One aspect of my job that seems to raise curiosity from a lot of people, is spending a week or more traveling closely with business contacts that I do not know very well on a personal level. This is often in a different city, state, or country, each day traveling from retailer office to retailer office, spending 12-18 hours a day together. Having done these trips several times each year for over 20 years, I have learned plenty about people in general, and even more about the people who make their living in our DIY/ Home Improvement Industry.
It usually happens on the second day together of any one of these trips with a supplier… the question… “Have you ever had to travel with someone with a bad attitude?”
The stress of an intense week or so of travel and pioneering new markets, often multiple time changes and jet lag, can understandably burn the patience of almost anyone.
The absolute first thing I am always very happy to explain is that I am very lucky to be working in this industry. Perhaps it’s because people may change jobs but usually stay in the industry and maintain relationships. For whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of people in Home Improvement are not afraid of working hard and they are usually polite, prompt and professional. Now, I’ve certainly had traveling companions that embody the “exception that proves the rule” but for the most part I’ve met great people, many of whom I can now call friends.
It’s not all by chance though. I’ve learned that the best tools to ensure a productive trip (even more so when you are in a different hotel every night) are experience and diligent planning to foresee and minimize or eliminate as many stressors as possible prior to departure.
Choosing hotels nearest to the next morning’s meeting is a big one. If we must get stuck in traffic or turned around, it’s best the night before while finding the hotel, not getting to the meetings. It’s also key to leave extra time for flights so that there is no need to rush a meeting with potential business in order to make a too tight flight schedule.
Another stressor is uncertainty. Letting people know our agenda, long before we depart – where we will be and when, and talking through any questions, can be very helpful here. I arrange all the hotels, flights, car rentals and I handle the driving so the supplier can focus on business.
It is also very important to be ready for the travel world to throw you a couple of curve balls and be able to laugh about them. While things like lost luggage are an inconvenience, it’s something that everyone can relate to… including buyers. If you have to show up in workout clothes to a meeting because it’s all you have that’s clean, it’s ok. Buyers will empathize. It’s a good ice breaker and a great excuse to be very comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I do pack an extra dress shirt in my carry-on for good measure, but sometimes it can take a few days to get your bag, especially when you’re on the move every day.
Securing orders also helps a lot. On that topic, we are fortunate and proud to have had over 75% of these suppliers secure new accounts as a result of these adventures over the last couple decades.
Of course, I’ve had a couple of traveling companions that stand out as, for the sake of political correctness, we’ll call them “less than ideal” to travel with. I’ve seen people blow up at restaurant wait staff, have an emotional breakdown in a sales meeting, refuse to help look for street signs in a car, try to go home mid-trip because they’re stressed, refuse to get on an airport shuttle (still don’t understand that one) and many more… but the reason these examples are memorable is because they are rare.
Whether it’s trying to catch an Uber in Chile, sorting out bad GPS directions in Ontario, getting stuck in traffic in Chicago, trying to find an open gas station after midnight in Germany or repacking a bag of samples for the 3rd time to make weight at the airport, my traveling companions have been great and I always look forward to the next adventure – helping the another supplier secure new business through our retail relationships.
This is the point where I get the second question… “So how am I doing so far”? See? Great people!
President & CEO