Kevin Sauder’s Belief That Independent Furniture Reps Are An Asset to a Manufacturer
In reading an excellent blog post on Furniture Today by Jim Green, I was reminded of an interview I did with Kevin Sauder, the third generation leader of Sauder Woodworking. He leads a company that is one of the top manufacturers in the furniture industry doing over half a billion dollars in sales annually.
In my interview, Kevin spoke of many topics such as
- How Sauder grew from the humble beginnings to the fifth largest furniture manufacturer in the country
- Life lessons in a family business (albeit a very big family business)
- What he has learned from dealing with the largest retailers in the country like Wal-Mart and Office Depot
- Changes he sees our industry needs to address like the new California CARB compliance, getting younger people involved in the industry, how to make our offerings appealing to the consumer and the Green movement
- What he sees successful businesses doing in the jobless recovery
- His take on sales training and it’s not what you think it might be.
- Internet retailing perspectives
- Some of his greatest successes and challenges
What reminded me of the interview when I saw Jim’s column is Kevin Sauder’s opinion on the use of manufacturer’s reps. He felt the use of independent sales reps was much more beneficial for a company on a number of fronts. Here are the advantages he mentioned for employing independent sales reps:
- The relationships independent reps have with the retailers are generally better than any factory guy would have.
- A good experienced manufacturer’s rep is the eyes and ears on the ground in the customer’s door. They can listen not only when they are presenting the manufacturer’s line but when they are presenting other manufacturer’s lines. (In my own case, there are several placements I have made over the years because of my relationship with another line, that allowed me to present a new line)
- Reps have a reason to be in the retailers store and they know more people
- Reps are a variable cost. If business is down, the factory does not have to pay as much.
- And the biggie that he told me was how reps actually create more sales for Sauder from product that didn’t even exist.
Probably the most interesting thing in the whole interview was Kevin’s take on integrity in business. If all businesses (and government for that matter) had his philosophy on how to manage ethically, our country and our economy would be a much better place.