“How am I supposed to know about a culture I’m not already in?” To be completely honest, I contemplated that same question prior to this assignment. All throughout my life, I consider myself to have led somewhat of a sheltered life and often hesitate to step outside my comfort level, worried that I might come across something I’m not entirely familiar with. In my opinion, the attempt to understand a culture other than your own is nothing short of admirable, however it was still such a foreign concept to me. With that being said, this job shadow opportunity helped tear down those self-hindering boundaries and instilled a newfound interest in experiencing as many career routes (relevant to my major) as possible.
When I declared a major in economics last August, I had not the slightest clue what type of career path I would find myself following after graduation. These were the courses I found most enjoyable up until that point in my collegiate career, so I figured I would give it a chance. Upon that decision, I was recommended for a summer internship in an up and coming sales and marketing organization, known as The Patterson Group, INC. This was a flattering compliment to the utmost degree, however the internship revolved solely around retail and sales. Realizing I had zero experience in either department, my self-set limitations were becoming more and more prominent. That isn’t to say that I was opposed to the possibility of this career path, it was simply another instance of my ignorance working against me. My older brother, who has been working as a sales representative at East Penn Manufacturing for the past three years in both Chicago and St. Louis, assured me that sales would be fitting for my personable attitude and that I should reconsider my naïve assessment of the opportunity at hand. I did exactly that.
The Patterson Group was established in 2003 and has been in business for nine years and six months. It is a sales and brand development firm with two primary divisions of operation. The sales division places consumer products and consumables into national retailers ranging from Dick’s Sporting Goods to Macy’s department stores. The brand development division assists companies with their brand message, logo and marketing. To place product into major retail, The Patterson Group is a full service organization. “Sales and marketing have distinct duties, but ultimately they have the same focus and perspective: reaching the consumer and promoting sales”(Organizational Structure for Sales & Marketing, 2008).
As I walked into The Patterson Group, INC primary office in Sewickley, PA, I was immediately greeted by the group’s lone receptionist. Waiting for her to confirm my appointment, my eyes began to wonder throughout the open lobby. The soothing sound of water flowing coming from the center fountain settled my anxious nerves as I awaited the arrival of owner and founder, George Patterson. As the elevator doors opened, an energetic character came strutting out. Although he was rather short in stature, I could already tell he had a larger than life persona about him, a quality that is likely a testament to his success.
There’s a friendly, yet endearing energy surrounding him that put an optimistic grin on my face as I shook his hand. I had known him for less than a minute, and I still would have probably bought whatever he was trying to sell to me. In a sense, I suppose that was his sales pitch for that day. George kept emphasizing the benefits and advantages one can reap from sales with the help of a personable attitude and relentless work ethic, especially with the right mentor to help guide you along the way. At this point, I knew I would be intern with The Patterson Group. My certainty was solidified by George, a man that major businesses respect and place their trust in, and his willingness to guide and teach me everything there is to know about his job.
George’s job can easily be perceived as “the middleman.” Companies seeking to gain exposure in certain markets and specific regions hire George to do exactly that. Once a mutual partnership is made, George begins contacting businesses that he believes will show interest in whichever product it may be. Whether it be making appointments at the business’s headquarters or coming in contact with them at trade shows, George’s responsibility is to pitch his products in the most appealing way possible. Through a broader perspective, The Patterson Group as a whole covers a variety of different responsibilities. “A sales and marketing organization represents the selling unit in the legal sense. It is responsible for example for product liability and other rights of recourse; customer deliveries; business partner contacts; and direct mailing campaigns. It also helps you to offset business operations internally”(SAP library, 2006). George says, “Experience typically leads to success. You start to understand what certain retailers like, what they don’t like, and how to present in the most appealing way possible.”
George soon invited me to accompany he and his associate to a one of the largest trade shows of the year. This is because trade shows are typically where The Patterson Group generates the majority of their revenue. This event was the International Surf Expo in Orlando, Florida. We would fly down at 5am on Friday morning and return in less than twenty-four hours. The length of the trip seemed so peculiar to me. I compared it to an extremely abbreviated vacation, however I would eventually come to find that this is the lifestyle of a career in sales.
On that Friday in January, George arrived at my house at 3:45 in the morning, I might as well have still been asleep. As I stepped into his car, I expected my mentor to be in a similar trance-like state that I was in at the time. To my surprise, that was quite the contrary. George seemed like he had been up for multiple hours prior to that, animated as always, but looking to begin his lesson plan for the day. “What will make the biggest difference between me and you from each of our respected starting points will be the mentoring.” George was alluding to the fact that when he graduated from college, he was left to figure everything out about sales and clients on his own. “With me sharing my own personal knowledge and experience over the past three decades, you’re going to be light-years ahead of where I stood when I was in your shoes.” Anticipation for what could unfold that day slowly brought me back to consciousness.
Although I was somewhat irritable from the lack of sleep, I began to observe George in his element. Realizing he was on a first name basis with several airport employees, I asked him how intensive his travel schedule was. “When I was fresh out of college my only goal was to make as much money as I possibly could, therefore I pursued as many potential accounts that I possibly could have, and in doing so, traveling about four to five days a week. Things have changed since then though, I was a kid, I had a lot of energy, and didn’t have a family yet.” I saw this as a very respectable quality in George. Not only did he lack the mentoring that I was given, but he also modeled an undying work ethic in order to compensate for his lack of guidance. I began to take mental notes while we waited to board our flight.
The topic of his weekly traveling tendencies made me wonder what his job requires of him the few days he is home. “I typically wake up around 5am, head over the office, play catch up on emails, and verify upcoming accounts, orders, and flights. I’ll usually wrap up sometime around 11-12pm.” My initial thoughts on his non-traveling schedule were very favorable, however one must consider the exhaustion you feel after a long stretch of conferences and plane rides. “Most people (personal friends, family, clients, etc.) see me as the funny guy that drives fast cars and loves to goof around, but that’s only because they see Saturday/Sunday George. They have no idea how hard I push myself the other five days out of the week.” The way he described that mentality was fascinating to me. I now strive to model my work ethic after his, due to the success it has brought him.
After one layover flight, we arrived in Orlando in the early afternoon. We immediately went to The Orlando Convention Center where the Surf Expo was being held. As I walked through the main doors, my first view was unlike anything I had originally expected. I had assumed the expo would have just been filled with a room full of people, just like George, looking to gain new clients. To my surprise, it was anything but that. This massive banquet room was filled with wave pools for product demos, catwalks for beachwear modeling, and sand volleyball courts throughout. I was overwhelmed to say the least, however George didn’t appear to be the least bit phased by the allure of the Surf Expo. At that moment, I realized that this was nothing out of the ordinary for him. It almost seemed like he had tunnel vision deliberately set on finding his next client.
As he inspected the landscape of the expo, he was able to locate his most notable and successful account, Bodyglove. This account is based out of California, but gets much of its business on the east coast. This precisely the reason why George’s relationship with Bodyglove has flourished over the years. Realizing that the east coast was lacking the laidback, “beachy” lifestyle that the west coast is often connected to, he figured there was untapped potential within this company and could very easily market it on a national basis. George then introduced me as one of his interns, to several key figures in the company. As a result of his admirable efforts, the executives I had just met attributed much of Bodyglove’s recent success to The Patterson Group’s professional representation.
I was intrigued by how professional these men were despite their deceiving surf attire. Nevertheless, one of the most important things I saw on this trip was the relationship that George shared with his partners. Assuming these bonds were fueled in the interest of business, it was humbling to see them showing such a genuine interest in each other’s personal lives.
As the day progressed, I met more company executives than I can recall. All of which assured me how great of a mentor I had found myself, advising me to listen to everything he tells me. Even though it wasn’t necessary in the slightest, this was just further confirmation of how highly regarded of a man George is in the industry, which left me feeling extremely grateful to be taken in by such a positive influence.When the expo began to clear out George still seemed to be looking for business and gaining additional contacts in the process. In my mind, it finally registered how this much of a continuous building process this career is. The job is never quite over, due to the fact that you need to establish future connections with as many people as possible in order to maintain success. Regardless, with the help of my mentor and the experience of this trade show, I felt like I gained a whole new perspective in a department I had previously known nothing about. I look forward to experiencing more of these opportunities this summer as I begin my internship with The Patterson Group.