For von Drehle’s Director of Sales Larry Cook, sales is an outcome, not a goal. He knows that the vast majority of people in our industry buy from more than one towel tissue manufacturer, and that although we’d want all that business, it’s smart to have multiple sources. “All we want to do is earn the right to be the first call when someone has a project or an opportunity,” says Larry.
And how do we earn that right?
It all happens because of our sales team. Larry proudly affirms they are the best in the industry because they aren’t just thinking about themselves – they do everything they can to help our customers succeed. They are great at listening, building trust and making sure the customer’s needs come first. Of the 16 people that report to Larry directly, 10 of them were hired in the past 5 1/2 years, and each one was chosen because they mirror the culture and values of our company. “You could have been the greatest salesperson in the world during interviews,” Larry explains, “but if you didn’t fit our culture, we couldn’t hire you.”
When Frank and Pat von Drehle founded the company in 1974, they sought to build a company based on integrity, respect and doing what you say you’re going to do. 46 years later, that commitment and culture is stronger than ever, and Larry kept that in mind when building and growing our sales team.
It’s also one of the things that attracted Larry to von Drehle in the first place. He was on the distribution side of the business for over 20 years when one day, he got a call from a recruiter reaching out about a position on the manufacturing side of the towel and tissue business. “That’s really nice,” said Larry, “but there’s only one company I’d ever consider doing that work for, and that’s the von Drehle corporation.”
Larry is responsible for overseeing all of our Jan/San sales and our buying groups and industry trade shows that directly or indirectly affect our customers. He works hard every day to make sure our goals are aligned with our long-term strategies, connects our sales team with the training and tools they need to make sure our customers succeed and removes any roadblocks that may get in the way of helping our customers. He also spends a lot of time in collaboration with our marketing and national accounts teams to make sure that our work is aligned and that we do whatever we have to do to ensure the best outcome for our customers and our company.
Typically, Larry’s work requires lots of traveling around the country working with our sales team, visiting with our customers and potential new customers and listening and learning. With travel paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, Larry has been relying on technology to help him make the connections that are so important in our business. Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams have certainly been invaluable over the last few months, but Larry looks forward to the day when he can be back in front of our customers and being with our sales team.
For him, our customers are family, and almost all of them represent family owned and operated businesses. Some are still in the first generation, but many are in the second and third. “These are real people with real lives, caring about others while at the same time building a business” says Larry, and as a family-owned business ourselves, we share a common culture.
“Our goal,” according to Larry, “is to bring value beyond the towel and tissue we manufacture. That’s our livelihood, but it isn’t actually the most important part of what we do.”
For Larry and the rest of the von Drehle team, the most important part of building this business is building relationships and helping people by understanding their needs. This helps us accomplish their goals and aspirations for the future, and it’s how we earn their trust: “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”
Larry is just as committed to his actual family as he is his work family. As Larry is adjusting to working from home, his nine-year old daughter is adjusting to virtual school for the time being. Making sure his wife and daughter have everything they need and having a good time are priorities at home, and when he’s not working, Larry loves to play golf. Even that’s a little different now (no touching the flag, and only one person in the golf cart at a time!), but he’s grateful to be able to continue to hit the links around Raleigh.
The pandemic has also changed one important aspect of our industry — buying group conferences. Larry loves building rapport with so many distributors at the shows, having good conversations with people from all over the country and having that in-person contact. Those relationships are vital, and even though building them may look a little different through phone calls and virtual meetings going forward, we know that Larry and our sales team will continue to listen, learn and grow with our customers.