TS: As part of my “10 minutes with…” series, I wanted to get the industry perspective from the side of a Manufacturers Rep. But when I thought of you, I realized that you have held just about every type of fastener position in the industry. We met in 1986 when you were the National Sales Manager for Precision Socket. I represented you again when you owned New England Bolt. Give me a rundown of your fastener career path.
RR: My first job out of Northeastern University 1971 was with Rhode Island Bolt & Screw, running their Tech Fastener division in Needham Heights, MA. Four years later, I joined Precision Socket Screw, Inc. as National Sales Manager. A decade later Gene Hendrickson and I formed a rep agency, Hendrickson & Rudolph Associates, representing fastener manufactures (including Precision Socket) in the six New England States. The owner of a Boston area industrial distributorship and I had the opportunity to purchase the oldest, continuing in operation hot forged bolt manufacturer in the area, New England Bolt Co., in Everett, MA, which we did. Unfortunately, the bank that held our mortgage was a victim of the National savings and loan debacle, as we, in turn, also became victims. Bad timing!
John Phalen and I then formed a rep agency Phalen & Rudolph Associates, covering the New England fastener and industrial distribution industry. In the mid 90’s I accepted a position as President of Wurth Eastern Fastener, Berlin, CT (now Wurth Revcar). I joined Lehigh-Armstrong Inc., North Billerica, MA, as Director of Sales, in October 2004. In June 2013, I formed Rick Rudolph Associates, LLC. I did so, as one of the very few reps that made face to face sales calls on a regular basis, retired. I am proud to say that I have remained friends with all of my former associates
TS: So, how many years have you been in the fastener industry?
In two months, it will be 48 years
TS: You were actually a rep, then left the rep business, then came back again and are having another successful run. You have had reps work for you. Talk about the rep business. What changes have you seen? What misconceptions do you think people have about reps?
I actually have left the rep business twice. I have often reflected on what if I had never left it. I try not to dwell on “what ifs”. Regrets, I have had a few, but, too few….etc. I would never have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful and knowledgeable people. Or, had the opportunities to look at my industry from so many different perspectives. Rick Ferenchick, the former V.P. of Sales (now retired) for Arnold Industries, Canton, MA (now Bossard) calls me the “Swiss Army Knife of the Fastener Industry”. I guess that I am.
There are many manufacturers who have had horrible experiences with reps and will never entertain the idea of having reps again. I believe that those same people may not have done the proper “due diligence” prior to hiring the “bad apples”. I ask prospective principals to contact their existing customers, as to whether we make in-person sales, do follow ups on inquiries and as to whether we offer “lunch and learns”, are involved in regional trade associations, make sure that the customers have up to date literature and make joint sales calls with their salespeople. I have customers ask me, as to why the other reps in the territory are not seen by them regularly. I suggest to them that they should ask that question of their principals.
As a sales manager, I saw poor reps come and go and great reps soar. As a rep, I have always tried to emulate the “best practices” of the great reps. I have been blessed to know many of the great ones and I have tried to follow their direction. The R.L. English Co. and the R.A. Phillips Co. are but a few of these great agencies that mentored me on my journey. The beauty of the rep business is, if the principal is successful, the rep is successful, as well. If the principal is not successful in the territory, the rep should not be expecting a long term relationship with that principal.
There are some principals that have foolishly terminated successful agencies, because they thought the reps were making too much in commissions. Often they find that when they put on a direct salesperson in the territory the direct salesperson does not have the same long term relationships or the same work ethic Reps pay their own expenses, vacations, they do not get expensive benefit packages, etc. And sometimes there are trials and errors finding a direct replacement and in the end they might have ended up having lost profits, not gained them. And sometimes that turnover leaves them with a very negative corporate persona within the industry.
When my eldest son, Morgan, became my business partner in 2014, I told him that the life of a rep did not require a lot of heavy lifting. What it requires is that you just go put your pants on and go out and make sales calls. If you want a raise, sell more. The harder you work, the luckier you will get. Become a student of your industry and territory. To be successful you MUST have a passion for your industry. You can choose to be a bystander, but you will never have the satisfaction of growing a successful, long standing business.
TS: I’d like to hear your thoughts about fastener industry trade shows
RR: Trade shows are an important part of the fastener industry. It gives the rep and principal time to meet with each other and to be kept abreast of new products, policies and visions for the future. It also gives the rep a chance to introduce their customers in attendance to their principals. It also gives opportunities for reps to talk with other reps regarding best practices. The downside is that there is a problem with too many shows changing dates and competing with other full blown shows and tabletop shows.
TS: For a long time fastener veteran you still seem to keep up with most of the current technology available. You’ve seen the evolution from phone calling and mailing to faxing and then email. Today our phones have more power than was probably on the first space shuttle. What technological changes do you find most useful
RR: Yes, I have seen so many technological changes. From pay phones, 30 pound “bag phones”, Telex, TWX, fax machines where the thermographic paper would turn black if left near heat. I feel that most all of the advances in technology have been good. I really like the speed of what is happening in sharing industry news and the ability to receive a request for quote from a customer with an attached print, forward that RFQ to my principal, have the principal quote the customer and get the order confirmed, on my cell phone, while waiting for my sandwich to be made. That use to take 2-3 weeks. Again, everything has a downside. Some people forget that sales is a people to people business. I have customers and principals that I have known for 40+ years. In some cases I had known and called on their fathers, or grandfathers. Some of these people still send me faxes?
TS: And with all you have been through, you went ahead and dragged your son into the business???
RR: Yes, Morgan, is my business partner. Morgan was a Master Sea Captain that captained ferries and charter boats in Boston for six months of the year. He did the same in St. Thomas, V.I., during the cooler months. What in the wide, wide world possessed him to give that up and become a rep? Wife, house and child. After a few months of working with me I made a decision to further his fastener education, by sending him to the Fastener Training Institute to get his Certified Fastener Specialist credentials. It was the best return on investment that I have ever made. Morgan is currently the Vice President of the New England Fastener Distributor’s Association. In the past, I have held that same position, as well as President, Treasurer, Chairperson, many times and many positions since the association was founded. I was also the first inductee in the N.E.F.D.A. Hall of Fame, of which I am extremely proud.
We strongly support and are members of the North Coast Fastener Association, the Metropolitan Fastener Distributors Association, N.E.F.D.A., and the Manufacturer’s Agents National Association. We also are able to support charities such as The Wounded Warrior Project, The Home for Little Wanderers, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the USO, Special Olympics and others.
TS: I’ve known you a long time and know that Rick Rudolph works hard but he plays hard too!! Especially Rugby! Fill us in on your passion for rugby.
RR: I started playing rugby in 1968, for the Boston Rugby Football Club. I have travelled most parts of the World playing rugby. In 1974 I was a founder of the Mystic River Rugby Club, which won the National Div1 Men’s Championships in 2016 and again in 2018. I was the President of the M.R.R.C. eight times and held numerous offices in the club. I retired from actively playing the sport at the tender age of 47, when I fractured two vertebrae in my neck, leaving me paralyzed for a few hours. I figured that it was God’s way of telling me to “knock it off”.