Someone You Should Know: Tom Walker
With so many ERA members, it is not easy to get to know every rep, manufacturer and distributor in the business.“Someone You Should Know” is The Representor department that gives readers the chance to learn about fellow ERA members, including how their time is spent both in and out of the office.
Meet Tom Walker, vice president at Spectron Components Inc., a Southern California electronic manufacturers’ representative.
The Representor asked Walker a few questions about his time in the electronics rep business and his experiences with ERA. Here is what he had to say.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Newport Beach, a small beach town in Southern California, sailing and surfing. I went to Loyola Marymount University and graduated from Pepperdine University. My first job was in sales and I am still selling. I still live in Newport Beach with my wife, Robin. We have a son who lives in New York City.
How long have you been an ERA member and how long in the rep business?
About 10 years ago, Spectron joined ERA. Seems like it was yesterday when I joined the rep industry. I answered an advertisement in the newspaper in the early 1980s for the Berman Gravely company for industrial sales. I had no clue what that was. I met with their sales manager, we really clicked and he offered me a job the next day. Ten years later, he cofounded Spectron with me.
How did you become interested in being a rep in the electronics industry?
I was always interested in electronics and home audio. We were having a baby and I needed a job. It seemed like a good fit.
What have you found to be most rewarding about the rep business?
I love my job. Being a manufacturers’ representative in the electronics industry allows me to see products designed and evolve into products that you can buy. The people I have met along the way are the real highlight though. From the customers and distributors to the factories we represent and, of course, the other reps, are more than customers or colleagues, they are my friends too. ERA is the great connector, connecting rep.
Briefly describe your rep firm.
My partner, Brian Burnevik, and I started Spectron 29 years ago. We did not have any established lines. We rented an office, put the key in the door, and went to a WESCON trade show where we met our first line — membrane switches.
We focus on getting components designed and the products we sell are mostly electromechanical components. We cover the typical ERA Southern California territory. With four outside salespeople, we believe we do a good job covering the territory, and we have a stable team focused on selling and communicating back to our principals what we find in the field.
What recent innovations, best practices and/or changes has your firm made?
Like everyone else, we have adapted to Zoom and Teams during Covid-19. At Spectron, we decided to make sure everyone has good audio, lighting and cameras that look at you rather than up to you. We invested in a custom background with the Spectron logo for a uniform brand. We have always been firm believers in using databases to track projects and to-do’s. We first started with a product called FileMaker Pro 20 years ago. It has over 1,000 fields in it to track our sales. We deployed Salesforce two years ago and it serves us well as a tool to track our pipeline, develop email campaigns and mail campaigns.
Our line card is a 12-page catalog we create in-house featuring a full page for each of our lines. We typically send out the Product Guide (our line card) to about 6,000 contacts generated from leads, quotes, samples and accounts each year.
During Covid-19, we developed Mini-Guides. These are line product-specific four pages that we create campaigns with to target new accounts, revive dormant accounts, etc. Then we continue with updated products or information mailed in a sequential campaign. We can have a Mini-Guide printed and in the mail for about $3 each. Both are filled with pictures and text and are wildly successful with our principals and customers. We do not charge our principals for these extra marketing efforts as we believe it is our way to go above and beyond in marketing our lines.
We have found curated and well-targeted direct mailers to be a very effective tool. Even during Covid-19, we have not had one person ask to be removed from our mailing campaigns. We believe Spectron is unique in using these marketing tools and feedback from principals has been very positive with the result of adding new customers and orders.
What have you learned and/or what contacts have you made through ERA that have had the greatest positive impacts on you and/or your business?
The ERA Conference is one of the most valuable to me as it puts you in the room with disti management you might not have the chance to meet otherwise. It also exposes you to manufacturers who are open to sharing ideas, and it opens the door for networking with reps in other areas of the country. The principals I have worked with over the years are great resources too. Because of the strong relationships, it encourages us to stay connected and forms a basis to bounce ideas off each other.
Lines come and go, but I always try to keep the door open. If a line doesn’t work out for us, I will offer to help them find a good fit with another organization. As a result, the relationships and friendships are lasting.
Are you active on social media? Do you follow ERA? Have ERA updates via social media been helpful to you?
I think LinkedIn is a very useful tool for finding contacts and making connections that benefit my firm and our principals. It is probably the most useful in getting information and connecting with companies and people. Their training modules are useful too. I do follow ERA and it is how I heard about the recent ERA Virtual Sales Training event offered in September.
What are some things you enjoy outside of the workplace?
My family, music, boating, sailing and surf photography keep me busy during the weekends.
What is one interesting fact that people may not know about you?
My wife and I are caretakers of a 1967 red Mustang, original engine. I say caretaker because I take care of it and she drives it.