Marla Suttenberg got her first taste of AV in 1978, handing out literature for a dealer at a trade show in New York City.
The Clark University psychology major had recently graduated from school and was trying to decide what to do next. At the trade show, she met a man who repped LaBelle Industries, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer that was planning to open a sales office in Manhattan.
She took that sales job and hasn’t looked back. “I ended up putting my hopes and dreams of being some famous shrink aside and opened up the first sales office in Manhattan for that Wisconsin-based manufacturer,” she said.
Suttenberg now owns Sapphire Marketing, a manufacturers’ representative firm that counts companies such as Crestron, Planar, Leon Speakers, and James Loudspeaker as its clients. She started Sapphire in 2001 after stints at rep companies Robert Christopher Sales and Milanese Associates. During the transition to business owner, she found encouragement from the manufacturers that had hired her to represent them, recalling Crestron founder George Feldstein in particular as a strong champion.
“I have incorporated what I felt was the best of the management style of my previous bosses and applied the same rules to my people,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be stuck in traffic and late, and I know what it’s like to be in a snowstorm.”
Suttenberg said she strives to treat her employees fairly and empathetically. “I always try to do what’s fair for my salespeople, and I think about them a lot because they’re my product,” she said. “Honestly, without salespeople, I wouldn’t be in business. I have to make sure that they’re happy and productive.”
Sapphire has sales reps for Philadelphia, the New York metropolitan area, New England, and Upstate New York, but only one brick-and-mortar location, in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. When hiring employees (there are 16 people at Sapphire including Suttenberg), she looks for like-minded people. “I pick people who represent my values and my enthusiasm and my work ethic,” she said. “And we have great lines and we have a lot of fun as a team.”
Suttenberg, who lives in New York City, heads to the office once or twice a week. “My goal is to be out in front of our customers as much as possible,” she said. “I will generally go with my dealer salesperson or my consultant liaison to leverage my relationships throughout the year.”
Suttenberg has worked hard to nourish her professional relationships. She counts Crestron as a client for 30 years, first while she was at Robert Christopher Sales, and now at Sapphire.
Part of building those relationships, said Suttenberg, is showing manufacturers and customers that you have principles. “We’re only as good as the promises we make and the actions we do,” she said. That’s especially important because contracts with manufacturers are generally for 30 days.
“I just make it my business to excel and exceed at every product, every manufacturer we represent,” she said.
Sapphire engages manufacturers and customers through road shows they produce every year in New York and Boston and soon-to-be Philadelphia. The company also throws “huge holiday parties every year” for local dealers, integrators, and end users in Boston and New York.
“I feel very proud of what I’ve accomplished,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the clients and friends I’ve made over the years who have helped me become so successful in what I do. I’m thankful to my manufacturers, who have given me the opportunities for so long to represent their brands and get defined by them, so to speak.”
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