He’s No Nerd

Edition: November 2002 - Vol 10 Number 11
Article#: 1352
Author: Repertoire

How many computer nerds would do this? It’s winter in northern South Dakota. The roads are closed. You haven’t been able to get to your accounts there, so you hop a mail plane, sit in the co-pilot’s seat, fly up to Aberdeen, rent a car and call on your customers. Then, a couple of days later, you hitch a ride back to Sioux Falls in southeastern South Dakota on the same plane.

Tom Rothenberger did it. And he could have been a nerd. Instead, he is the 2002 Rep of the Year for Kreisers Inc., a $26 million regional supplier with 17 sales reps, based in Sioux Falls, SD.

Born and raised in Armour, SD, about 100 miles west of Sioux Falls, Rothenberger began his sales career in the mid-1970s, selling sporting goods, hardware, firearms and ammunition for a hardware and sporting goods jobber. (Ironically, he covered the same territory then as he does now for Kreisers.) He called on ma and pa hardware stores.

Catching the Computer Wave

Then his career took a turn. “I wanted to get on the wave of computers,” he says. He went to school at nights and earned his degree with a double major in computer information systems and accounting.

He joined Kreisers in 1983 to assist with the implementation of its computer system, then took a branch manager position in Billings, MT. It was in Billings that he learned about selling medical products, about the product lines themselves, and about customer service and purchasing. Two years later, he returned to Sioux Falls as controller. It was a chance to put his computer and accounting background to work.

Looking for a change, Rothenberger left Kreisers in 1989 and moved to Washington State, in order to help a manufacturer of food processing equipment convert its manual accounting system to an automated one. But the weather in the Pacific Northwest didn’t suit the Rothenberger family, so he came back to Kreisers as a sales coordinator. When the eastern South Dakota territory (called “East River” by those who live in the state, referring to everything east of the Missouri River) opened up ten years ago following the retirement of 30-year veteran Jim Wagner, Rothenberger took it.

Was it terrifying for a computer/operations guy to start knocking on hospital and doctors’ doors, his experience in sporting goods and firearms notwithstanding? “After eight years with the company and having worked in all aspects of the business, selling was not a concern or worry,” he says.

He adds that from the beginning, he received tremendous support from Kreisers’ inside staff. “The ease of communicating, and the response time of customer service, purchasing, order processing and shipping is all part of customer satisfaction,” he says.

Visiting hospitals and clinics throughout the eastern half of the sparsely populated state, Rothenberger is out approximately 10 nights a month. Careful scheduling makes all the difference, he says. And despite the story of the mail plane and Aberdeen, Rothenberger says the driving isn’t all that bad during the winter months. “They do a good job of clearing the roads out here,” he says. But then he adds, “If it does get bad, with wind and ice and poor visibility, you just stay home.”

Equipment Sales Strong

Over the years, Rothenberger has developed expertise in selling capital equipment. “I learned early on to spend time doing this,” he says. Calling on multiple hospital departments as well as clinics and labs, he has learned how to sell all kinds of equipment, everything from power and exam tables to hematology and assay systems, EKGs and Holters.

Kreisers is the prime vendor for three large, Premier-affiliated facilities in Rothenberger’s territory. Together, they generate approximately 40 percent of his sales (though somewhat less of the total gross profit). But given their size as well as their ownership of outlying clinics, they offer a tremendous opportunity to sell equipment. “I’m always looking for opportunities,” he says.

“Tom is no flash in the pan,” says Vice President of Sales Ron Roehl. “He’s a steady worker. He’s been inside. He’s been a branch manager for us. He knows the business all the way through.” And considering that most towns in Rothenberger’s territory number fewer than 30,000 residents, his sales are exceptional, says Roehl.

“All his customers know him, whether it’s a receptionist in one of the clinics or the environmental services worker in a hospital,” he continues. “And he has great product knowledge.”

The story about riding the mail plane to Aberdeen is a vivid example of a fundamental truth about Rothenberger, says Roehl: “He goes out of his way for his accounts every day.”

That’s no nerd.