Greg Rhatican had been primed to be a pro dealer salesperson from the start. During summer vacation in college, he worked as a deck builder for extra cash, developing a deep knowledge of exterior building products and the needs and challenges of contractors on the jobsite. Upon graduation, he landed a sales job with a Miller Brewing distribution center, and quickly absorbed a penchant for relationship-based sales that has continued to serve him as a 12-year sales leader at Alexandria, Va.–based Smitty's Building Supply.

“At Miller, they pounded into your head the idea that [beer sales and distribution] is an industry built on relationships,” Rhatican explains. “And that is certainly the case in construction—both upstream and downstream it's all about relationships.” Certainly Rhatican is keeping tight with his builder customers—he's on pace to hit $3 million in sales this year, which puts him in the middle range of other Smitty's sales rep volumes. But it is his upstream relationship building that is impressing Smitty's executives and product vendors even more.

“We have become accustomed to dealer yards' busy schedules interfering with their time for education and promotion of the products we have to offer,” says Tonya Farina, a territory sales manager for Moosic, Pa.–based AZEK Trimboards, a vendor supplying Smitty's through two-step distributor Parksite Plunkett Webster (PPW).“But Greg has always set himself apart by determining products that work well for Smitty's and his customers. Often as a manufacturer, when we have leads we wonder where to send them. Greg is an excellent ‘go-to' contact when I have a contractor who needs product or information.”

Keeping in touch with his suppliers as he sells downstream to deck contractors, remodelers, and custom home builders is all part of Rhatican's modus operandi that also relies on honesty and relationships in the sales process. “You never know which way the stream is going to flow,” Rhatican says. “You keep your suppliers in the loop and a lot of times they hear about projects that are coming up and can in turn steer you in the right sales direction.”

Rhatican also has brought vendors on board for an annual fishing trip that he developed and continues to coordinate and lead for Smitty's. Introduced in 1990 as a semi-casual excursion on the Chesapeake Bay for a handful of contractors, Rhatican has grown the program into a full-blown, two-day, vendor-sponsored occasion. This year, the event will be sponsored by Winchester, Va.–based alternative decking manufacturer Trex, and will be attended by more than 100 channel partners both up and downstream, including PPW employees and contractors, and Trex regional vice presidents.

For Rhatican—who also has been bestowed the title of corporate chef at employee and contractor cookouts—his personal relationship building is merely an extension of Smitty's culture of giving back to customers and showing appreciation for the support from suppliers. “There really isn't any complex sales philosophy—you just want to give the people an honest deal,” Rhatican says. “I try to position myself to be as valuable as I possibly can to my customers and suppliers. Once they give me a PO, they know it will be handled—they do not have to worry about it again. Be it getting quotes back, taking care of any little needs, or treating obscure hardware knobs as importantly as a $30,000 lumber package.”

Special Report: PROSALES Salespeople of the Year