July of 2012 will mark my 24th year in the envelope industry. In the summer of 1988, I started working for Northeastern Envelope Manufacturing in Braintree, MA. In my previous job as a purchasing and marketing manager, Northeastern was one of my main suppliers and I got to know one of the owners, Jerry Mitchell who offered me an opportunity in sales which I thought would be a better fit for me, not to mention more potentially lucrative.
One of the more depressing aspects of being in purchasing is seeing one of your vendor reps early on a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon and having him tell you, sometimes sheepishly, sometimes not, that he will be heading for the golf course after your meeting. Of course, you, Mr. Purchasing Manager, must remain at your desk until the clock strikes five, if not later. Even though I don’t play golf, I decided that my life would take a turn for the better being one of those guys so I grabbed the envelope sales opportunity and never looked back.
Starting in envelope sales was an eye-opening experience in many ways. My first two weeks were spent on the production floor working with the mechanics, operators and printers. I came to understand not only how hard they work but all of the attention to detail and focus required to make and print an envelope of high-quality. Once I (thankfully) got on the road, one of the most frustrating things I faced was that Northeastern already had many established customers who were printers, forms brokers or just re-sellers of all kinds.
I was finding that more than a few of my cold calls were to companies that we were already selling through brokers. My boss, Mr. Mitchell had a simple unwavering answer to all such situations; we won’t quote them directly. As frustrating as this could be, I understood that it was for the best and ultimately found a lot of other companies out there that we weren’t already selling so it all worked out.
Northeastern Envelope went out of business around ten years ago. Elite Envelope was started shortly thereafter and we employ many of the old Northeastern crew. We also do business with many of its customers; including some of the same brokers. Our policy in this matter is also ironclad: once we get an order from a printer, print broker or distributor of any kind, all business from the end user is protected without question. Occasionally we will have done an order for the end user directly before getting one from the broker. In that case, we will no longer deal directly once the order from the broker is received. Sometimes there are grey areas. But we will always err on the side of protecting the distributor; even if it might mean fewer opportunities for us overall.
A company’s reputation in the market is one of its most valuable assets; and from an ethical standpoint doing good is its own reward, at least that’s how we look at it. Protecting the business received indirectly through a broker or distributor without exception is the right thing to do. Any company that disregards that or tries to fudge it is making a mistake. You might gain an order but you’ll lose your credibility and put future business in jeopardy. Having distributors sell for you can be a great way to boost your business without putting sales reps on the payroll. Treat people well and they will be loyal to you. That’s kind of how it works in business and in life.
Now some of my favorite people in the world are purchasing officers. And, despite what many think, once you own your own company, you rarely can afford to take off early on a Friday afternoon. Funny how life sometimes brings you back to where you were in the most unexpected ways!