In early 2002, only a few months after the dot-com bubble had burst and caused economic hardship for many companies, Dan Tushar had a message for his sales team: “It’s good to be us.”
At the time, he was leading a team of 16 salespeople from across the country. The previous year’s recession was drawing to a close, but for the first time in SanMar’s history the sales team had not received a bonus. They were all gathered in Las Vegas for a sales meeting leading up to the Spring season. Dan’s message for them was accompanied with an unexpected surprise for everyone there: he put a bonus check in each salesperson’s hand. “It’s good to be us,” he said.
It’s a message that he would have many reasons to repeat over the next 19 years, for reasons large and small.
Dan joined the SanMar family in 1997. At the time, there were only five outside sales representatives, and SanMar owner and founder Marty Lott confessed that he wasn’t sure how introducing Dan into the mix would go. “I don’t want you to make a big decision for one year,” Marty advised. “Spend that year learning our business, our customers and our people.”
Dan took this advice to heart and spent the next year mostly on the road, shadowing each salesperson and coming to understand the business overall. More importantly, he started to make the connections that would come to define his leadership style and the rest of his career at SanMar. He got to know each person and their family, and the things that motivated them and inspired them. This is where he found his purpose.
“Most of our Territory Managers get their motivation from customers,” Dan explains. “But my customers were them — the TMs and Regional Managers. My inspiration comes from keeping them motivated.”
It’s that inspiration that has kept Dan going during his 24 years at SanMar. His job the whole time has been to celebrate successes and keep his growing team of salespeople moving forward through industry changes, economic ups and downs and new developments in technology.
Dan’s take on what works best for SanMar comes from lessons he learned early on. “I read somewhere that people won’t always recall what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel,” he says. He encourages his sales team to focus on leaving SanMar customers with the feeling that we know what we’re doing and we care about their business, even if they don’t end up buying anything.
“Success to us,” Dan explains, “is not whether we get the order or not. Success is when we help our customers get the order. If we do everything we can do to help them grow their business, we make our customer look good. And that’s all that matters.”
His source of delight along the way has been the friendships he’s formed with his colleagues in his time at SanMar. “I had a hop in my step every day,” Dan says, adding that he beat Marty Lott into the office most days because he was just excited to get there and get to work.
Dan has grown close with not only other SanMar employees but their partners and families. He’s had dinner with them and he’s been there to see their children grow, even as his did. He helped hand out shirts at a high school football game where friend and colleague Joe Pellegrini’s son was playing. He’s taken care of children while parents were busy and made meaningful connections there too — he called one directly to congratulate her when she performed well at a dance recital, and he sent supportive text messages when another child was struggling.
“It’s a lot of little things,” Dan says, recalling what he remembers about his time at SanMar. He adds that a lot of little things over a long time adds up to something that makes a real difference.
Dan will be retiring at the end of this year, and it is clear that he will be missed by customers and colleagues alike. In a recent company meeting, with Dan’s whole family there in attendance, SanMar CEO Jeremy Lott spoke the words to Dan that many were feeling: “You’re a friend, you’re a mentor, you’ve given of yourself in unbelievable ways. You’ve helped me immensely. It’s good to be us because of you.”
When talking about his time at SanMar, Dan describes it as “24 years of bliss,” attributing that feeling to all the little things that make up his time here. The team he leaves is larger, but the feeling is the same. It can be summed up in those same words he used in Las Vegas, nearly two decades ago.
Seeing a SanMar Account Executive meet a customer face-to-face for the first time at a tradeshow, and they’re both jumping up and down and hugging? “It’s good to be us.”
Getting an email from a customer almost daily about something positive one of the salespeople had done? “It’s good to be us.”
Working for a company that does the right thing consistently, whether it’s how they treat customers or how they support their employees through a global pandemic? “It’s good to be us.”
It’s all of these things and more that Dan will miss the most. While he soon won’t be getting up to go to work every day, he’ll be redirecting that energy into spending more time with his grandchildren, playing golf and volunteering his time to a meaningful cause – he’s already looking into what that cause is and how he can best contribute.
In his time at SanMar, Dan’s unstoppable optimism and consistent enthusiasm has been an inspiration for many. His career and the relationships he’s forged along the way are a reminder that it is indeed so good to be us.