Just like many of my customers buy from me and not necessarily from my company, I buy from him.” With experience in each part of the process from production to decoration to marketing to making the sale, Wagner has become an educational resource for distributors, offering knowledge and assistance in helping their business grow.
“Matt has been the epitome of constant support,” says Jonathan Lee, marketing director for Creative Promotional Products (asi/170669) in Skokie, IL. “He’s very proactive in his approach and in sending ideas. But the best thing about Matt is his responsiveness. You can tell this isn’t just a sale for Matt, but that he’s truly building a strong relationship.”
Whether it’s in the music business or the promotional products industry, Wagner says you have to be prepared to face rejection. Not every song will be a hit, and not every pitch will be a sale. “In order to be successful, you have to fail. You’re going to have a hundred bad ideas before you have a good one.”
But there’s another similarity between his two passions: collaboration. Whether he’s on stage with a band or on a conference call with coworkers, Wagner relies upon his peers to get the job done. “Nothing happens through just one person – it takes an entire team. I’m constantly going to our production and art teams and demanding and demanding and demanding things on behalf of my clients. I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I have without the help of everyone in the Fields family.”
John Corrigan is a staff writer for SGR, and its sister publications, Counselor, Advantages & Wearables.