Career path follows westward trail

“Go west, young man,” advised Horace Greeley in an 1865 New York Tribune editorial.

More than 100 years later, Rick Kollhoff took that advice.

Kollhoff was born in Emmaus, Penn., in 1967, and attended St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, where he earned a degree in economics and then added an MBA at Loyola College in Baltimore.

Undr40-Kollhoff.jpgThe migration westward began after college, when Kollhoff accepted a job with Bethlehem Steel in Cleveland, working with the company for 10 years. “I worked basically in sales and marketing,” he says.

“My last position with Bethlehem Steel was with Sparrows Point in Baltimore. I was a marketing manager, and that’s how I got into the construction-type business,” he says. “Most of the products out of Sparrows Point go into some type of pre-paint metal building application. That’s how I got to know some of the competitors and customers and that side of the business.”

From there, Kollhoff went west again, this time to Chicago where he worked for other industries for a couple of years, staying in the pre-painted/construction-type world. A year and a half ago, he joined Wheeling Corrugating.

With Wheeling, Kollhoff is a national sales manager and is responsible for the manufacturing facilities in Minneapolis, Houston and Kansas City. Supporting those facilities are 10 sales people, both company personnel and commissioned agents, responsible for sales. “My job is to manage the sales activities for all of those 10 people,” he says. They sell pre-painted metal roofing, bare metal roofing, accessories, trims, screws. “All of the things that make up that product line, that metal,” says Kollhoff. “We also have a vintage metal, a rusted metal. It’s very big out in the West.”

Even though his degrees are in business, Kollhoff says his education prepared him for his career in the construction industry. “It allows you to be more analytical,” he explains. “You never look at things in a vacuum. When you make a decision, there are things that affect that. Like, what you do with a customer might affect three other customers or what kind of reaction it will garner from a competitor. You can’t focus on the black and white of decision making.”

Minnesota means agriculture
The clients are primarily commercial and agricultural. “The Minneapolis business is very agricultural,” he says. There are also some residential clients. “We are seeing more and more people using metal in the residential market. The vintage program in the West is very big with residential. There are a lot of log buildings that put a vintage metal roof.”

The vintage metal rusted roof might sound unusual to Easterners, but its look is growing in popularity in states like Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho where people like rustic looks in their buildings. “The neat thing about it is,” Kollhoff says, “is when a panel is rendered unusable or completely rusted through, it is easy to take off and you put another rusty piece back on.”

Throughout Kollhoff’s 15 years in the business, the majority of the people he has worked with, especially customers, are older. “It’s not a sexy industry,” he says, which can make it hard to attract young people. “I still remember going to my first sales calls and calling on guys three times my age. It’s not easy to get comfortable with that, but the bottom line is, in sales, you have to find the common denominator and there is always something of interest between you and them. It’s a relationship business, and you have to work at the relationship.” He adds that it is important to be respectful, yet diligent to get the order, make the sale and further the business relationship.

The day-to-day challenges of the job are what Kollhoff enjoys about the industry. “In this position, there are three completely different geographic areas,” he says. “It’s kind of a jigsaw puzzle type of job where what I do in Minneapolis doesn’t necessarily work in Houston. The people and the channels to distribute our product are completely different. You have to adjust every day how you go to market and how you get your product to the ultimate end user.”

One of Kollhoff’s favorite things about his job is the people he works with. “The people are the best thing about the industry,” he says. “It’s kind of a brotherhood. There is a lot of camaraderie. We compete every day of the week, but at the end of the day, we can still converse about the business and the market and steel and basically where this business is going. Metal is a great product, and it has a lot of advantages over other products.”

On the other hand, the supply chain will sometimes frustrate Kollhoff.
“The length of time it takes to get things to places. It’s part of being young and impatient. You want things to happen overnight. I want someone to get me an order and I want it tomorrow. But we just don’t function like that.”

Forging partnerships
Although there isn’t a particular sale or construction project that sticks out for Kollhoff, he does mention that Wheeling does a lot of business with Lester Buildings, which has recently begun a program with Lowe’s. “You can go into Lowe’s and buy a Lester Building, and we did work with Lester Buildings to get that accomplished. They were the catalyst, but we had to support them. We had to have samples, we had to have visuals to put into Lowe’s facilities so people could see what a red roof or a green roof looks like. Lester supplies the software and training; we supply the metal.” The collaboration has brought Wheeling Corrugating new exposure in a large retail market.

Even though he’s been in the industry for years, he’s still learning. “I’m trying to figure out where the product is going and get ahead of it, especially in agricultural application,” he says. “Which products work best in which environments. You’re almost engineering the projects these days. It’s not just roofing and steel anymore. These are million-dollar farms, agribusiness, and these products are pretty important. Trying to engineer our products to perform better in those harsh environments, we still have a way to go.”

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