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Career Story: Operations Manager For A Dental Supplies Distributor

Operations Manager For A Dental Supplies Distributor

Job Title: Operations Manager

Type of Company: My company distributes supplies and equipment for the fabrication of dental appliances, along with other materials that are used by dentists.

Education: BA, Liberal Arts, University of Massachusetts •• attended, graduate studies, Stonehill College, Bridgewater State College

Previous Experience: I began as warehouse assistant for a mid-sized medical supply distribution company. After moving up to sales and becoming a sales manager, I started my own company. I am now employed by a small company in the same business.

Job Tasks: Working in a small company environment allows for direct involvement in all aspects of our business: customer service, buying, selling, approving expenditures, troubleshooting equipment and physical plant maintenance issues, quality control, customer invoicing and collections, product research and development (including product packaging and labeling), shipping, receiving, and PC network maintenance.

Our sales are generated by scheduled sales visits, inbound and outbound telephone conversations, fax and e-mail. A typical day for me begins with checking and responding to voice messages left by our customers, and ensuring that packages are properly prepared for the day's personal deliveries. We have a single person who picks and packages orders and the two of us work together to have everything ready for our sales manager/owner to load into his car and take off as quickly as possible Monday through Thursday based on his schedule for the day. Fridays are normally reserved for catching up with administrative issues, as well as customers who require on-site service, mostly people with language barriers, start-up operators who need help designing from the ground up, and generally anyone who has to handle the purchase in order to make a decision. In these instances, we are much like an auto dealership, where seeing and touching takes the place of pictures or verbal description.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is the fun of listening to a customer's problem, and coming up with a quick and effective solution, the fun of simultaneously finding ways to maximize customer savings and company profit at the same time...the fun of discovering new sources for product, and new outlets for product... Most fun of all is calling an account to ask if he needs anything and having writer's cramp by the time he is done ordering.

The worst part of the job is sometimes having to decline a customer's request, either due to his inability to pay, or our lack of access to a specific product.

Job Tips: Try to start "at the bottom". It's where the real success or failure of any operation is determined. Look at the product you are packaging. Feel how sticky the tape is. Don't limit your energy to your job description. Ask questions. Insist on understanding the answers. Speak up if you think someone has made a mistake. If this is not appreciated, you are at the wrong company. Ask for product catalogs and brochures to take and read. If you understand the use of your company's products, you probably know more than a good percentage of the sales force.

Additional Thoughts: Be a listener. When a customer has a problem for you to solve, don't worry that you don't know the answer. If you listen well enough to understand the problem, oftentimes you will find that in describing the problem your customer has also provide you with an effective solution.

For example: We have a client who ran into some difficulty and had an overdue balance. He has to order goods 2 to 3 times a week, and explained that the state of his receivables made it impossible to pay the overdue balance, as the money coming in more or less covered only operating expenses, and he doesn't qualify for a large loan. He had exceeded any reasonable credit limit we could extend, but he needed supplies to stay in business. Because we were listening, rather than threatening action against the account, we had heard him say that there was indeed a weekly cash flow to work with. Our suggestion was simple. Rather than trying to borrow money or buy elsewhere until he paid our bill, we asked him to take his orders on a COD basis, adding a small amount to the total of each order (about 5% of the overdue balance). Twenty orders later the balance was paid, his sales had increased, and he insists on remaining on a COD basis because he likes the idea of being debt-free.

Rather than taking the typical step of finding a collection agency and losing an account, we had used the fact that some money was coming in to our customer to increase sales in his instance.

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