ADI Counter Person Life RevealedBy Carlton Purvis, Published on Oct 28, 2013
An ADI counter person is truly at the front line of physical security, taking orders (and often ridicule) from a vast number of industry people. But what is life really like at the counter? What problems, issues, experiences have they faced.
In this unique review, we share our findings from an interview with a former ADI counter person plus feedback from an ADI executive.
- Why People Leave
- Training Requirements
- and What Motivates Sales
But first, here is what our source said where the best and the worst parts of working as a counter person for ADI:
No upward mobility. The company did not pay based on knowledge or based on performance, he said. “You could be an MIT graduate or you could be a non-licensed hobo, and you’ll get paid the same amount of money at the counter,” he said. He says that one year he sold four times the amount the person next to him sold, but still made less money because his colleague had been there longer.
Then, the ADI exec we spoke to says it was harder in the past for people to move up because there were a fixed number of stores and less than 10 percent turnover company-wide annually. "It's a little different now because we've opened up a few more stores and will be opening up more each year," he said.
Part of what attracts people to the job is the benefits package which he says was the best part of the job. "They have excellent benefits. The health, dental and 401K benefits are great. They have a lot of employees so they are able to get some good deals," he said.
The Ambitious Leave, The Not So Ambitious Stay
The average starting salary for a counter person was $35,000-$40,000 when he started at ADI around 2008. “They don’t pay that much so it’s hard for them to keep people. After being there for three years I went from $35,000 to $39,000 and when a manufacturer’s rep position came open, I put in for that,” he said. Most of the manufacturer reps he knows started as counter people with big distributors and then moved up and out.
The reason for the high turnover is the lack of incentives and lack of upward mobility, he says. "You have to reward people for their efforts and that's not what ADI did at all. Working hard does not guarantee a regional or branch manager position because those positions have almost no turnover, he said.
ADI says things have changed. "Five or 10 years ago we were probably paying less than we should, but today if we think someone is pretty good, then we're willing to pay what it takes. We are a little bit more flexible now. We are competitive when it comes to inside sales people," with ADI noting that the average salary of an ADI sales person now is $55,000 with the opportunity to make more moving from inside sales to outside sales.
Where People Go When They Leave
Our source says people he knows usually left to go to other distributors. “I’ve never known or heard of anyone from another branch come to this company. I’ve known several people to go the other way. Most people use this company as a stepping stone to get exposure,” the former counter-person said.
ADI says people have more commonly left to become manufacturer or factory reps.
Distributors Do Little to Attract People With Industry Experience
A counter sales position at a distributor, even a major distributor, “doesn’t pay well enough to attract qualified people,” our source said. “If you want someone with real knowledge of the industry, you’re going to have to pay him a little more than that to get him to come do this job.” He says ADI is specific about who they hire, and the hiring process is lengthy.
“There was a guy who was licensed to do fire, but had some tax problems with a small business he owned. He couldn’t get the paperwork to the distributor in time so they hired someone who had previously worked at Best Buy and quit three weeks later,” he said. “They’re just too nit picky and don’t want to pay people what they’re worth.
“It took me a month and a half before I actually got hired,” he said. There were the standard interviews and background checks, but the hiring process moved slowly.
Most people starting jobs as counter sales are in their late 20s to mid 30s, he says, "and from there you get the guys who use it as a stepping stone and the guys who are just there forever."
The ADI exec told us that one of the hardest things for the company is to find qualified people. "At any given time we have 40-50 openings and we have added four full time recruiters. In the past we were way too dependent on word of mouth. We hired professional recruiters to find talent and we're getting much better hires and paying people what they are worth in the market."
In the past there was no training for counter sales people other than a two-day orientation. The former counter person explained, "We have a lot of people who come from outside the industry so if it got too in-depth it might be over their heads." Now there is required training that employees go through to get certificates in 10 categories [link no longer available] including fire, security and access control. They are required to complete 50 hours of online training per year.
The counter person we spoke to says in the past training only covered basic product features and employees earned points from that could be used to buy distributor branded merch like hats, bags and t-shirts. Now the point system is gone, but if a person does not pass training they are at risk of losing their commissions.
ADI says that they keep the training basic, but will pay for employees to get advanced certifications in specific areas.
The former counter person we spoke to said all of their customers are integrators because you have to have a license to buy their products.
In one region most business was done by phone, other regions were primarily walk-ins. It just varied from region to region he said. “At least half your day is on the phone if not more than that. People call in orders a lot. Most of your time is going to be spent on the phone putting in those orders. Then you’ll spend a lot of time pulling orders. Then you’ll spend the rest of it doing paperwork,” he said. “It’s like herding cattle. Every day is the same.”
ADI says that currently two-thirds of their business is done by phone and the other third from walk-ins, but online sales is an area seeing growth.
"We can adjust pricing all day long, but we're not allowed to go past 10 or 12 [percentage] points. Not everyone gets that pricing, but with the market as it is now, they have been selling at 15 points all day long. When I was there goal was 22 points," said the counterperson.
"The discounts mainly come from the manufacturer. If a customer is looking for a substantial size or quantity then ADI will reach out to the manufacturer to get the registered price whether it be per volume or for a specific project. More often than not we'd do it as a kind of appreciation to the customer."
Counter sales reps have a base salary, and there is no individual commission, our source said. However, the ADI exec says there is a commission based on the amount of total sales that is shared by the group. "Everyone that touches a customer inside sales, outside sales, everyone, gets a commission. It's a branch commission that is shared. Except for the people in the stock room," he said. Of course, such an approach minimizes the incentive for individual top performers.
Product Recommendations Based on Preference
“When customers ask for product recommendations, it was really based on personal preference or your experience with it,” the former counter person said. “But it also had to do with support. If I had a rep that came in a lot and supported me a lot - for example some of those reps would bring a little gift card or something by, then I would refer those brands because of that. The brands I didn’t refer is because we got no support or because they were crap.”
"That's on branch level," he said. At the systems level “it’s just based on whatever items are on sale that week. [The Director] is really into rebates so they put out the ones they can make rebates on to make more money. Manufacturers set goals kind of like they do for sales people. If the distributor sells a certain amount they get a rebate, they get a certain percent back from the manufacturer.” He says the rebates are usually around two percent.