Tom Hammel 2017-10-03 02:07:11
TRAINING FOR THE CHALLENGES AHEAD IS STILL THE BEST MODEL Time flies when you’re having fun. I last visited Gene Morris 17 years ago. At the time I wrote The Morris Model, the Morris Marketing Group (MMG) had been in business for nearly 15 years as a manufacturer’s rep agency serving the southeastern United States with sales and support for the highest quality products for construction, rental and industrial/MRO distributors. Back then, the Greer, South Carolina-based agency had 18 employees and focused on providing value with marketing and merchandising tools — and lots of training. Morris’ focus on training was prophetic because, as Gene observes, the need for training grows each year and many manufacturers have delegated that function to rep agencies and buying groups. Today, Morris Marketing’s Southern School of Construction Technology is a premier regional educator and the agency, now 44 professionals strong, offers a broad variety of training programs for contractors and distributors, including members of the Evergreen Marketing Group, Sphere1 and NetPlus Alliance. Growth has enabled company founder and president Gene Morris to promote his sons Chris, Matt and Gabe to lead their own divisions. Chris is now MMG’s field sales manager and Matt heads up Sarge Knives. Gene’s son Gabe supervises the busy laser engraving operations. “Training and end-user work has always been a big focus for us,” Chris explains. “One of the most valuable and effective programs we’ve developed is our ‘Boots on the Street’ — fittingly named for the troops that are on the ground and in the trenches. This group works exclusively to influence end-users and assist in training at the distributor and end-user level. They spend all their time in the field doing safety and product training.” Morris Marketing also provides distributors with a full array of print and electronic marketing materials from brochures and catalogs to store displays and signage, e-mail and social media programs. Laser engraving knives and other products commands its own staff who private- and custom-label knives and other products for a wide range of distributors and commercial clients. Matt Morris has grown a fledgling business unit into a major division, Sarge Knives. Today Sarge is a key supplier for a broad range of industries and organizations. “One reason we started Sarge was that we wanted total control of every aspect of the business, which is completely different than the way the manufacturers’ rep business works,” Matt explains. “With Sarge, we can sell to whomever. There is tremendous freedom and excitement in that.” “Sarge is well beyond knives now,” Gene adds. “Our Sarge inventory is about one million items and we carry and private-label cups and coolers, leather goods and wine tools. We work with Mercedes Benz, Tommy Bahama, The National Wild Turkey Federation, Robert Mondavi, Schug Winery and many more.” The third division, Wireless Solutions, LLC, is led by Mike Gray, COO and MMG partner. Wireless Solutions sells Motorola two-way radios and related products to distributors, sporting goods retailers and companies including Office Max, Office Depot, Pilot and QuikTrip. “I have been with Morris Marketing for two years, but I worked with Gene for more than 20 years as vice president of sales for Motorola,” Mike says. “Many communication tools are specific to a manufacturer or for general use by market vertical. The challenge is educating in a general sense when required, but still maintaining the ability to be very targeted for specific applications. Staying connected with our manufacturers and distributors is what we pride ourselves on the most.” MMG’s three business units share a core of MMG professionals, headed by general manager Debby Jacobs. “In the 21 years I’ve been with Morris Marketing, we have grown from fewer than 10 employees to 44 now,” Jacobs says. “Our people are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my work. Hiring the talent and personalities to fit our company culture can be demanding. We work to maintain a multi-generational workforce and each generation brings a unique perspective with its own set of values and priorities. The challenge is to meld all their attributes into a cohesive and productive work environment.” As it enters its 32nd year of business in 2018, the Morris Marketing Group is thriving by staying true to its proven model of premier brands and industry-leading training while pioneering state-of-the-media marketing support for distributor customers. As fluid as the industry is, the need for knowledge, expertise and training is only increasing. MMG’s latest project is building a data warehouse that will allow the agency to mine distributor sales reports by brand for new growth opportunities. “I see the independent rep definitely having a place in society but there are few of us left and the pace of change is relentless,” Gene observes. “We are really trying to be an example of the way a rep agency should be run. “Today, many manufacturers think their competitor is the person in the booth across the aisle, but that’s not the case. So many brands are competing for the distributor’s time that he’s not talking about your product as much as he should. Influencing that is a big deal. It is even more important today when you can buy virtually anything on the Internet. We still sell drills, ladders and drop cords. We just sell them in a different, smarter way.” For more information, visit www.morrismarketing.net.
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