When Arthur Tompkins became a Shaklee sales distributor, his number one priority was to recruit a sales force. He felt that with unemployment above 10 percent in the Athens, Georgia, area, he would not have problems finding salespeople. However, six frustrating months later, he had only recruited one salesperson.
1. TOMPKINS’S BACKGROUND
Upon Tompkins’s retirement from the military, he began to look for a suitable business opportunity in which to invest his time and money. The Shaklee organization was attractive to him because of its quality product line and progressive compensation plan. Tompkins felt that his previous experience in personal selling, even though limited, would enable him to develop a successful distributorship in a short period of time. For two years, prior to going into the service, Tompkins had worked as a salesman for a manufacturer of a line of hair grooming aids. He also spent six months as a research assistant in a North Carolina advocate organization.
Tompkins allowed himself one year to establish a strong distributorship in Athens. Then, he planned to retire permanently to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he would apply the selling and recruiting techniques that he had learned to building a new sales force for Shaklee.
2. THE SHAKLEE CORPORATION
The Shaklee Corporation began as a door-to-door distributor of nutritional food supplements in 1956. Forrest C. Shaklee, Sr., developed the original product line after years of research into the nutritional requirements of the human body. His research provided the scientific knowledge that developed the products. To his achievements and experience were added the capabilities of his two sons: Forrest, Jr., contributed the financial skills, while Lee Shaklee, a highly successful sales executive, supplied the essential spark of marketing know-how and product promotion. From a modest beginning, Shaklee sales had grown to $190 million. An expanded line of food supplements still contributed the lion’s share of the revenues, but the company had added lines of household products and cosmetics.
Shaklee pioneered the development of food supplements. The product line consisted of over 100 products, including items such as Alfalfa-Tabs, B-Complex, Herb-Lax laxative, Instant Protein drink mix, and assorted vitamin and mineral supplements. Food supplements contributed approximately 70 percent of Shaklee’s total sales revenue.
In the last few years, Shaklee added a line of concentrated cleaning products which the company felt offered advantages over store-bought brands. The products were biodegradable, safe, and economical to use. The company compiled data indicating that Shaklee products were approximately 33 percent less expensive than the leading brands of cleaning agents. Household products contributed 20 percent of total sales revenue.
The cosmetics, toiletries, and fragrances product line was Shaklee’s most recent introduction, introduced six years ago. Although sales volume was still small, revenues had doubled in the past three years to approximately 10 percent of total sales revenue.
3. THE SHAKLEE SALES PLAN
I looked around me and saw all of these people out of work. Unemployment in the Athens area was over 10 percent at that time, so I didn’t think I would have any problem in finding sales representatives. I started by running ads in the Athens newspaper for about a month. I received well over a hundred calls. But after I told a caller that it was commissioned sales and no guaranteed salary, I didn’t get any farther most of the time. When I was able to set up an appointment for a faceto-face interview, the caller didn’t show up. I finally decided that I was wasting my time.
Having abandoned his first recruiting scheme, Tompkins then sought the aid of local merchants. Because Athens was a university city, he felt that many merchants were approached by students interested in part-time selling jobs. He asked some merchants to hand out his business card to job-seekers. This technique also provided unsuccessful.
After six months, Tompkins had recruited only one distributor, a personal friend. Tompkins felt he had been beating his head against the wall and did not know how to proceed. He knew that Shaklee offered a quality product with excellent career opportunities for motivated individuals. He thought that if he could explain the opportunities with Shaklee on a personal basis, he could successfully sponsor one out of every three interested prospects. The problem, he believed, was that he had not been able to tell his story, a story he was sure would sell people on Shaklee. Arthur Tompkins was at a loss on what to do.
Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.