Each box he sells represents an opportunity for better patient care
Taber, senior account manager at Concordance Healthcare Solutions in Michigan and Ohio, has been at it for 45 years. He’s worked for the same company all those years, though ownership has changed: Toledo Pharmaceuticals, Meyers & Co., Seneca Medical, now Concordance.
“Did I really look for this career? Did I plan on it? No,” he says. “All I wanted to do was make a living. I fell right into something I found great interest in, and really enjoyed. Kept up with it, never lost any interest in it. To this day, it’s still very exciting to me.”
Home improvement, rock ‘n’ roll
Taber learned about sales from his father, Robert, who had a home improvement business in Toledo, selling storm windows, awnings, etc., door to door. As a youngster, Dennis would at times accompany his father on the jobs. But at the time, he had no desire to get into home improvement or sales. Instead, he wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star.
“My aunt and uncle owned a string of music stores in Toledo; that’s how I was exposed to music,” he says. He picked up a guitar, took some lessons and joined a band. He quit high school midway through to play full time with The Prediktors. (Ironically, he points out, Club 224, where the group often played, was located very near to present-day Concordance.) The group did well. In fact, they opened for the Dave Clark Five at the Calgary Stampede in the mid-60s.
But after Taber got married and had a child, it didn’t make sense, he says. “I knew if we didn’t make it nationally as a rock ‘n’ roll band, I had better settle down.” And he did, working several jobs – running a bakery route, inspecting transmissions and, yes, even selling windows and awnings.
What’s in the box?
One morning he saw a “Help Wanted” ad for a warehouse man at Toledo Pharmaceuticals, just around the corner from where he was living at the time. He got the job, and quickly grew to enjoy it.
“I took an interest in what I was pulling off the shelves and setting up for delivery,” he recalls. “I’d ask, ‘What is this used for?’ I was very curious. I don’t know why, but I just found it very, very interesting.”
Taber kept asking questions and learning, and after a year, told sales manager Dick Holmes that he would welcome the opportunity to do field sales should a territory open. Less than half a year later, a territory did indeed open up, and Taber got the job. That was 1972.
“What was really challenging about those early years was having that door close before you get to tell your story,” he says. “You start feeling sorry for yourself.” But he soon learned that if he kept coming back; remained courteous, not pushy; and showed the prospect that he had their best interests at heart, he could move past the disappointments.
He had help from Holmes, who was vice president of sales at Toledo Pharmaceuticals before opening his own company, Lake Erie Medical & Surgical Supply. Holmes had great knowledge of medical sales, and was a great person as well, says Taber. And more often than not, it was Holmes who would explain to Taber what a particular item was used for.
“I worked with him in the field, and saw how he related to his accounts,” says Taber. “He was like a friend to them. He related so well, and he was sincere.” But he also knew his customers’ needs well, and he didn’t waste their time.
Rather than talking at customers, Holmes engaged them in a dialogue, says Taber. “I learned from him that you can’t just go into an account and talk about what you want to talk about. You have to ask something that will engage them, then you help them come to a decision, ‘Is this something I want to move forward on?’ If it isn’t, you find out why and address that. And if it just doesn’t appear helpful to them, you walk out.”
After calling primarily on physicians for 45 years, Taber remains excited and engaged about his career.
“I think you have to have a purpose of giving to people — that’s what it’s all about,” he says. “When I get up in the morning, I think, ‘What can I present today that will help the doctor take better care of his patients? Because you have to have some type of satisfaction that you’ve helped somebody. If I can do that, I feel great.
“The other thing that gets me up in the morning is this: I still really like my job,” he says. “I like the dynamics of the business. They change all the time, and if you don’t change with it, that’s the time to consider [getting out].”
Taber enjoys the technologies he sells, his customers, and the people he works with. “They’re the ones who really make this go around,” he says of his co-workers, speaking of the warehouse managers, customer service people, managers and more.
And through 45 years of working, Taber has tried to maintain a healthy balance of work, family and personal time. “If you can keep that balance, you’ll be OK,” he says. “But if you work 24/7, you’re neglecting your family or yourself.”
Taber’s family includes his brother, sister, two children, two grandchildren and his great grandchild. He and his wife, Sue, will be married 25 years this December. They share their lives with their Golden Retriever, Louie; their Pomeranian, Quincey; and cat, Bella.