The GSA Organization
The GSA Organization continues to expand its product lines to become the only go-to manufacturer’s representative on the East Coast.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
The GSA Organization stays ahead of the curve as a large manufacturers’ representative by expanding its territory and adding new business divisions. CEO John Beaver says the manufacturer’s rep of tomorrow will be what the industry calls a “mega rep” operating in multiple industries at the same time.
“What differentiates us is the fact that we are like Home Depot,” Beaver says. “Unfortunately, the representative industry isn’t what it used to be and the number of reps are declining rapidly. The reps who are still here are larger and that’s what differentiates us – GSA operates multiple divisions in multiple states to run like Home Depot.”
The Oakdale, N.Y.-based company consists of six different business units representing manufacturers on the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia. These business units – GSA Optimum, GSA New England, GSA Parallax, GSA Sales, GSA Blair and GSA Upstate NY – each serve a different region.
“Each GSA business unit provides professional and technical sales representation for world-class electronic and electrical product manufacturers,” the company says. “We are committed to the complete satisfaction of our principals, customers and distributors, as well as the success of the overall organization. Our goal is to assist customers with product design-in and procurement and to provide accurate, complete and prompt communication of the relevant issues between our principals, customers and distributors.”
GSA’s sales staff seeks business directly from end-users of the electro-mechanical, electronic and electrical components. The company recently began to focus on lighting, adding it this year as a new business segment. GSA sells products into the utility, aerospace, factory automation, military, solar, food processing and machine-building markets.
Creating a new business unit requires developing new relationships with manufacturers in a specific market, such as lighting. “I’m one heck of a salesman,” Beaver says in response to how he develops new partnerships.
To get its foot in the door, GSA starts with a third- or fourth-tier manufacturer because, Beaver admits, they will be the only ones to talk to the company at first. “We learn from them and build relationships,” he adds. “Over time, we grow these third-tier manufacturers to second- or first-tier lines. You want to get a rising star that no one has identified yet.”
GSA’s no. 1 line, in most territories, is ABB. This was a new line in the U.S. when Beaver first took it on in 1984.
GSA will focus first on developing its lighting division and then the company plans to get deeper into the semiconductor market. “The semi-conductor market is going through tough times with mergers and acquisitions and the fallout is unbelievable,” Beaver explains. “One rep firm, for example, lost 80 percent of its income in six weeks and I pick up remnants like that when the lose their major line and don’t survive. We have purchased six representatives since I started the company.”
GSA believes in taking a proactive approach to sales and relies on its salespeople to go out into the field and specify new projects instead of relying on the factory to bring business to the company. As for new employees, “We are looking for millennials, but they aren’t easy to get,” Beaver notes. “When we hire a recent college graduate, he or she will have a mentor who will call every night for their first year to find out where they are going and what they are doing. The mentor will also travel with them and in many cases, I am the mentor.”
The company hired a recent college graduate who trained in New York for nine months and then moved to his territory in Virginia. “Now he’s running fantastic in Virginia,” Beaver says. “We have a conference call on Friday morning for new hires and talk about what each person did, which applies peer pressure. The millennial doesn’t quite understand how hard or little he should work and makes his own judgment call. But when he hears this other guy did all these great things it applies pressure better than I ever could. I set the norm by having these guys talk to each other.”
For its more seasoned salespeople, GSA holds a Monday morning call. For those who come to the company with previous experience, Beaver says he prefers to hire people who have worked for his competitor. “I can’t train a 35- or 45-year-old guy the way I want because they are set in their ways, so they have to come with the right experience,” he adds. “With millennials, I like to first understand their background and work ethic before I hire them.”
Moving forward, GSA plans to continue expanding down the East Coast with Beaver’s successors leading the way. “I do plan to be retiring and taking a step back in five years. My daughter and son-in-law will take over part of the company and I am also selling a portion to one of my salespeople who has been with us for eight years,” he says. “We have to continue to get bigger because our principals want to go to one organization and get what they need. Larger reps will take the place of regionals.”