Rod Brown may be the best salesperson ever. He proposed to his wife Barbara eight days after their first date. She walked into his distributorship as a rep for the Shaw Umbrella Company and after two business meetings they had their first date on a Thursday night. The following Friday, he proposed. They have been happily married for 25 years. “The best sale I ever made!” he recounts.
Rod is the CFO for MadeToOrder, a distributor company with a unique business structure based in Pleasanton, California. He is an amazing industry professional. I have quite a bit of respect for his business acumen and also for his willingness to assist others, myself included.
Rod invited me to attend MadeToOrder’s 10th Anniversary Celebration that was held in conjunction with the Promotional Marketing Association of Northern California (PMANC) Spring Event in beautiful Monterey, California. This was a blessing for me, as I always love attending Regional Association events.
The first evening was to honor their 5-Star suppliers at the famous Restaurant Fandango. Throughout the evening, it was very clear that the relationship MadeToOrder has with its business partners is strong. MadeToOrder team members expressed their appreciation for their supplier partners. Suppliers were candid in their respect for how MadeToOrder handles their business affairs. Awards were given to several companies ranging from a small apparel decorating shop to large, well-known suppliers. Recognition was given to: Hit, Leeds, Gemline, SanMar, ETS, Cutter and Buck, Antigua, Twintech, Viola Embroidery, Big Apple and High Velocitee’s.
In this short video, you can catch inside look at the evening MadeToOrder honored their supplier partners. The next day the MadeToOrder Team attended the PMANC Spring Trade Show, which was a great Regional Association event.
Rod explains that MadeToOrder functions differently from a traditional distributor organization. It’s built with a small number of savvy industry professionals who become partners similar to the way a law firm is structured. This professional practice concept allows interests to align. It is not a hierarchy. This uncommon structure has led to quite a bit of success for those involved. You will get a candid look at the MadeToOrder family in this video filmed at Restaurant 1833.
Rod shared with me that his team of 17 sales people will generate 20 million in sales this year. 17 People, 20 Million in Sales…Really?? That’s impressive! These numbers will be changing with the recent news that MadeToOrder formed a subsidiary with California-based distributor Steal One LLC (dba JAMS). This year, the new subsidiary is forecasted to add approximately $6 million in revenue to MadeToOrder’s current projected current sales of $20 million; in 2014 that increase could be as much as $10 million.
Amazingly, Rod still manages to takes two months off every summer. Although for most of us this seems completely impossible, Rod said it is very possible. “You have to stress test your business,” he said. “Do you really have a business or is it just you dressed up as a business?” Being gone for a length of time is certainly a test!
Rod is also known for his service work outside of our industry. Every year he and his sons head to Africa and serve as volunteers at rural feeding stations. This is an unglamorous job where you cook corn meal mush in an open oil barrel over a flame, hoping you have enough to feed most of the line of 200+ kids that assemble waiting with plates in hands and expectant, hungry faces. Rod says he has no illusions about changing lives long term, but this work helps feed someone that day and that small help certainly has value to people who have nothing else. You can learn more about Rod's 2013 trip to Africa in this video.
Spring break takes Rod on an annual trip as one of 50 adult leaders and 200 kids to rural Mexico. Working with Amor Ministries, groups of 2 adults and 12 high school students tackle the backbreaking work of building a home for a family in five days. Rod explains that “home” in that part of the world means something different. “It’s a glorified shed,” Rod explained. “A wood frame house, no interior walls, on a hand poured slab that has two windows, a door and is water and rat proof.” The house is constructed with no power tools or electricity. At the end of the week in Mexico, keys to a finished home are presented to a family in a moving ceremony.
Rod believes in giving back in this world and he wants his sons to see the larger world and be more receptive in understanding the blessings in their own lives. “There is a fundamental connection between capitalism and charitable acts,” he explained. “There is something about physical labor that opens you to spiritual moments you don’t recognize on a day to day basis,” Rod said.
Through the years, I have met some incredible people in this industry. Rod is certainly one of them and is yet another reason why it makes sense to get involved in with your Regional Association and our national trade association, PPAI. It was through connections made at these events, that I got to know Rod. It’s friendships like this that make what we do so rewarding.
© 2013 Jeff Solomon, MAS