Vice President, domestic sales, Klein Tools
By Joe Nowlan
Mark Klein had thoughts of a possible career in advertising when he graduated from the University of Iowa in 2002.
He interviewed with ad agencies in Chicago and New York yet found himself more impressed with one particular company: Anixter International, a distributor of wire, cable, sound, and security and data communications equipment.
“When I interviewed at Anixter, I enjoyed the people whom I met during the interview process,” Klein said, who worked there as an inventory management buyer.
“I learned about manufacturers, competitors, products, negotiating and warehouse distribution,” he explained. “It was my first opportunity to understand how distributors think since my experience was limited to a manufacturer’s point of view.”
While in high school and college, he worked during summers in a variety of roles at Klein Tools, the Chicago-based business his family has owned for 156 years.
“I had a chance to work in a variety of roles—from manufacturing to finance to sales and marketing to customer service,” Klein said of that time. “You learn a little bit about the major departments that really impact the company.”
While he was able to learn the principles of manufacturing, he also learned about “sweeping the floors,” which was his first role, he laughed.
Klein is the sixth generation of the family to work at Klein Tools. Today, as vice president of domestic sales, he is in charge of channel management as well as field sales, sales operations and support for the U.S. and Canadian markets.
He also manages Klein Cutlery, a business unit of Klein Tools that specializes in premium scissors for a variety of markets including electrical, butchers, barbershops, and salons.
Like many of his generation who grew up among computers and related technologies, he brought a few new ideas to the company.
“When I first came on board, we were very much a ‘paper company.’ People were writing everything on paper, not even computers,” Klein explained. “I brought in CRM software systems to the sales force [along with] iPads and iPhones.”
He is the first Klein family member in more than three decades to take an active role with Klein’s distributor partners, he said. His grandfather was the only other Klein to get so actively involved.
He’s received excellent feedback from distributors and end-users about seeing a Klein executive so involved.
“I think people enjoy it. They want to see a face with the company,” Klein said. “It shows that we are truly a family owned and operated company. And most of the distributors we’re dealing with are also family-owned. So they can relate well.”
Klein and his wife Jenny are parents of four year-old Katelyn and two-year-old, Mark Jr. While still too young to sweep floors, they do visit to have lunch with dad from time to time.
“My son will come in and go wandering from office to office looking for his grandfather. But already at a young age, he enjoys seeing people and going through the offices and actually taking products. He enjoys picking them up and playing with them. Hopefully that’s a good sign for the future,” he said.
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. The first part I would state is continue to focus on personal development at all stages of your career. Search out to find a mentor, someone who can teach you the industry and help guide you as their knowledge is valuable. The second part to that would be to continue furthering your education, possibly pursue an MBA or mastering an art or skill. Keep pushing yourself to learn and read and go out and make visits, talk to end-user, distributors, and manufacturers. Find out what makes them tick and ask good questions.
Q. What has been one of your most successful sales strategies given the current economic climate?
A. One of the most successful strategies we had was building out new channels to Klein Tools. Electrical is extremely important to our business but we now sell into a variety of segments– from construction, to industrial, to HVAC, to telecommunications, to mining and utilities. We sell to a broad audience now. [We’ve] been able to push our products out to a variety of professional channels. So that’s a new growth opportunity for us which has significantly grown our business. And a second one is new products. Klein has done a tremendous job of understanding what the end-user wants by spending time with distributors and our end-users in order to develop new products for the marketplace. Products that are new to the market or have improved dramatically and add value to the end-user. These two strategies have increased Klein Tools market share and sales.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tagged with tED