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Camaraderie at von Drehle: An interview with Kevin Avera

In past blog posts, you read about how Jamie Rock and others followed in the footsteps of a colleague of theirs at another company to join the von Drehle team. This month, we are shining the spotlight of the salesperson who started that ripple effect just over four years ago: Kevin Avera. 

Kevin was working in the towel and tissue industry for one of our competitors when an opportunity to work with von Drehle popped up. Based on the interview and some insight from customers who also worked with us, Kevin felt we’d be a better fit for him, and we are so glad he made the move and later inspired Jamie and a few others to do the same. 

As Regional Manager, Kevin is responsible for supporting our distributor customers and their end users in South Alabama, the Florida Panhandle, South Georgia and all of South Carolina. Typically, that work entails two or three nights of travel a week, but Kevin’s been working from his home on Hilton Head Island during the coronavirus pandemic (and Kevin loves the beach, golfing and tennis, making HHI a lovely place to be on lockdown!). 

According to Kevin, the hardest part about working from home is switching from face-to-face interactions to phone and virtual meetings. “Trying to do things over the phone is never as easy as doing them in person,” he says, but he’s working hard every day to be able to support people out in the field as always. 

The people Kevin works with make that task easier. At von Drehle, “it starts with the management,” and Kevin talks about how accessible his direct report, our Director of Sales Larry Cook, is. “You can get him any time day or night, and our management team is service-oriented to us as the sales team. They support us in any way they can to make our job easier.” 

Kevin also talks about the sense of teamwork and support he gets from his colleagues. He has twenty years of work in this industry under his belt, and most of our sales team has that same level of experience. They share that experience and talk to each other four or five times a day, often offering pointers or advice from opposite coasts. That constant communication builds a family atmosphere that Kevin loves. 

Part of that family feeling also stems from the fact that von Drehle is an ESOP company — all of our team members are owners. This means that everyone is working for the same common goal, even though teams like Kevin’s cover individual territories throughout the country. “We feel like we are all pulling together because we are all owners in the company,” Kevin explains. “And that doesn’t just go for sales; that goes for the people who are working in our production facilities, our corporate office, customer service — we all work together so there is a really strong camaraderie between everybody.” 

Kevin says that sense of camaraderie extends to our distributors. We work with independent distributors, and the focus has always been on building strong, personal relationships with them. When Kevin first came over to von Drehle, he immediately noticed that many of our customers have been with us for 10 or 20 years, and that culture of respect and relationship-building is one of the reasons why. 

Developing those relationships is the thing Kevin is most proud of in his time here so far. When he came on board, he took over an established territory that was part of a larger region that had grown too big for one salesperson to cover alone.

Going into an already-established territory can be challenging, but Kevin says “I was fortunate to come in behind somebody who was so good and had this existing customer base, and I’ve been able to build on that and bring in even more new customers.” That’s a job he’s done exceedingly well. So well, in fact, that he was named von Drehle’s Salesperson of the Year for 2019! 

No one could have foreseen the challenges that this year has brought, but Kevin is handling them in stride. While he misses traveling and seeing customers face-to-face, he is adjusting to the “new normal” of working from home in a territory that encompasses four states and four very different approaches to the coronavirus. Direction from von Drehle’s leadership at the start of the pandemic made navigating it easier, and we know that with leaders like Kevin, we are prepared for whatever comes our way next!