A Baby Boomer's Guide to Distribution in the '60s

Edition: June 2002 - Vol 10 Number 06
Article#: 1258
Author: Repertoire

The Kennedys were in Camelot, the Space Race had just begun, Vietnam was an unfamiliar name, and the Beatles were an obscure group hammering out rock-and-roll in a Hamburg nightclub.

To celebrate 100 years of the trade association for medical products distributors (first the American Surgical Trade Association, later renamed the Health Industry Distributors Association), the Baby Boomers at Repertoire pored through four years of industry journals, dating from 1960 through 1963. What we found were plenty of photos of gleaming distributor showrooms designed to attract the walk-in crowd, plenty of obits (people died much younger then), plenty of pictures of white men with short-cropped hair, and plenty of advertisements from companies that have either gone out of business or that have been acquired once, twice or more times since the 1960s (e.g., Puritan Compressed Gas, Kendall, Beaver, Davis & Geck, Clay Adams). The differences are fun – and instructive – to note.

But some things haven't changed. For example, many companies that advertised to distributors are still around – Baum, Burdick, Brewer and Blickman, to name a few. And those are just the ''B''s. Value analysis – that is, the concept of selling life-cycle-costing and ROI instead of just price – was alive and well in the 1960s. So was activity-based-costing, as well as tension between distributor sales reps (always referred to as ''salesmen,'' not ''salespeople'') and purchasing agents (the term ''materials manager'' had yet to be born).

The magazines were rich with history and great names from the past, like Frank Rhatigan, Walter Davis, Clarence Munns and many, many more. Following is a taste of some of the treasures we found. Our thanks to Tom Deckert, who let us look at these magazines, all of which were delivered to Deckert Surgical Co., 409 S. Main St., Santa Ana, California.

What Do You Do Saturday Mornings?
[Article in the May 1960 issue of Surgical Business about Chesco, a hospital/medical/nursing home equipment and supply distributor in Hartford, CT, and a unit of G. Fox & Company. Quoted is Chesco Manager M. F. Lydiard.]
''Another innovation we have,'' stated Mr. Lydiard, ''is a breakfast sales meeting every other Saturday. During this period we have a manufacturer's representative come, and following breakfast, which is served at eight o'clock in the morning, teach our salesmen and employees everything that can be unfolded regarding the equipment the manufacturer supplies.''

Yeah, That's One Way to Do It
[July 1960, Surgical Business article about three-year-old Hoffman Surgical Supply Co., Baltimore. Quoted is Joseph Hoffman, co-owner.]
''Once a month via our direct mail, we add 'stuffers' and advertising brochures to our monthly statements and also to the invoices that go out throughout the month… We check our mailing names every three or four months or so. We watch the obituaries in the newspapers and eliminate the names of these doctors from our list.''

Stop Whining!
[July 1960 Surgical Business, ''Answers to Your Sales Questions'' by Ernest W. Fair.]
Q: ''How can I get the boss off my back? He's constantly riding me no matter how good my sales records for the month are; nothing seems to satisfy the guy.''—H.J.

A: Maybe that's his way of making your commission check bigger and better every month! All of us need some spur to extra action and if this one puts more and more dollars in the old bank account, it may pay to carry ''the boss'' on one's back. However, this can be a real problem even then. First, make sure he hasn't a darn good reason for riding you…

Some Things Never Change
[August 1960 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Discuss problems with hospital purchasing agents,'' regarding a panel discussion by five dealers from the metropolitan New York area before an audience of 40 purchasing agents.]
Another panelist urged the purchasing agents to be more liberal in allowing the dealer salesmen to present new products and techniques directly to the personnel who will use them, rather than to the buyer alone. No salesman should ''by-pass'' the [purchasing agent], the speaker said, but frequent and direct contact between the salesman and the floor personnel is in the best interests of the patient.

Heart of Lightness
[September 1960 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''A visit with Dr. Albert Schweitzer,'' by Louis Markle, Medical Arts Supply Co., Chicago. Markle directed the Surgical Trade Foundation, an organization set up by ASTA to distribute surplus surgical supplies to needy medical missions overseas. Markle and his wife traveled around the world to support the project.]
Dr. Schweitzer's kindly, gentle demeanor, the compassionate look in his eyes and the profound magnetism of his personality has never diminished to this day, and both my wife and I regard our visit to this ''universal man'' as one of the highlights of our lives.

David vs. Goliath
[September 1960 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Letters to the editor.'']
To the Editor:…The surgical supply dealer, in competition with the national houses, is in a similar position to the corner druggist who is competing with the chain stores. The death of Fair Trade would cause the death of the smaller surgical supply dealer, who provides a fine service for the doctors and the hospitals in his area. It is the local surgical supply dealer who would be the ''dead duck…'' –Edward J. Sovatkin, president, J. Sklar Manufacturing Co., Long Island City, NY.

Know Your Stuff
[October 1960 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''How to Increase Your Self-Confidence,'' by Ted Pollock. Pollock was a regular contributor on sales-related topics.]
Know your stuff. Know it inside out. Saturate yourself in it. There is nothing that will put the spring of confidence into your walk and into your approach like being sure that you definitely, concretely and specifically know your product and your job from raw material to ultimate consumer.

Only Reasonable Profits Allowed
[December 1960 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Exactly what kind of service do hospitals expect?'', Earl Jones, purchasing agent, The Buffalo (NY) General Hospital.]
The good supplier should lower prices when lower prices are given to him, and make no attempt to extort high prices when the odds are in his favor. If the dealer is content with a reasonable profit, I am sure he will be rewarded with increased volume.

Badge of Professionalism
[January 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''This new pin will be proudly worn.'']
ASTA announces that it has put the finishing touches on a certification program for salespeople. At the time, more than 890 dealer reps and owners were already studying the ASTA. Sales Training Manual. But in 1961, the association upped the ante, announcing that a comprehensive written exam would be given on an annual basis. Those passing it would receive certification. ''The man who bears the Certified Consultant pin will be known as one uniquely trained by study and experience to serve the medical profession – professionally.''

Born to Help
[March 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''How the surgical supply dealer serves the hospital,'' transcript of a presentation by ASTA Secretary Frank Rhatigan at the Tri-State Hospital Meeting, Washington, DC, Oct. 12, 13 and 14, 1960.]
The dealer helps the purchasing agent and administrator. He is not only qualified to do this by knowledge and experience, but he wants to do it and must do it to exist. The average surgical supply dealer salesman is not just a salesman, but a highly trained technician.

Nobody Knows the Troubles They've Seen
[From the same presentation as above.]
[The surgical supply dealer] has his troubles too with the manufacturers he represents. The manufacturer will sometimes give him a two per cent discount if he pays his bill by the tenth of the month. Very often it is the fifth of the month before he gets the invoice, but if he wants his two per cent, he must pay by the tenth. On the other hand, he sends his invoice to his hospital customer, also allowing two per cent, ten days, prox. Only too often a hospital will pay the bill on the 25th of the month and take the two per cent. Because the dealer values your business, he says nothing about it.

Take Off Your Shoes Before Entering
[April 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Fillauer Surgical opens branch in Johnson City, Tenn.'']
Mel Wilcox, executive vice president, says the building has about 6,000 square feet of space. He also reports that it is probably the only surgical supply company with its warehouse carpeted wall to wall. There is a large showroom with plenty of space to display equipment and supplies, and a well equipped workroom for the orthopedic division.

Cool Technology
[May 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Central Monitoring System.'']
[The description under the headline describes the system: ''This electronic life saver for tomorrow's hospital is here today. By constantly recording the patient's temperature, blood pressure, heart action, pulse and respiratory rate, it detects symptoms of impending trouble in cardiac, stroke and respiratory cases.'' Had such a system been available the prior November, it might have saved the life of actor Clark Gable, who died of a heart attack in November 1960, says the article. The article goes on to say:]

Should [the full duty nurse] notice a turn for the worse [in a patient], all she can do is call for the doctor, who must find the patient. In a busy hospital, with crowded elevators and other frustrating delays, it frequently takes the doctor ''forever'' to get there. With a Central Monitoring System the critically ill patient is found immediately and this kind of system would have, besides piped in oxygen and oxygen therapy equipment, other facilities which are not usually found in a private room – among them, suction apparatus, a prepared pack for emergency tracheotomy…

When Dealers Had Showrooms
[May 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Latest in the Midwest – the new Curtis & French,'' describing the opening of Indianapolis distributor Curtis & French's new building. Company President Jack Curtis estimates that because of the distributor's proximity to 800-bed Methodist Hospital, ''80 percent of the city's medical men pass by the store every day (with an increasing number of them now stopping in.'' The article's praise for the company's parking lot speaks of a time when distributors counted on a healthy amount of walk-in traffic.]
The first pleasant surprise the customers will find is the amount of handy parking room – something that was almost totally lacking at the company's old location downtown. There's room for 17 cars alongside the building, plus room for 35 more in a fenced-in lot across the street.

This Is a Joke, Right?
[May 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''A.H.A. survey shows average hospital charges.'']
According to a new American Hospital Association survey, charges for hospital services, room, board, routine nursing care and minor supplies, average from $15 to $20 a day in hospitals across the nation.

Waxing Philosophic About Sales Clinics
[September 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''These sales clinics pack a wallop!'' regarding Ethicon's two-year-old program of surgical dealer sales clinics. Here is one unnamed attendee's comments.]
The professional aspects of selling have never been presented to us in such a coherent, entertaining manner. If you have not now provided the key to unlock the door of success, it is because we are not capable of turning the knob!

[September 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Census reports on surgical supply houses.'' The following are some statistics from the 1958 census of business by the Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce.]
• At the end of 1958, there were 1,077 establishments in the United States primarily engaged in selling surgical, medical and hospital equipment and supplies; and orthopedic appliances. This represented an increase of 277 from four years prior.

• Operating expenses, including payroll and other overhead expenses – but not the cost of goods sold – amounted to $107 million, or 21.2 percent of sales.

• Inventories of merchandise on hand for sale at the end of the year 1958 was valued, at cost, at $64 million compared with $45 million in 1954.

Before the Storm
[September 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Surgical Tales of the South Pacific.'' A description of a trip to Southeast Asia by Louis Markle of Medical Arts Supply Co., Chicago. At this point in time, the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was limited to a few advisors.]
Communist infiltration poses so many problems, you should better have a salesman with deficits in his drawing account. There is a critical shortage of medical supplies in the country and this affects both friend and foe. So, the Communist spies infiltrating Saigon buy up available syringes, needles, dressings, etc., for their own use, thus aggravating the shortage. To forestall these tactics, therefore, every sale made by cash, store, phone or mail must be registered with the doctor's name or address, his license number, signature, and other data.

Are You Sure About This?
[December 1961, ''Selling the Hospital: A Chapter from the A.S.T.A. Sales Training Manual.]
Whether it is new equipment or merchandise regularly used in the hospital, there is a doctor or group of doctors in the background that determine what products are to be purchased. In establishing or changing a procedure or technique, the doctor must exercise the final decision in order to maintain professional control of hospital management. Thus, the doctor will always be your most important sales contact in hospital selling.

Choose Your Partners Wisely
[September 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''What dealers and manufacturers owe each other.'' A speech by Sam Roane Jr., president of Roane-Barker Inc., Raleigh, NC (now Caligor).]
We should be more conscious of the fact that there are many, many manufacturers who solicit our business purely and simply through the mails. They have no personal representation; no offer to participate in a sales meeting; no understanding whatsoever as to whom they will sell and whom they will not sell; in fact, no representation of any kind except by bulletins through the mail. Therefore, it behooves all of us to weigh very carefully the merits, the pros and cons, the wisdom and judgment in selecting those lines and those franchises we propose to sell and distribute in our particular area of coverage.

Keeping One Step Ahead with Kardex
[January 1962 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''New life in an old company.'' Article describes the $25,000 inventory control system installed by Milwaukee-based Roemer-Karrer. The system uses two Remington-Rand Electro Kardex machines. Here's how they worked.]
The machines—affectionately called ''robots'' by the office crew—contain cards with the item number, description, price and quantity on hand of every item in stock. The cards in the ''surgical robot'' are set up according to manufacturer, using the manufacturer's item numbers….The cards in the machines are on trays, which are instantly available to the operator at the touch of a button.

All orders go first to the order editor, then to one or both of the Rem-Rand units, where an operator costs and prices each item, withdraws it from inventory and records the quantity remaining in stock. The order then goes to the warehouse for filling.

Put Simply, Don't Be a Clod
[January 1962 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Demonstrate your way to bigger sales'' by Ted Pollock. The article is a step-by-step guide to demonstrating products to customers. Here's Step 4.]
4. Don't fumble. Let's say you have trouble opening the case in which you carry your product. Or that, in setting it up on the prospect's desk, you drop some parts on the floor. That's fumbling. And buyers will tell you that salesmen do too much of it. The salesman may apologize for his clumsiness, but he has fumbled before a prospective customer, and how can the prospect feel that he knows much about his product or what the product will do?

If you plan to take a part out of this product you are demonstrating, figure out beforehand what you will do with it…

Growling Pains
[March 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''How to make your personal calls pay bigger dividends'' by Ted Pollock.]
Don't under any circumstances call on a prospect close to noontime unless you are prepared to take him to lunch. And never, on pain of total extinction, be like the salesman who wandered in on one customer shortly before lunchtime and engaged him in this exchange:

''Do you have a lunch date, Mr. Clark?''
''No, I don't.''
''Good. Then I'm not keeping you from something.''

Glad We Cleared That Up
[March 1961 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''U.S. medical exhibit travels to Russia.'']
A 7,000-foot exhibit opened in Moscow March 1 displaying American medical care as the best in the world. Six physicians, a dentist and 24 guides are staffing the exhibit prepared by the U.S. Information Agency as part of the U.S.-Soviet culture exchange program.

One of the main purposes of the exhibit is to dispel the belief on the part of many Russians that Americans die on the street because they can't afford proper medical treatment.

Repeat: Don't Be a Clod.
[January 1963 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''25 ways to spot the perfect salesman'' by Ted Pollock. Following is No. 13: ''He is a gentleman.'']
Thoroughly respecting himself and his work, he manifests respect for his customer and his work, thus being naturally courteous, appreciative and self-possessed. Although his business calls are business oriented, he can—when necessary—hold up his end of a conversation revolving about ideas, current events, the arts. He doesn't stoop to low humor or vulgar language. Nor does he feel the necessity to prove himself ''one of the boys.'' The result: he is respected by others and taken seriously.

ABC By Any Name
[January 1963 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''How to measure each customer's 'profitability,''' by Thomas R. Byrley. Who says activity-based-costing is a new idea?]
Every surgical supply dealer realizes that some of his day-to-day transactions are unprofitable; he knows, for example, that he loses money every time he sends a truck on a twenty mile round trip to deliver a $25.00 item which carries a 20 percent markup, but he is inclined to dismiss these incidents as being rare or necessary to keep his customer happy. There is also a tendency to rationalize along the lines that ''the men, facilities and merchandise are here anyway, so it really doesn't cost anything to make this sale.'' He usually receives quite a shock when he finally analyzes his detailed operating figures and learns how deeply unprofitable customers, unprofitable lines and unprofitable employees have eaten into his profitability. But it can be a highly profitable shock if he takes steps to minimize or eliminate these hidden expenses.

Detailed profitability analysis – of customers, product lines and employees – are tedious and time-consuming, but are among the finest management tools any surgical supply dealer can have at his disposal.

What's That Whooshing Sound?
[January 1963 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''New Services Make Telephone Better Business Tool.'' A description of some recently introduced telephone technologies.]
Speakerphone: This hands-free telephone unit can amplify the incoming voice and let you converse from any point in a standard-sized room. By freeing the user from the need to hold the phone receiver, the new 3A Speakerphone provides greater personal mobility and efficiency. During a phone conversation, you can take notes, look up records or even practice golf swings as a form of relaxation.

Going to the Movies Sounds Better
[March 1963 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''As a salesman, can you take it?'' by Ted Pollock. Article describes how salesmen can cope with the tension and frustration that are part of the job.]
For the salesman away from home, the big problem is what to do with himself evenings. Instead of moping or ''killing time'' in a bar or movie, he can employ his evenings constructively and pleasantly in several ways: by visiting with some of his customers in their homes, taking the customer and his wife to dinner, planning his next day's calls, itinerary and presentations,…even studying his firm's literature and catalog.

You Don't Say!
[March 1963 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Get the most from your trade association'' by George J. Jaffe.]
A group's annual convention is another arena for discussing new advances. Conventions long ago shed the stigma of being nothing more than drink-fests. Today, such a convention is a serious gathering undertaken for the purpose of disseminating news and mutual betterment.

Ramps for Stamps
[April 1963 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Now you can get medical equipment with trading stamps.'']
It probably will offer little competition to surgical supply dealers, but everything from wheel chairs to operating room equipment are now available under a trading stamp company's group savings plan. Auxiliaries and volunteer groups are advised to save stamps and get the items for their hospitals…

A wide range of hospital articles are described [in the catalog, issued by Plaid Stamps], including patient room furniture, stretchers, aspirators, respirators, institutional sheets, pillow cases and blankets…

50 Years and Counting
[June 1963 A.S.T.A. Journal, ''Max Morris retires as IPCO salesman.'']
Max Morris has retired after 50 years of outside selling, in favor of a desk job with IPCO Hospital Supply Corp. in New York. His title is coordinator of sales service….

Morris was previously with Harold Supply Co. and joined IPCO when the two firms merged a few years ago. He expressed his own pleasure at being able to continue to serve the industry he grew up in.