Specifying engineers are running lean and mean as a result of the recession. Many firms are operating with fewer people while broadening their areas of expertise as they attempt to find more work.
Manufacturers, faced with the sharp decline in construction activity, are economizing where they can. A number of them are outsourcing more of their sales, training, customer service and marketing efforts.
Manufacturers reps can increase their value both to engineers and to their vendors during times such as these, saysScott Dellon, owner and CEO of Dellon Sales Co. in Roslyn, N.Y. Although dealing with the same downturn as everyone else, Dellon Sales is increasing its training programs and support services for engineers while ratcheting up its sales and marketing efforts for the many lines it represents.
“We try to make life for engineers as easy as we can,” Dellon says. “We give them more training, and we provide more service to them than we did a few years ago. They’re cutting back and they need help. Being more available more often allows them to lean on us.
“These are tough times for manufacturers too. Many of them are trying to reinvent themselves by consolidating product lines and cutting back on their expenditures.”
To meet the growing needs of manufacturers, engineers and their other customers, Dellon Sales also has had to reinvent itself. The company’s efforts to transform itself in a daunting economy have ledpmeto name Dellon Sales its 2010 Manufacturers Rep of the Year.
Young ProfessionalsLess than two years ago, Dellon Sales hosted its first Young Professionals event for engineers and architects. The program represents one way in which the firm has tried to reinvent itself - by reaching out to the industry’s next generation.
“We’re very relationship driven. The more people we know, the better off we are,” says Executive Vice PresidentDavid Dellon, Scott’s 27-year-old son. “We try to bond with all the young engineers. I call them the sergeants. They’re not the captains; they’re the ones doing much of the work.”
Jon Ross, also 27, has taken the lead on Dellon’s Young Professionals events, which he describes as a cocktail party combined with a mini-trade show. Dellon Sales has hosted three events so far, with another one scheduled for July.
The plan is to do two to four Young Professionals events a year, he says. Nine of Dellon Sales’ vendors sponsored the last event in New York City.
“A new generation of architects and engineers is coming in, and we want to team up with these young guys,” Ross explains. “The first few events were extremely successful. At the first one, 45 engineers and 10 architects attended.
“Our vendors provided product education, and we were able to expose the newer people to our company’s culture of high energy and enthusiasm. These events are great for networking and relationship building.”
Ross handles inside and outside sales under specification managerTony Pennello. Other members of Dellon’s spec sales team areBob LaGuardia,Bill Marion,Brittany Stansberry,Brad WalinskyandTim Rose. Stansberry, 29, joined Dellon Sales four years ago from a Texas rep firm and conducts CEU and AIA-accredited training.
Product demonstrations during Young Professionals events constitute just one aspect of the training that Dellon’s salespeople provide to engineers. They conduct lunch-and-learn sessions in engineers’ offices on topics such as LEED requirements and the Buy American Act.
Dellon Sales hasn’t backed off its support of associations for engineers such as ASPE, ASSE and ASHRAE. The agency’s salespeople attend local meetings, which gives them more chances to network and give product demonstrations. Ross recently was elected treasurer of the Long Island chapter of ASPE.
The company also increased the number of courses offered at Dellon University, its onsite training center on Long Island. These include classes that meet AIA and CEU requirements.
Plant tours to visit vendors such as Anvil International, Sioux Chief, Tyler Pipe, Bradford White Water Heaters and American Standard Brands have increased in frequency. Especially popular is the American Standard Design Center in nearby Piscataway, N.J., David Dellon says.
In February, American Standard opened a showroom that is used for training and also features displays that showcase much of the manufacturer’s product line. Working displays highlight the products’ engineering and design while demonstrating the company’s testing methodology, particularly on low-flow and high-efficiency toilets and urinals.
“What we didn’t have time for in past years, we’re doing more of today,” Dellon Marketing ManagerBrent Brakesays. “People have more time for plant tours and the training we offer. In this recession, they are putting in the extra time to learn more.”
Changing MarketsDellon Sales’ 53 employees include 23 outside and 17 inside salespeople. They work in 10 concentrations: commercial, contractor/builder, mechanical sales, HVAC, showroom/hospitality, fire protection, luxury, heating, shelf commodities and cabinets.
“My cabinet division is still doing well as are fire protection and heating,” Scott Dellon says. “Overall, our nonresidential work has been stronger. Health care and publicly funded jobs have increased.
“Anything related to luxury and residential markets has been soft.”
David Dellon adds that fire protection’s strength is based primarily on changes in the International Residential Code that will require fire sprinklers in new home construction in 2011.
“The diversification in market segments that characterizes Dellon Sales has helped our firm negotiate the uncertain economy,” saysKen Shwab, a third-generation owner of a rep firm that merged into Dellon Sales five years ago. “It’s also helped engineers who want to broaden their scope of work; they know they can call on Dellon for help.”
Pennello explains: “In the past year, many engineering firms have had to cross-train their people. Some of their employees may have focused on HVAC or plumbing and now are doing fire protection. They reach out to Dellon to get our expertise.”
Stansberry adds: “When engineers have a job, they will e-mail or call Dellon with requests ranging from helping to lay out a fire protection system to providing a complete high-efficiency plumbing fixture package. They know they can rely on Dellon for immediate answers when facing a deadline. This service has become invaluable, especially as engineering firms have become leaner.”
“On the fixture side, architects and building owners are getting more involved in selection of products. They’re trying to override the engineers to find ways to economize and save money,” he says. “We visit the owners, architects, contractors and engineers to explain the value of our products. We can’t rely solely on engineering calls.
“More and more of our contractors are asking us to visit engineers to go over products they think might work better. Sometimes our brands might be different than those specified, and we try to convey to them why we have a better mousetrap. We make more calls on engineers and contractors to discuss specific applications where our products outperform or add more value than the competition.”
What hasn’t changed about spec sales, David Dellon says, is that it’s still about “delayed gratification.” His firm invests the time and money now in specification efforts and then may have to wait up to three years to see any income come back from those expenditures.
“It’s a little scary because we don’t know what the future will hold,” he says. “But we invest and educate now so we’ll reap the rewards of our investment later. We’re hoping to position ourselves so when the market turns up, we’ll be the beneficiary.”
Fine-TuningDellon Sales has used the downturn as an opportunity to fine-tune its operations and retrain its people. David Dellon, who graduated from Penn State with a degree in supply chain and information systems, is overseeing the upgrade of the firm’s computer system, including DDI’s new Inform software.
Dellon Sales has used DDI for five years to manage the $4 million of inventory in its 46,000-square-foot warehouse as well as handle its accounting, sales tracking and customer resource management. David Dellon attended a DDI user management conference in late May in Washington, D.C.
While some people have left Dellon Sales during the downturn, the company has added talented and energetic people to make its team better, Brake notes. A number of seasoned pros who were looking for work fit into Dellon’s company culture of passionate professionalism.
“We look to hire people who want to win and many of them are former athletes,” Inside Sales ManagerSpencer Bodnersays. “We’re high energy. We never stop moving. We don’t even walk slowly across our office.”
Scott Dellon believes his people differentiate his firm from other rep agencies.
“One thing that makes us better is the personality and intensity of our people, and the mix we have,” he says. “We’ve added bright, young guys who we’ve trained across the industry. We’ve added some seasoned pros too. We’ve got a great blend. They’re the type of people you want to hang out with.”
They also work hard. Office phones are answered five days a week from 5:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays for a sales territory that includes metropolitan New York City, northern New Jersey and, most recently, upstate New York (in effect, the rest of the state outside New York City).
David Dellon says he never turns off his cell phone and answers calls at all hours. He recalls the time when Ross accompanied customers on a cruise sponsored by vendor Elkay. He answered calls and sent job specs during his time at sea. Whenpmecalled Brake after 9 p.m. in her time zone to ask a question, she answered her cell phone immediately.
The high energy and hard work are starting to pay off as the company sees a glimmer of the recovery locally that other parts of the country are starting to experience. Ross is convinced the upturn is just ahead.
“A lot of things that were dead are coming off the shelf - government, schools, colleges and some private jobs too,” he says. “It’s real positive stuff.”
Dellon Sales Company ProfileHistory:Scott Dellon’s great-great-grandfather worked as a plumber in czarist Russia. His great grandfather,George, came to America in 1892 and held N.Y. Master License No. 1. He did a huge amount of plumbing work as the industry exploded in New York City at the turn of the century, but lost everything in the Great Depression. Scott Dellon’s grandfather,Earl, was an oil burner parts wholesaler who later started Dellon Sales in 1949, along with Scott’s father,Gene Dellon, and his twin brother,Stan. Scott Dellon received an MBA in industrial marketing management, joined Dellon Sales in 1977, and became the sole owner in 1988.David Dellonjoined in 2005.
Headquarters:Roslyn, N.Y. Warehouse has 46,000 square feet with 26-foot high ceilings, 4,000 square feet of office space and nine loading docks.
Territory:Metro New York, upstate New York and northern New Jersey.
Market segments served:Plumbing, heating, HVAC, fire protection, mechanical, cabinets and luxury.
Top management: Scott Dellon, owner and CEO;David Dellon, executive vice president;Ken Shwab, vice president;Ron Barba, vice president, cabinet division;Sean O’Connor, contractor relations;Brent Brake, marketing manager;Joseph Knott, heating manager;Brittany Stansberry, showroom, builder/owner and hospitality manager;Bob LaGuardia, mechanical/HVAC sales manager;Bruce Wolk, commodities sales manager;Andrew Meisner, commercial plumbing;Arthur Brendell, warehouse manager;Carl BoednerandSpencer Bodner, inside sales managers.
Lines represented:American Standard Brands, Anaco, Anvil International, Argo, Bemis, Bradford White, Croker, Delany, ECR International, Eemax, Elkay, Husky, InSinkErator, Lawler, McGuire, Mr. Steam, Mueller Industries, Plumberex, Rockford Separators, Roth Industries, Sioux Chief, Sunco, T&S Brass, Tyler Pipe, Wade Drains, Watco, Woodford.
Trade group affiliations:ASPE, ASSE, ASHRAE, PMCA, NKBA, AIM/R, ASA, AIA, MPCA, ASME, MCA, NFPA, Plumbing Foundation of N.Y., Westchester Plumbers Association, IMPW, Master Plumbers Council City of New York, Associated Builders and Owners, National Association of the Remodeling Industry, NY State of Association of Plumbing Heating and Cooling Contractors, Professional Women in Construction, New Jersey State League of Master Plumbers, Sales Representative Association.