Clark and Associates

Just as slow and steady wins the race, hard work and integrity have served Clark and Associates well during its 30-year history. Founded by President Gary Clark and his father in 1985, Clark attributes the company’s longevity to hard work and values. “We run our business by our value principles,” he stresses. “That includes our integrity, hard work and our dedication to our employees and customers. We have a reputation for success and winning.”

Indeed, while other companies are consolidating, Clark and Associates – referred to as “Team Clark” – is prospering with double-digit growth. Clark cites the ability of his company’s inside and outside marketing teams to work together as one of its competitive advantages. “We’ve added an entire inside sales department, which consists of three salespeople and two marketing communications people,” he says. Another competitive advantage is the synergy among the variety of industries that the company serves.

Those include distributors serving the MRO, metalworking, construction, safety and welding industries. “Those are our core businesses – that’s the heart,” Clark says. End user industries the company serves (through distribution) include manufacturing, construction, energy, aerospace, electronics, utilities, petrochemical, maintenance, mining, agriculture, food processing, biomedical, power generation, food processing, transportation, shipbuilding and forestry.

“The common denominator in our business is the distributor,” Clark explains. “Each distributor we have carries at least a subset of our products. Some are more focused on manufacturing, construction or safety products. We have bundles of products that go to these parts distributors, and some of the larger ones carry many or all of the categories. So that gives us unique access to a variety of distributors and end-users.” 

That synergy enables Clark’s salespeople to obtain extra business with practically every sales call. “We can sell more than one thing to the same customer on the same sales call,” Clark points out. “We have that relationship with the key distributor and end-user that we built up over 30 years, so we have unique market knowledge.” That expertise can lead to repeat business from customers. “We bank on that,” Clark adds. “The crux of our business is to build a following of repeat customers, both with distributors and end-users.” 

CRM Software

Clark adds that his company has a technological advantage in the industry. “Our technology is ahead of most of our competitors,” he maintains. The company has been using customer relationship management [CRM] software for 20 years. “Having a CRM is one thing, but getting everyone in the company to comply with it with the same discipline is unique,” Clark maintains.

Clark and Associates’ CRM software originally was off-the-shelf. “It has changed so much that it wouldn’t be recognizable to the average user,” Clark asserts. “We’ve added so many fields because of the nature of our business. We keep track of end-users and distributors by manufacturer, which is tricky. We actually call it a business information system because everything that we do goes through our system. Ultimately, all these things add up to speed-to-market, which is critical today, along with improved responsiveness and staying closer to the customers.”

The latest version of the software has been in use for the past five years. “We’re cloud-deployed on everything we do, which is not as easy as it sounds,” Clark declares. “We did it piece-by-piece over the last two years.” All the company’s sales data, pricing, libraries and videos are accessible by smart phones or tablet or laptop computers that the salespeople use in the field. “So the salespeople don’t have to save every piece of information on their own computer,” Clark points out. “Our marketing department makes sure everything is up-to-date so the salespeople have the most current videos and pricing.” 

Sales Force

As a manufacturer’s representative, Clark and Associates can extend the reach of a manufacturer into the 17 western states it covers, augment a sales force or represent a company’s entire sales effort. Some manufacturers might have a parallel channel such as do-it-yourself for which they need sales assistance.

“We often work in collaboration with a manufacturer’s existing sales force,” Clark says. “Generally, we represent more mature manufacturers who want deeper penetration of our customer base. Often we introduce new products to the market for these manufacturers, which is very important to our sustained growth. We rarely do this for companies who have little or no existing penetration in our markets. That is what we call a pioneering effort and is very expensive. It would have to be something really unique that can go to market very quickly.”

Clark and Associates uses a network of 17 sales specialists stationed throughout its sales territory, which extends from Missouri and Iowa west through Nebraska and Kansas to the remaining western states – from Montana to Washington on the north and New Mexico to California in the Southwest. 

“We have varying degrees of specialty among our salespeople, depending on their tenure and background,” Clark says. Those tenures range from 20 years to six months. “We have a young, aggressive sales force. Our 20-year people started in their 20s. My vice president of sales, Luke Strosser, is 35 years old and been with the company nine years. We have a lot of youth in our group, so our average age is probably 35. We’re adding employees while other companies are retracting.” 

New Training Facility

Clark and Associates trains its employees extensively when they are recruited and throughout their employment. “We keep track of talented people we meet and train them our way,” Clark says. “To me, it’s more important to hire for skills than for knowledge. We can teach new hires the knowledge, but it’s very hard to teach personality, character and selling skills.” 

To provide more space for training and its office staff, the company moved to a new facility in Anaheim, Calif., in January 2015. “It was a lateral move, but our offices and training facility increased significantly in size,” Clark says. “Every year, we are adding three to four employees, so we were running out of space.”

The company frequently takes advantage of its new, 2,000-square-foot training facility. “It is state-of-the-art tech-wise, and we can train up to 40 people at a time,” Clark says. “We train our own people and our distributors and end-users.”

The new training facility is suitable for hand-on demonstrations of equipment as well as explanations of workplace, environmental and safety regulations related to some of the products Clark and Associates represents. Manufacturers’ technical representatives also do presentations at the facility.

Market Strategies

Clark and Associates is adjusting its approach to its markets as they change. “There’s a shift happening slowly but surely from the well-established, regional distributors to national players who are growing through acquisition and expansion,” Clark observes. “That’s one major change, and that will continue.

“Today, 70 percent of our business still goes through independent distributors, but 30 percent goes through national accounts,” he continues. “We’re talking about large national distributors with branches all over the country vs. a regional distributor that has one or five or 10 locations.”

Clark and Associates’ marketing strategy is to work directly with end-users to show them the features and benefits of the products that Clark and Associates represents and to encourage them to specify those products. “We spend over half our time on end-user work in conjunction with our distributor or on our own,” Clark estimates. “It’s a value-added sale that often is documented by the end-user or by the distributor to show cost savings.”

80:20 Rule

Clark and Associates is concentrating on the 20 percent of its customers who account for 80 percent of the company’s business. Its employees also are working hard to shorten the sales cycle – the time from the first sales call until the customer’s first order is received. “The more we can compress the sales cycle, the more successful we’ll be,” Clark emphasizes. 

“We’re looking for repeat customers to build a relationship with so they will buy our products for many years to come,” he stresses. “The hardest part is to get them converted and started buying our products instead of what they are buying or adopt a new product. Once that’s in place, the distributor typically does an excellent job of fulfilling and maintaining that business. But often, end-users will change distribution partners based on contractual arrangements – which is common – or they’ll buy from multiple sources.” Other times, customers may consolidate vendors company-wide for efficiency. “We want to make sure we are on the winning end of that consolidation,” Clark emphasizes.

Despite an economy that Clark says is slack or down in part because of low energy prices and a strong dollar, Clark and Associates’ growth is in the double digits. 

“Our business is growing in a flat market, so I think we’re winning,” Clark declares. “We’re taking market-share from our competitors with almost every manufacturer that we represent. The one that’s most present in the marketplace and has the best story to tell – and can tell it most often – is the one that wins. It’s how we train our people to talk about our products that makes the difference. 

“We’re very protective of our culture. We want people to learn that culture and learn the way that we do business. It’s why we’ve been successful for 30 years.” 

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