After 30 years, value still counts
Growing up in Upstate New York, MWI Animal Health sales consultant Mike Darling enjoyed nothing more than working on his grandfather’s dairy farm. The opportunity to work closely with the farm’s large-animal veterinarian sparked his interest in animal healthcare, as well as the products and equipment involved. “I had found my dream job,” he says, and pursued an animal and dairy science degree in college, with the intention of going to veterinary school. Vet school turned out to be a financial burden for his parents, however. “They already had four other children in college,” he says.
That was but a bump in the road for Darling, who was determined to find his niche in animal healthcare. In 1987, he joined Butler Animal Health (currently Henry Schein) as a delivery driver and warehouse worker. Although veterinary school never happened, his transition to the business side of the industry soon evolved into a rewarding 30-year career in sales.
From warehouse to ride-alongs
Within months of joining Butler, Darling eased into a sales role. With the help of a couple of mentors at the company – Jerry Linkhorn and John Dixon – he was promoted to sales trainee. “For about a year, I would ride with different sales reps, work the phones as an inside sales rep (ISR) and do a bit of purchasing,” he recalls. “I learned how the business worked and what it took to become a sales rep. I worked the phones whenever I could and was trained by one of the best inside sales reps, Betty Sue.
“When Butler began expanding into the Midwest, I was offered a territory in southern Illinois,” he continues. “I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. Better yet, my future wife, Betty Sue, was going to come with me!” Butler promptly promoted Betty Sue to lead ISR of its St. Louis. Mo. branch, and the soon-to-be-married couple worked there for the next three years. When a territory opened in Buffalo, N.Y., however, they jumped at the opportunity to “go home.”
In early 2001, Darling transitioned one more time – to MWI Animal Health. “I was MWI’s first rep in the Northeast,” he says. “It was like starting over again.” Indeed, his customers were not familiar with MWI. “But they did know me, and that’s all that mattered. It has been an awesome ride ever since, and I can’t thank recently retired Vice President of Sales, Jeff Danielson and MWI President Jim Cleary, enough for the opportunity, nor Mike Lankow for his ongoing support.”
A 30-year evolution
His 30 years in animal health distribution have flown by, says Darling. But, the industry as we know it today bares little resemblance to the one he joined three decades ago, he says. “Things have changed so much,” he says. “Technology is the thing that really stands out. I remember walking into clinics years ago with huge detail books and a case of catalogs. Today, we bring our computer and an iPad.” That said, he continues to use an order pad as well, he admits. “Not many new reps use them, but I like writing orders. It gives me the feeling of having accomplished something in the clinic.”
Some changes in the industry have had a positive impact on sales reps like Darling. “When I started out, we dealt with the veterinarians. They would do most of the ordering. Today this role essentially has been delegated to the office manager or the lead veterinary technician.” But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, he adds. As veterinarians have been freed up to focus on their patients, clinics have had a greater opportunity to grow.
“I still try to see the veterinarian/owner when I stop in, even if it’s only to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you,’” he continues. “But, because I get a lot more face time with the office manager and lead tech, I have more opportunity to introduce and explain programs.” This is a plus, considering how hard today’s sales reps must work to provide the best solutions while maintaining a healthy margin, he says. Indeed, sales reps are not merely order takers anymore – something their manufacturer rep partners have come to appreciate, he says.