These Are the Days

Edition: June 2002 - Vol 10 Number 06
Article#: 1266
Author: Mark Thill

Here are some of the things I learned while poring through the old A.S.T.A. Journals for this month's story on HIDA's 100th birthday. They may be common knowledge to some of you, but they were news to me.

• First, there was a lot more emphasis on showrooms and walk-in traffic. Most of the stories about distributors' new facilities had pictures of spacious, attractive showrooms and talked about the abundance of convenient parking. It was a way of selling and marketing that went the way of home milk delivery.
• If female participation in this business is scant today, it was miniscule 40 years ago. Not once did I see a reference to any female sales reps. It was always “salesmen.” If any women were involved in the business, they were almost invariably wives of owners.
• On that same score, not once did I see a photo of an African-American or other minority.
• This isn't news to anyone, but still, it was jarring to see how many small, independent distributors were thriving just 40 years ago. Truly, it was a different industry.
• I didn't run across one reference to a purchasing group.

On the other hand, some things haven't changed. For example:
• Salespeople were already being advised to sell total cost, not just price.
• Already, hospital purchasing agents were objecting to distributor reps' tendency to bypass them and go directly to clinicians.
• For an industry that was supposedly unsophisticated from a financial point of view, some people already understood the concept of evaluating the profitability (or lack thereof) of specific customers, using techniques that today would be called “activity-based management.”
• Already, the industry understood the importance of training for sales reps. ASTA (now HIDA) had developed a certification program, and the manufacturers association had launched continuous dealer training.
• Then as now, distributors felt the squeeze between providers and manufacturers. They complained about hospitals that were habitually late in paying their bills, and manufacturers who pushed aggressively for prompt payment.

One thing stood out, particularly to someone in the magazine publishing business. The magazines we reviewed were thick with advertisements from manufacturers wanting to reach distributor sales reps. It was obvious they believed that the reps could influence decision-makers. They sought to bond to these reps and to show them that they were going to bat for them. Many ads would feature ads they were running in hospital magazines along with something to the effect of, “Here's what we're saying to your customers.” Those were the days when the reps moved business. At Repertoire, we believe those days are still here.