Ricky Rhodes

Frank Quatraro has been selling building materials at Graves for 65 years, the last 25 of them after he formally retired in 1990. It’s like pulling hens’ teeth to persuade the humble nonagenarian to talk about his sales successes—he regularly has been a million-dollar seller, and salesman of the year at least once in each of five decades—but the Italian-born Quatraro is quick to praise his company and its owners.

Traveling Man I regularly put about 30,000 miles a year on my vehicles. [When delivering proposals] I like that eyeball-to-eyeball contact. It’s a more friendly gesture than emails or cellphone calls. I think you really want that closeness. It develops trust. Customers know who they are dealing with. To me, it’s easier and better than anything else.

Connecting with Customers Some take more work than others. You just keep trying. There is  a way in with every person. Sometimes it’s lunch, sometimes there is some type of entertainment. I found a good sales tool for me was playing golf. If the person had any desire to play and I could get them on the golf course, I would. I’d tell them right away that I wouldn’t let them beat me. [Quatraro once shot 67 on a par 72 course that included a double bogey, so his boast was no idle one.]

If you can find a way in, they are apt to stay with you for quite a while. I walked out of one customer’s office with an offer for a $1 million project—a series of 12-unit apartment buildings in the Stow area. We did the whole job and remained friends.

In the Beginning I came to Graves in 1950. I had just graduated from college, the University of Akron, where I majored in business. Graves gave me a chance, and I started as a sales trainee, and eventually wound up doing outside sales.

The company actually doesn’t do training the way they did when I came on. Today they are looking more for experienced salespeople who have knowledge of the business and already have contracts with new customers.

Ch-Ch-Changes When I came on, most builders were working on the job[site], just like the masons and carpenters, and they didn’t really want to discuss sales during the day, so you had to go see them in the evening. Generally, you’d try to find them after dinner. In the early years, I covered northeast Ohio, and I pushed material into West Virginia, and even did one job in Kentucky. That was a nursing home. It was a challenge, and it was something you felt good about doing. Now, most of the time, the builder has an office where you see him, and it’s a person who doesn’t work on the jobsite with his hands.

Tough Competition When I first started, there was a lot more volume. It’s more competitive today. I don’t put in the long hours I used to, but it still requires a lot of attention to get the job done. The selling is not any easier, but it takes more time for the builder to make a decision, primarily because of all the competition. It’s still interesting and a good challenge. I’ve never been lower on the sales board than #3 in all the years I’ve been here, but I don’t put my name on the sales board any more. I don’t want to get in the way [of the other salesmen].

Day to Day I’m taking care of clients I had in the past, and occasionally add a new client. I don’t let any business get away. I really enjoy the business, and I don’t want to rust away. It’s good for your mind to have a challenge. Fortunately, I still have the body and mind that lets me do it.

I serve about a dozen clients—I’ve outlived some of my customers—and at some point, I’ll turn that business over to another salesperson. Just not yet.