enLIGHTenment Magazine checks in with Michael Wintersteller – whom we profiled in 2012 when he was just starting out as an independent rep – to see how his agency has changed.
When Michael Wintersteller, principal of Steller Sales in Arizona, was last interviewed by enLIGHTenment Magazine in 2012, he had just moved up from the sub-rep category to begin establishing his own agency.
Wintersteller, who has a history in retail sales from working at a lighting showroom in Ohio, just happened to have entered the world of being an independent sales representative at a time when the lighting industry was struggling through a Recession. Nevertheless, he made it through the tough times and has even been able to grow his agency.
Nearly three years ago, Wintersteller approached lighting showroom manager Eric Ficke about joining his firm, after Ficke had expressed interest in the rep business and a career change.
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“The entire industry has advanced so rapidly, and therefore so has the role of the lighting rep.”
— Eric Ficke
“I felt there was a need for someone who knew the showroom channel well,” Ficke says. “I felt I could offer something to the rep channel.” In fact, Ficke now calls on the showroom where he had worked for 12 years. “I didn’t want Mike to feel like he stole me away from the showroom,” he explains. “And yes, he warned me about the travel and the commitment it takes to be a successful lighting rep. I was up to the challenge.”
Were there any surprises for Ficke in his transition from retailer to rep? “Yes, I found out that how you drive business on the rep side is different from how you drive it on the other side,” he observes. “I learned how to tailor [presentations] to each showroom, and how every store has its niche and its own way of doing business with clients. When I was working in retail, I just assumed that everyone else [in retail] did it the same way I did.”
With Steller Sales in “a much more secure place” regarding business, and the economic climate improving, Wintersteller and Ficke felt confident in pursuing even the most cutting-edge companies to represent instead of just playing it safe.
“Being a young agency is an advantage,” Wintersteller states. “The industry is aging where long-time reps are in the same age group as the lighting showroom owners who are retiring, and we’re closer in age to their children who are taking over the business. We’re going to have [the same type of long] relationships that span the next 30 years. Our vendors like that we’re young and aggressive,” he adds.
Coming from the retail perspective is a definite advantage; Wintersteller and Ficke know first-hand what showroom managers appreciate most from reps. “I think we’re more hands on,” Wintersteller states. “We prefer to hang our own fixtures; I think you bond more with the showrooms that way.”
Clearly, their approach is working. “We just had our best year [in 2015],” Wintersteller says. The Steller Sales team also calls on light commercial accounts. “They see us more than they would a spec agency,” Wintersteller comments. “And they know that if they call me, I’ll answer the phone. In the commercial channel, they don’t always get that level of service.”
The expectations from retailers has changed as well. “The entire industry has advanced so rapidly, and therefore so has the role of the lighting rep,” Ficke notes.
“It’s not about just updating the catalog anymore, or what we affectionately call ‘the milkman run,’” Wintersteller comments. With LED technology ever-changing, the rep’s role has become one of an educator that goes beyond the traditional “PK” sessions of the past.
Whatever the future holds, Wintersteller and Ficke are ready for it. “I’ve found this to be a very supportive atmosphere,” Ficke remarks.
Look for Steller Sales to add another member in the coming year.