Employee Empowerment

Categories: Distribution, Member Profiles

By Graeme Golucki | September 6, 2018 << Back to Articles Employee Empowerment

For nearly three decades, Augie Delgado has handled sales for R & D Supply, Inc. Delgado currently serves as sales manager for the Auburn, WA-based distributor, which has been delivering cleaning and facility maintenance supplies to the Pacific Northwest since 1991.

“R & D Supply recruited me to join its sales team about a year after it had begun doing business,” Delgado says. “The company started out focusing on distributing trash can liners. Looking to expand, its owner brought in me and two other veteran sales people from the jansan industry. Combined, we had more than three decades of experience and an already established client base in the Seattle, WA, area.”

While R & D Supply’s initial liner offerings might have brought early returns to the company, they only served as a jumping off point for bigger things. “We started out aggressively pushing our liners to get our foot in the door and set up sales meetings,” Delgado says. “Back then, there were no online sales or big box retailers. I had absolutely zero fear of knocking on doors and cold calling. A distributor’s success or failure came down to who could work the street the best. That’s how the company was built in the early years, three salesmen who just went out and did what they still do best—sell!” 

Building a Base

Those early years saw Delgado and his fellow salesmen aggressively building up not just R & D Supply’s customer base, but its product portfolio as well. “The owner at the time really leaned heavily on our sales team’s experience,” he says. “He was not afraid to consult the sales people on what products we were familiar with selling, and the company was eager to bring those products to market, especially the supplies no one else in the area was offering.”

Quick Decisions

According to Delgado, the key to R & D Supply’s success was the hands-off approach of its owner. “To this day, I really believe the reason we’ve done so well is our owner’s trust in his employees,” Delgado says. “He always let his employees make decisions that best suited the distributorship. So you didn’t have an out-of-town owner making decisions on how to go to market in a local area. He recognized that we knew our customers, industry, and competition. To me and the rest of the employees, the only thing that mattered was working hard to ensure the company was successful.”

The sense of empowerment bestowed on Delgado and his fellow salesmen allowed them the freedom and opportunity to be nimble when it came to servicing their clients. “Knowing the competition and the niche we were going after enabled us to make quick decisions on products and pricing that would take our competitor days to decide on,” he says. “We did what we thought was right, often times going out on a limb to make our customers happy. We were never the biggest distributor in the area, and sometimes not even the cheapest, but we provided immense value to our customers. That let us make a tremendous name for ourselves throughout the region.”

Now the sales manager, Delgado has instilled that feeling of ownership onto his own sales staff. “I always tell my team, ‘Your territory is your own personal business,’” he says. “‘You are the face of the company, your customers buy from you, not R & D Supply. The company is just a tool to provide your clients with what they need. Conduct your business like you’re the one in charge and personally own every issue. Put value and service ahead of everything else, and your customers won’t even ask about price; they’ll stick with you through thick and thin.’” 

In With the New

R & D Supply joined ISSA in 1998, and according to Delgado, the membership has been more than fruitful for his company. “I’m truly passionate about being active in the cleaning industry,” he says. “I strongly believe that as a distributor I have a duty to my clients to attend the ISSA Show every year. The first words out of my mouth when I step on that show floor are ‘What’s new?’ I need it all—new training, the latest products. I have to keep up on the latest trends. Look, if I show up for a sales meeting with one of my customers, and I have the same old bucket and wringer I’ve been selling for 20 years, I’d be wasting both of our time. The ISSA Show is a fountain of information for me to absorb; it enables me to stay current and engaged. My customers know that they can rely on my team to bring them the best the industry has to offer based on what we see at the show.”

Delgado is as passionate about the association as he is about the annual trade show. “To me, ISSA is critical to not just the growth of my company, but the industry as a whole,” he says. “ISSA is an endless stream of knowledge with its seminar offerings, website, and other educational opportunities. The association really works to keep us all viable.”

Online is Fine

While some distributors have faced consolidation and closure due to market disruption by online retailers, Delgado and his team have more than weathered the storm by continuing to place value and service above all else. “The millennials are a new type of buyer, always online on their phones and computers, even at work,” he says. “Online purchasing might seem like an unbeatable monster, but because of it, people are buying more products than ever before. And at some point, there will be the need for some sort of person-to-person interaction. Maybe our customer will have a question on how to use a product or need a recommendation. That right there turns into a cold call we didn’t even have to pick up the phone to make. The customer reaches out to us now because of the internet and because of our experience and service, and we’re able to offer them a value the big box retailers can’t even begin to provide.”

Know Your Niche

Delgado believes that high-level service will continue to deliver dividends to R & D Supply. “We know we’re never going to be a giant distributor like some of those online behemoths, and we’re ok with that,” says Delgado. “We have our niche. In the grand scheme of things, we’re small but we service the heck out of our customers and have great retention. I tell my team, we are partners with our customers; we need to bring them state-of-the-art products and exceptional service. We don’t want to be everything to everybody, we just want to be the best at what we do and make our niche the best possible niche.”

About the Author.

Graeme Golucki is ISSA's digital strategy editor and can be reached at [email protected]; phone, 800-225-4772 (North America) and 847-982-0800.