Driven to Succeed
How distributors choose to navigate today’s complicated business landscape can put them either on the road to success or the highway to hell. American Solutions for Business (ASB), Glenwood, Minn., appears to be mapping out profitable routes through vertical market sales.
Currently celebrating the company’s 25th anniversary, President Larry Zavadil recalled ASB’s first few years in business when some in his small group of sales associates were focused on particular industries, including government, health-care and banking. “Everyone quickly learned to call upon their peer specialist to secure a new client, and sharing became part of ASB’s unique culture,” he said. “We learned that we could draw upon our successes with one client to benefit others, and reproduce effective solutions and apply them to other situations.”
As the sales force grew and continued using the strategy, sales increased. Seemingly, ASB’s roots are wrapped around the concept of vertical selling. Now, with more than 520 sales associates across the nation, and nearly $240 million in booked sales in 2005, much of the company’s success is from strategies in vertical market sales.
A little over a year ago, ASB began its contract period with the health-care GPO Novation. “I’ve had 25 years of experience in selling to the health-care market, and working outside of the world of a GPO is frustrating,” said Dallas-based ASB representative Herb Newton. “With our recognition and awarded supplier status, I’ve been able to win business I couldn’t get before and that’s exciting for me and for the company.”
ASB is pleased about the company’s future in health-care, and growth opportunities are emerging at several different levels, including vendors with cutting-edge health-care solutions and distributors looking for national account opportunities. The Novation agreement has also put ASB on the radar of other GPOs.
The strategies of vertical selling work for the financial industry, as well. All financial institutions need a wide range of products and services, everything from traditional forms and commercial printing to promotional products and office supplies. The key is to form relationships not only with purchasing agents, but also with marketing, operations and accounting departments. ASB Marketing Specialist Faith Anderson noted that people within the financial industry strive for strong relationships with their own customers, and therefore, understand the importance of strong associations.
ASB is also finding success in its stock automotive program, where sales reps benefit from solid profit margins, frequent order repeats, quick order entry and a great way to penetrate accounts for additional opportunities. The company’s stock automotive program is a combination of forms and printed products used exclusively in day-to-day operations of new car dealerships. Some of the products can also be used by independent service garages and used-car dealers. Generally, the same people who buy these products for the dealership also buy office supplies, promotional products, direct mail and imprinted wearables.
ASB associate Butch Stone focuses much of his attention on the automotive industry, and was instrumental in developing an automotive catalog featuring approximately 100 items stored in ASB’s warehouse. “ASB has had, and will continue to have, success in this industry because of our dedication to providing the appropriate tools that allow a rep to compete and sell the stock program and then move further into dealerships’ needs by providing custom forms, toners, cartridges and other tech supplies,” he commented.
Anderson explained that it is difficult to be successful in this market without the package goods—stock items unique to the dealership—and many independent distributors are unable or unwilling to finance the inventory of such a program because it means having to buy from one or two available sources and sell items at a much lower profit rate. For many years, this market featured high-volume, multi-part custom forms which are now being replaced by single-sheet, preprinted forms or plain paper.
“We believe we can replace this lost volume by selling items ASB has been successfully selling for many years, including promotional items and wearables. Consequently, new car dealerships become large-volume accounts, purchasing many different products, as opposed to a forms-only account,” said Stone.
Large, nationwide businesses are discovering that they have a viable option to the traditional management programs offered by the majors. In addition to the wide variety of products and services ASB has to offer, customers see benefits resulting from ASB’s concept of employee ownership. Said Wayne Martin, director of strategic operations support, “Once customers realize that our company is employee-owned, they understand that every associate and corporate employee has a vested interest in the success of every account, large or small.”
To help associates pursue national account opportunities, ASB has created its Strategic Operations Support department, which focuses on the entire process of selling a program opportunity, including proposals/RFI’s/RFP’s, presentations, contracts, implementation and reviews. Said Zavadil, “Life’s focus is more about the journey and less about the destination. Making money is great, but helping people succeed along the way is even better.”