‘H ello, this is Nuper!”
That pleasant greeting is what a caller gets when Ron Nunnikhoven answers his phone.
From the first “Hello,” it is quickly obvious why Nunnikhoven — Nuper — is such a successful salesperson for Pro-Line Building Company in New Sharon, Iowa. His natural love of people comes through the moment he answered the phone.
“It’s all about friend selling,” he says.
Nuper, 51, wasn’t always a salesperson. He farmed for 20 years, until he had to sell the farm in 1997, forcing him and his wife to find new career paths. He found a job with Pro-Line, driving a truck. He also helped on the building crew when needed.
“Learning the building side is crucial for sales, I think,” he says. “It gives you a better idea of what’s going on in the construction.”
He moved to sales in 1999, at his request.
“I don’t know what the key to my success is,” he says. “I guess I come off as a man of integrity. They trust me. When we design build, I ask them questions so they don’t make a mistake.”
Nuper adds that building a network is most important to a successful sales career. “They become your advocates and tell everybody, and then you can’t hardly stop it.”
Having a good company is equally important, he adds. Pro-Line makes sure that he does well in his job.
Some folks just ‘get it’
“Our sales manager, Margaret Ratcliff ‘gets’ it,” Nuper says. “She motivates us and takes care of us.”
Across the country, the construction industry is seeing a downturn or is affected in some way by the slowing economy. Yet, Nuper is on pace to have a record sales year — again.
In 2007, he sold 76 buildings for a total of over $4 million. In the first week of May 2008 alone, Nuper signed nine contracts for more than $800,000 total, putting himself on his way to another record year of sales.
Nuper modestly attributes his success to Pro-Line’s product diversity.
“Right now we’re working on a Catholic school,” he said, “and some church projects, suburban estate buildings and farm buildings.”
Pro-Line Building Company is a private company, owned by Jim and Barb VanderBeek. The company specializes in pre-engineered wood frame buildings and Butler and Chief steel-frame structures.
“Pro-Line is high end, top quality,” Nuper says. And to be a good salesperson, he adds, you have to have to be able to build good buildings. “The crews make me look good, too.”
The buildings he sells range from small projects to very large jobs worth upward of $1 million. The larger projects, like schools and churches, can demand up to a year to sell and build.
“I think you have to work with everybody the same,” he says, “and treat everyone as valued.”
Nuper works with the client on the design and layout of the proposed project, and then he brings in the architect who oversees everything that relates to codes.
He also uses his experience as a farmer when it comes to selling buildings for agricultural use.
“I love to talk to farmers and help them design their shops,” he says. “They’ll ask me what they should be doing, and I point out what people do and why.”
With nearly a decade of sales behind him, Nuper feels confident talking straight with his customers, and when a farm building doesn’t seem feasible, he doesn’t hesitate to question the reasoning behind the design.
“They like that,” he says. “They want to do it right.”
Just as importantly, Nuper wants the customers to love the building five or 10 years down the road, too, which is why he makes the effort to ensure the customer is getting the building he needs from the start.
Nuper has reached a point in his career where he no longer has to worry about cold calling. Instead, he has potential customers cold calling him, based on recommendations of other satisfied clients. He has his own assistant in the office and has turned to technology for help organizing his schedule.
“Maybe the best marketing tool we have is touching base with past clients at least once a year to see how they are doing and how their building is,” he says. “We have a deal where, if there is a problem, we can make a repair report and fix it. People talk about that.”
Keeping the crews busy
Unlike a lot of other sales professionals, Nuper is not hands-on involved with the project from beginning to end. He’s involved with interviews and meetings to discuss the specs and the design/build and sell the Pro-Line product. After he has sold the building, he remains in contact with the customer if any problems come up. Otherwise, he turns over the project to the project manager and the building crews.
“My main role is to keep enough work going for our eight building crews,” he says. “To do that, I have to stay in a selling mode.”
Keeping the crews working is not only of a business interest for Nuper, but also a personal one. Two of the crew foremen at Pro-Line are his 26-year-old twin sons.
One building that Nuper considers a highlight in his career is a student center building for a church in Des Moines.
“We have a very decorative front on it,” he says.
Another project is a fancy convenience store by the Iowa Speedway.
“That was a fun project,” he says. “The owner said to me, ‘Nuper, design me a beautiful building.’ So I got to do virtually anything I could think of.”
He said metal buildings are growing in popularity in Iowa because people want no-maintenance buildings.
“You get a finished frame design, and a building that is so efficient,” he says.
Nuper says that he loves selling and intends to stay in sales until he is ready for retirement.
“I have job that lets me have the freedom to do things I enjoy,” he says. One of those things is taking an annual two-week mission trip to Russia every winter.
“Sales has given me the opportunity to learn a lot about life,” he says. “I’ve met so many intriguing people. I have a fun job. I love my job.”
Folks ask Nuper where his nickname came from. He doesn’t reveal anything beyond saying that he’s been called Nuper since he was in about the fifth grade.
But when you are as successful as he is, love what you do and keeps his company and his customers happy, just calling him Nuper is OK.
Besides, it rhymes with ‘super.’