Musical instrument and pro audio road reps have the world at their fingertips today
One sunny morning in 1987, I drove north on Route 15 from Frederick, Maryland, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I had recently taken on the Mid-Atlantic Region for Ensoniq, an up-and-coming manufacturer of synthesizers and sampling keyboards. My wife and I had pulled up stakes and moved to Frederick at the insistence of the sales manager, who wanted me living near mega-account Washington Music Center. Barreling up the highway, I started yawning uncontrollably due to the bright sun, getting very sleepy behind the wheel. I started to worry if I was cut out for this line of work, so I rolled down the window and began smacking myself to stay awake. A while later I pulled into Wray Music and made my first musical instrument sales call. I adjusted quickly to being on the road, learning the “tricks of the trade” while traveling around the seven-state territory.
Telephone and “old school” methods
While mobile phones existed in the late 1980s, they were bulky and out of reach financially. Like other traveling sales reps, I’d stop on the turnpike or other location containing a bank of pay phones, and with clipboard in hand, started “smiling and dialing.” Over time I found favorite spots to hunker down and make calls, as I needed to hit my daily number of keyboard sales. There was no GPS, so I kept plastic-coated Rand-McNally maps in my car visor. CB radios were all the rage to keep an eye on “Smokey Bear,” as were radar detectors. In Ohio once I had attended a dealer event with other musical instrument manufacturers and was caught later that night speeding towards Pittsburgh with instant-on radar. The state trooper was not impressed with my use of the evasive measures. He made me sit in his car, insisting I provide payment with a credit card. A fellow sales rep named Robert Podolinski flew by, and I heard his voice crackling over channel 19, “breaker, breaker Doug Nestler, is that you sitting in the police car?” We had a good laugh about this years later, but at the time it seemed quite a serious matter.
Leveraging the tech stack
Ensoniq reps had early Hewlett-Packard laptop computers, downloading our shipping, backorder and aging reports using dial-up modems. While email didn’t come along until later, we were early adopters and stayed on top of current technology. Today we have the best of all worlds, with powerful mobile devices, wireless Bluetooth headsets and the ability to provide great service to our customers. Sales reps in the musical instrument and pro audio business have many advantages compared to “back in the day,” and we live in a golden age of communication. And while all of this technology is great, nothing can replace a firm handshake and a warm smile during a personal visit. Thankfully, some things never change.
Ed Rider says
In 1987 I had already been a rep for 14 years. And yes, I spent more time in a phone booth than Superman. I bought my first computer in 1980, and my first cell phone in 1990. These days between email, cell phones, and tablet computers that hold all my literature and price lists, I sometimes think I was more productive before all these marvelous inventions. But when I really think about it, in the “Old Days” it was easier to write business than it is now. That’s because we had more dealers to call on, there was no Internet, and there were no Mass Merchants, both brick & mortar as well as online, that took up about 50% of the market without any benefit to the road rep. In those days when we were assigned a quota, we had 100% of our market in which to make that quota. Today, we have to make 100% of our quota in 50% of our market. It’s no wonder the vast majority of road reps these days have graying hair, if at all. However, I never have to stand in line behind a bunch of reps ahead of me when I call on a dealer.
Keith Mohr says
Love this story and I had the privilege to have you as an Ensoniq rep at both Washington Music Center and Wray’s Music House! You were one of my fav reps!!