“Distributors worry about where to get salesmen, how to hire them, how to train them, how to make them produce quickly, how to keep them if they are productive, and, if they are old, how to retire them.”

This quote comes from a Sanitary Maintenance article titled “What Is the Distributor Thinking About Today?” How old do you think this article is? One year, five years, 10 years old? How surprised would you be to learn that it appeared in the December 1977 issue? What if I told you the 1977 article was actually a reprint of a piece originally published in 1950?

SM editors didn’t let on that the article was a reprint until the end. When readers found out they flooded the office with letters, voicing their astonishment that the article was still spot-on relevant. 

It seems that for all the industry’s advancements, recruiting new — and young — sales reps is still one struggle distributors have not overcome. Even today, it’s probably the topic I am most often asked about.

Going through the archives for last month’s 70th anniversary issue, I came across many articles on this subject. One of the more intriguing and innovative solutions to the problem came from ISSA in 1982. The association invited nearby college students to attend the Kansas City convention for free as a way to learn about the jan/san industry. They had an opportunity to witness firsthand that there was more to being a distributor than selling toilet tissue and floor strippers. Clean buildings meant sanitary working conditions and less pollution. And even in the midst of a recession, there was real potential for a stable and lucrative career.

My archival search didn’t reveal if ISSA’s strategy proved successful. But since distributors are still searching for answers, maybe it’s worth trying again. For more insight into this problem, read what the Sanitary Maintenance Advisory Board had to say.