Let’s face it, the jan/san industry lives and dies by the sales function — without winning sales teams, where would your organizations be?

This industry loves a sales success story, and SM’s editors knew there were plenty out there, so a few months ago, we asked readers to nominate their “stand-out” sales pros — those within their organizations who, more or less, epitomize the grit, determination and energy it takes to succeed in sales.

We had certain criteria in mind as we sifted through the nominations to find our five sales stand-outs. The process cannot be described as scientific because our “top five” winners weren’t selected based on sales numbers alone. Instead, we placed a lot of weight on the “stories” behind the winners’ sales successes.

And now, our sales “Winners” for 2006: A late bloomer, a benefactor of “divine intervention,” an industry vet new to sales, a second-generation sales legend and a hard-driving octogenarian... .

Maria Lemus
Account executive
Waxie Sanitary Supply, Ontario, Calif.
Annual sales: $2.6 million
Years in the industry: 6

Attitude Is Everything
When Maria Lemus wants something, she goes after it. This personal drive led her to the jan/san industry.

Through a friend, Lemus heard about a career opportunity with a chemical manufacturer. Hoping to secure a meeting, she made a call, and found out that the person she needed to talk to was conducting a floor care seminar off site the next day. Never one to sit back and wait, she showed up at the event, resume in hand. There she met another attendee, Robin Canada, regional sales manager for Waxie Sanitary Supply. And, though she didn’t know it at the time, he would become her boss.

When the intended manufacturing opportunity didn’t work out, Lemus took Canada up on his offer to come in for an interview, and “the rest is history,” she says.

Lemus put her trademark persistence to work for Waxie, and within three years became the branch’s top seller among 30 other more experienced reps. She’s now held the title for three consecutive years. “My biggest disappointment was when I was first runner up,” she says, “because that wasn’t what I was going for.”

Looking back, Lemus admits it took awhile for her to find her true calling. Before joining Waxie, she languished for nine years as a receptionist and working in customer service. She admits she lacked the self-confidence then. That’s when she started listening to recordings from top motivational speakers: Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and Anthony Robbins, to name a few.

“It made me wake up and say, ‘Wow, if you just believe in yourself you can do anything.’”

Before Lemus knew it, she was setting goals for herself, then meeting — even exceeding — them.

“Every year you have to outdo yourself and continue to look for ways to improve and be able to do more for your customers,” she says. “I break it up into one day at a time, and I do my best each day and keep trying to do better.”

Bob Clancy
Executive consultant
PCS Industries, Crestwood, Ill.
Annual sales: $1.5 million
Years in the industry: 9

It Was Meant To Be
Bob Clancy is modest when it comes to describing the road he travelled on his way to becoming the top salesperson at his company, PCS Industries. Being in the right place at the right time, coupled with “divine intervention,” have served him well, he says.

Before joining PCS nine years ago, Clancy worked as a teamster on the wholesale loading docks for 20 years. Ten years before he joined PCS, he underwent an aortic valve replacement. Three years after taking the much-less-physically demanding sales job, he had to have the procedure done a second time. It was then that doctors told him that if he had still been working the loading docks, his heart would have stopped.

Instead, while still a teamster, Clancy was charged with buying an autoscrubber. He looked up a friend — a salesperson for PCS — and the transaction eventually landed him a meeting with the company’s owner.

“On paper, I was probably the worst candidate ever,” Clancy admits. “I knew nothing about the industry, nothing about sales, and had no formal education.” Still, PCS’s owner saw Clancy’s potential and took a gamble.

Lack of experience didn’t faze Clancy; in spite of the obstacles, his sales have grown 28 percent annually for the past three years. He has grown his original territory 10-fold. His accomplishments are the result, he says, of putting customers first.

“When we help them succeed, the financial rewards come after,” he says.

“I’ve been truly blessed,” he adds. “I’ve just been given a lot of opportunities and I’ve worked very hard, but I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to do that.”

Mike Watson
Senior account manager
JanPak Supply Solutions, Fort Worth, Texas
Annual sales: $3.9 million
Years in the industry: 20 (5 in sales)

Supply-Chain Expertise
A shrewd understanding of supply chain logistics landed Mike Watson a whopper of an account this year: the Dallas Independent School District (ISD), valued at $4 million.

Not bad for someone who has only been selling jan/san products for five years.

Twenty years ago, Watson answered an ad posted in his college’s placement office for part-time work with JanPak. Little did he know he was launching a lifelong career. He picked and packed products and loaded boxes in the warehouse, worked in purchasing, and then became an accountant after earning his degree. In addition, he has held the titles of customer service manager and public bid coordinator. Five years ago, Watson decided it was again time for a change.

Watson could have taken a position at another JanPak location. “I was wanting to do more than I was doing, and I really didn’t want to move,” he says. “I thought of sales as an opportunity to grow.”

Watson’s extensive background in all aspects of the distribution business quickly propelled him to the top echelon of the company’s sales performers.

“Without a doubt, all of [the experience] combined was invaluable. It was a great education for where I’m at now.”

That experience came into play when courting the multi-million dollar ISD account.

“I had contacts from when I was doing public bids,” Watson explains. “I had a lot of background about how they work and how the school systems work as far as procurement.”

He adds: “We put some programs together for them and secured their business with cleaning products.”


Pete Hammond Jr.
Senior territory manager
Kelsan Inc., Knoxville, Tenn.
Annual Sales: $3.5 million
Years in the industry: 30

It’s All In The Family
Pete Hammond Jr.’s father worked for Kelsan for 53 years, and got his son a job in the business while he was still in high school. The junior Hammond spent his early years as a “go-fer,” then joined the sales staff when he graduated from college in 1982.

His success — which has netted him a place among the top three sellers out of 50 for the past 14 years — is rooted in his committment to his customers.

“I think [success] revolves around relationships and my ability to build those relationships with customers,” says Hammond. “My goal with a customer is to develop a relationship so strong and trusting with the client that they feel guilty if they buy from one of my competitors.”

Hammond shirks high-pressure sales tactics in favor of a more consultative approach, which mirrors his own personality, he says. Being himself, while paying attention to customers’ individual needs, is Hammond’s recipe for success.

“I’m not a high pressure type salesperson,” he says. “I try to make them feel comfortable. All buyers are different and their personalities are different, so you need to be able to recognize that.”

His technique must be working: Hammond was the first Kelsan salesperson to exceed the $1 million mark (in the early 1990s). For the past six years, he’s sold well over $2 million annually.

In spite of all his own professional achievements, Hammond’s proudest moment was seeing his father’s photo grace the cover of the company’s catalog as a tribute to his 50 years of service.

“He’s the one that got me into the business,” Hammond says.


Norbert Ratajczyk
Sales consultant
Chudy Paper Co., Buffalo, N.Y.
Annual sales: $1.7 million
Years in the industry: 65

Experience Pays Off
Fifteen years ago, on a Friday afternoon, Norbert Ratajczyk — then 66 — marked his retirement as vice president of purchasing from Chudy Paper Co., with a party.

The following Monday, he reported to work, launching a brand new career: he joined Chudy Paper’s sales team.

Today, Ratajczyk, now 81, works just three days a week but has managed to become the top performer among Chudy’s 25 sales reps, two years running. He credits his skillful number crunching, gleaned from 45 years in purchasing, with helping him to become an asset to his customers.

“Knowing prices in my mind, that helped me out a lot,” he says.

Spending the good majority of his life with one company — a family business — created a tight-knit relationship between Ratajczyk and the Chudys.

“I more or less became a member of the family,” he says. The senior Chudy passed away in 1973, and Ratajczyk remembers: “He used to call me ‘boy,’ as if I was his own son. It was a very close relationship we had.”

A couple years ago, Ratajczyk reached the $1.5 million sales mark and considers that among his most noteworthy accomplishments. “I went after it, and I did it,” he says.

Ratajczyk has plans to retire for good in the near future — or so he says.

“There have been a lot of challenges, and I’ve worked very hard, and in most cases have succeeded, but it takes a lot of work,” he says. “You have to have the desire and drive, and the rewards are there if you work hard enough at it.”

Adds Ratajczyk: “It’s a good life being a salesperson.”

Six Secrets Of Top Sales Performers

Who better to take career advice from than the top salespeople in the jan/san industry? Here’s a look at SM’s “Top Five” and their individual recipes for sales success:

Be Honest and Sincere
Nothing beats being genuine and truthful when it comes to sales success.

“The first thing to be successful when you first start out is to be honest and sincere with your customers — don’t oversell,” says Norbert Ratajczyk, Chudy Paper, Buffalo, N.Y. For him, trust is apparent when customers turn to him for their inventory control needs. When you gain the trust of customers and they let you handle their inventory completely, they realize that you’ve freed up their employees’ time, and they’ll be less likely to be swayed by the competitor’s lower price.

“It’s not price all the time, it’s the service that you give them,” he says.

Believe In Yourself
Maria Lemus’s can-do attitude has taken her to the top of the selling game.

“I think that’s the biggest thing: knowing what you want, believing in yourself and knowing you can do it,” says Lemus, Waxie Sanitary Supply, Ontario, Calif.

Lemus considers her fellow sales team members to be benchmarks for where she wants to be, performance-wise. “I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’

“Your attitude is 90 percent of your success,” she adds.

Bob Clancy, PCS Industries, Crestwood, Ill., agrees, adding that success requires perseverance. “Never give up,” he says. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Get The Support You Need
Salespeople just starting out need to be energetic and excited about selling, but realistic about what it will take to succeed, says Mike Watson, JanPak Supply Solutions, Fort Worth, Texas.

“Don’t expect to start off at the top. You have to work hard and seek out advice from those who are successful,” he says.

“You can’t do it yourself, either,” he continues. “You need good people around you. You have to be able to depend on the people you’re working with.”

Set Goals
Clancy offers this advice for salespeople just starting out in the industry:

“It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of prospecting, and just never give up,” he says.

Pete Hammond Jr. says goals are a necessity for any salesperson in the industry. “You have to have goals,” says Hammond, of Kelsan Inc., Knoxville, Tenn. “The most difficult thing in this business or for any sales rep is to avoid complacency.”

Whether you keep them in your wallet, tucked in your planner, or plastered on your desktop, write down your goals and keep them in a place where you can see them every day, Hammond suggests.

Put the Customer First
“I don’t sell them anything they don’t need,” says Hammond. “I don’t show up each week with a different flavor of bowl cleaner. I try to be a consultant to customers instead of just a salesperson.”

This includes listening to their needs. “Learn to be a good listener,” says Hammond. “We make sales calls and we can’t wait to tell our customer all the knowledge that we’ve got and we just don’t hear what they’re saying.”

Lemus says she approaches each customer with an open mind. “I look for the best interests of my customers and have a good and honest relationship,” she says.

Stay Educated
These successful salespeople use the training their companies — and suppliers — provide as springboards for success. They say their companies all offer enriching, supportive environments and are generally great places to work. But salespeople must take advantage of those educational offerings — and also go the extra mile on their own.

“You’ve got to be very coachable,” Lemus says. “That’s a big thing. Even being [with Waxie] six years and with the success I’ve had, I always am open minded in learning not only from coworkers and trainers, but also from customers. Be a sponge.” — S.S.