National Sales Associates' Sprint to Success
- By Raegen Pietrucha
- Jun 01, 2011
How does a company with founding partners rooted in the media manufacturing industry begin in recertified tape and data center services and move to a remanufactured cartridges offering as well? Although the explanation is quite simple, it highlights two key aspects of National Sales Associates’ (NSA) business strategy that have contributed to its remarkable success from the time of its very inception: strong relationships inside and outside company walls, and good old-fashioned ambition.
When Len Crann, Joe Endyke and Steve Morse found themselves out of jobs after the tape company they worked for, EMTEC/BASF, was purchased by Imation in 2003, they could’ve easily parted ways and taken their wealth of knowledge and experience in the media manufacturing industry to other companies, helping those businesses to thrive. Instead, they decided to stick together and launch one of their own: NSA. Combining their strengths in the recertified tape arena (an environmentally friendly industry that allows data centers to back up tape-recorded information), NSA’s founders were able to make “seven figures in their first year of business” strictly dealing in tape, said Joe Thaete, national sales manager, toner division.
But as the old saying reminds us, success rarely arises strictly from what you know; who you know plays a part as well. While their company flourished because of their knowledge of the industry, the founders were also aware that building the proper team was crucial. “(One) primary investment has been in personnel,” Thaete said. “(The founders) have put a lot of time and effort and money behind putting together the right team.” Cross-trained from a factory perspective (in that they understand building materials, how to troubleshoot defectives, etc.), NSA employees are highly qualified service providers to the company’s customers. Today, this team consists of internal sales representatives in the Lawrence, Mass., office and external representatives scattered throughout the U.S. for a total of roughly 20 employees — including Crann, Endyke and Morse, who are “very, very active in their work,” Thaete noted.
NSA’s founders knew that building and cultivating relationships with partners was also essential to their company’s prosperity and future growth. Because of their background with EMTEC/BASF, the founders had developed partnerships with big-box distribution channels on the office products/media side, Thaete indicated. This facilitated NSA’s initial venture into the remanufactured cartridge industry. When one of NSA’s tape customers expressed an interest in expanding its product line to include color toner, NSA, which was already looking into other environmentally friendly items it could potentially offer, seized the opportunity to expand in that particular direction.
To accomplish this new goal, NSA partnered with a cartridge remanufacturer and again did quite well for itself. When that remanufacturer was bought out in 2007, however, NSA found itself at another crossroad: Should it continue on its current path in the cartridge industry? If so, how, and with whom? NSA once more turned an obstacle — this time, that of losing a partner — into an opportunity to become a toner distributor and wholesaler itself.
Moving in this direction wasn’t easy by any means. “There wasn’t any sales at that point,” Thaete indicated. But NSA could still rely on the well-established relationships it had with high-volume big-box retailers as well as a network of reselling partners the company had built over the years — and it did. An unexpected opportunity arose from one of these partnerships; as a result of a mutual friendship, NSA became an authorized distributor for Nu-Kote. “Nu-Kote gave us a chance to really bloom,” Thaete said. “NSA grew 400 percent in 2009.”
Unfortunately, however, Nu-Kote began facing some hardships shortly thereafter. NSA found itself again forging ahead into the unknown, reconfiguring its game plan and deciding upon its next move. The resourceful NSA began exploring other avenues that would enable business to continue to blossom — this time, abroad. Overseas relationships helped NSA secure large volumes of consistently high-quality cartridges from Chinese manufacturers. This in turn sparked a new idea for the company: Why not let these partners build a private-label product for NSA? So last year, NSA began selling its Eco-Certified cartridges, a green offering with a complementary recycling program in place that ensures cartridge waste will be kept out of landfills. Along with established platforms from which to sell North-American-built and GSA-compliant goods, NSA’s extensive line has allowed the company to become “a multimillion-dollar toner business,” Thaete said.
NSA’s comprehensive offering delivers four distinct benefits to clients. First and foremost, NSA focuses on ensuring it sells only high-quality products. “Some (companies are) more inclined to build to price because as a wholesaler, price is king,” Thaete said. “We take a different approach, and basically, our first concern really, truly, is quality. And I know it is for other companies as well, but we really pride ourselves on building to the best possible spec, and then let price fall where it may.” Due to this emphasis on quality, NSA employees aren’t the least bit shy when it comes to discussing the materials used to build cartridges or potential visits to its partners’ manufacturing plants. “We truly strive for the highest possible quality that we can find, and … we hold our vendors accountable so that it’s consistent,” Thaete said. For NSA, accountability encompasses not only materials and processes that ensure quality goods, but ethical practices as well. “We’re fully indemnified, and we will not entertain breaking the law and bringing in product that’s illegal,” Thaete said. “We’re very, very careful to make sure that we’re doing business with ethical companies that are following the proper procedures and not infringing on OEM patents.”
Secondly, NSA finds its team’s combined knowledge translates to significant cost savings for its customers. Since NSA employees understand costs on the manufacturing side of the business, they can negotiate pricing more adeptly and pass resulting savings on to clients. “We’re typically able to save our reselling partners anywhere from 10 to 30 percent right out of the gate,” Thaete said. “Every single new customer we’ve brought onboard, we’ve brought them … price reductions across the board compared to where they were previously.”
The third benefit NSA takes pride in offering is the service it provides. Custom service packages as well as extensive marketing support supplied in the form of “Toner Sales 101,” a combination of consultation with an NSA account representative and sales tutorials on how to sell compatible imaging supplies, are just a couple ways NSA delivers in this area. “Ultimately, it’s all about where we can have a role in helping that reselling partner grow his or her business because of what we bring to bear,” Thaete said. But NSA assists its partners too. “We’re not just customers,” he noted. “(Our partners) provide outsourcing services to other manufacturers (and) don’t necessarily have a fully evolved sales department, so we’ve been able to fill that role in helping to promote their production under our name as a wholesaler.”
Lastly, Thaete believes NSA presents unrivaled product diversity to its clients. “Partners … bring to us other lateral offerings that round out a total product line that probably is the largest in the industry,” he said. From a Taiwanese manufacturer of non-HP cartridges, to a partner in Chicago that specializes in legacy items, to a MICR provider in Southern California, NSA again capitalizes on the thriving relationships it has built to benefit its customers, offering popular and niche toner and inkjet cartridges that make the company a single-source solution, Thaete said.
True to form, though, the ambitious NSA doesn’t plan to simply sit back and rest on its current laurels; it continues to look into unique areas that can help further differentiate it from competitors and allow it to better service its expanding customer base. Keeping in line with its sustainability message, one product the company is considering bringing to the table is a cost-competitive, tree-free paper made completely out of sugarcane. And similar to a program it had with Nu-Kote, NSA is continuing its environmentally friendly practices by participating in a zero-waste-to-landfill core-recovery program with a new partner that enables NSA to pick up as few as five empties from customers free of charge — an offering many can’t provide, as it tends to be cost-prohibitive, Thaete indicated.
NSA is also entering the managed print services arena, intending to become “a single-source solution for every aspect of the MPS platform with regards to the software technology, the technical support, technical training, sales and marketing training,” Thaete said. He feels NSA’s blended product line — U.S. partners’ goods combined with offshore ones — gives the company a unique edge because NSA can once again translate the savings it receives from its partners into less expensive products and services than competitors can offer.
Undoubtedly, NSA will continue to be just as enterprising as it has been, knowing how much that spirit — and the solid partnerships that result from such efforts — contributes to its success. “On the toner side, there’s probably 15,000 companies that we’ve communicated with,” Thaete said, and he sees how these efforts have paid off. “Our name is kind of starting to get around,” he noted. Though those at the company have been in the industry a long time, wearing several different hats along the way, NSA’s ship has definitely come in. “A certain amount of edge with regards to credibility and service,” Thaete said, “(is) how we’ve been able to grow literally hundreds of reselling relationships in just four years.”
Contact NSA at 866-670-2345 or visit www.nsainc.net.
This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Recharger.
Raegen Pietrucha received her B.A. in English from University of Arizona and her M.F.A. in poetry from Bowling Green State University. She is a former teacher and has written for several industries, including legal, private investigation, heath care and currently document printing. She has also served as an editor for both professional and literary publications. Her creative work can be read in Cimarron Review, Edge, Puerto del Sol and other magazines.