Years as a volunteer softball coach has given sales representative Todd Tracy of The Tracy Group an enviable skill set.
Todd Tracy graduated college during the tail end of a Recession, a time when unemployment was high, even for someone with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration/Management. Little did he know that a blind ad that stated, “Sales Associate Wanted. Sales + Comm.” would change his life.
The ad was placed by Randy Cody, who operated a lighting sales rep agency based in Atlanta. What caught Cody’s eye about Tracy’s resume from among all the other applicants was the fact that Tracy had graduated from Presbyterian College in South Carolina — the same institution that had offered Cody a baseball scholarship.
Tracy’s entry into the lighting industry was baptism by fire. He spent his first four weeks on the job, hanging lighting fixtures for numerous showroom customers and studying every page of the manufacturers’ catalogs.
Some years later, Tracy took a sales job at a Savannah lighting showroom and then at one in Atlanta. Those years of working in lighting stores provided experience that has since shaped his skills as a rep.
“It gave me a different perspective. I worked with the end-user and learned about applications for fixtures that I might not have realized as a rep,” he explains. “Sure you know what a foyer fixture is, but working with homeowners on their projects gives added spatial awareness of how and where the fixtures can be installed. Now that I’m a rep, I can talk intelligently with my showroom customers about the various applications that can be utilized [with certain fixtures] and shared with their clients.”
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“I pay attention to what goes on with my customers and their business so I know what to present to them.
I do my homework to target what [areas] they might be missing in the market and show them [a series or a line] that would be beneficial to them. I only take on lines that I truly want to sell and that I believe would be a good fit for my customers.” — Todd Tracy
That first job as a lighting rep led to another life-changing event. Tracy met his now-wife Penni on his very first day hanging fixtures at the showroom (American Lighting) where she worked. They remained acquaintances for 10 years as their paths would cross on occasion for business. When Tracy joined a singles group at his church, Penni was there, too — but that wasn’t the biggest coincidence. One day, Tracy looked out his apartment window and saw Penni walking up the sidewalk…to her new apartment just below his. The two got better acquainted and have now been married 25 years and have two beautiful daughters.
Flash forward roughly 8 or 10 years to a time when those daughters were learning to play softball. Tracy took on the role of coaching his daughters first as their dad, and later, for the teams they played on. Although his daughters have since grown and are no longer coached by Tracy, he found he enjoyed it so much that he still coaches girls’ softball for a local middle school.
How has coaching influenced his career? “Coaching gives me the opportunity on a regular basis to practice communicating with people of different knowledge skills — girls who have never played before as well as girls who have played for years. The same is true in a lighting showroom. When I give product training sessions, I am working with store employees with varying levels of experience and skills,” he explains. Coaching softball has given Tracy a natural ability to make even the tougher aspects of lighting – such as technical training – accessible to a new staffer.
Volunteering as a softball coach to middle school girls has also sharpened Tracy’s listening skills.
“Similarly, I pay attention to what goes on with my customers and their business so I know what to present to them. I do my homework to target what [areas] they might be missing in the market and show them [a series or a line] that would be beneficial to them. I only take on lines that I truly want to sell and that I believe would be a good fit for my customers.”
Over the years since January 1989 when Tracy established his own agency, his company has grown to include an associate, Jim Buzar, who came on board three years ago to cover south Georgia, south Alabama, and the Panhandle of Florida. In the early days, Tracy covered all of that ground himself; now his territory is the Atlanta area plus most of Alabama (putting roughly 30,000 to 35,000 miles on his truck each year).
In our trip to lighting showrooms in the Atlanta area, we also discussed how technology has made our jobs different from when we first started out in our careers. We agree there’s so much more information out there that we need to keep track of and so many different areas to monitor for trends. In fact, at my insistence, we made a pit stop at the new Restoration Hardware Gallery that recently opened in Buckhead. There, we spent time exploring (each floor is devoted to specific growing categories such as “Small Spaces,” “Baby/Nursery,” and “Outdoor Living”) and comparing notes on relevant trend information to bring back to our respective audiences.
What I learn on each of these rep-ride alongs is that a lot of reps start work at the crack of dawn and they all deal with horrendous traffic delays routinely, but each has unique qualities (i.e. Tracy’s experience working in lighting retail as well as sports coaching) that make them individual superstars. —Linda Longo