Under 40: Patrick Kalmes

Patrick Kalmes has been in the agricultural business in one way or another for his entire life.
Born August 24, 1975, Kalmes grew up on his family’s dairy farm in the southeast corner of Minnesota. He attended South Dakota State University, majoring in dairy science. Hired straight out of college by Walters Buildings in Allenton, Wis. — “I moved right from college to Wisconsin,” Kalmes says. “I didn’t even have a place to live when I got here.” — Kalmes worked on the company’s line of dairy buildings.
“I always had an interest in buildings,” Kalmes says, so while he was in college, he took agricultural engineering and drafting courses as electives. “Kind of a hobby,” he explains. His engineering courses focused on designing buildings for the agricultural sector.U40-Kalmes4.jpg
The combination of his degree in dairy science and his elective courses, as well as his lifetime experience in dairy farming, provided a solid background for his career with Walters Buildings.
For the first five years of Kalmes’ employment, he worked in the company’s main office in Allenton designing facilities for the company’s dairy line. To help him do his job better, he would often accompany the salesmen to jobsites to get a good sense of the construction project.
“This is where my dairy science degree really helped me,” Kalmes says. “Plus, growing up on a farm helped me understand exactly what the farmer wanted or needed.”
Two-and-a-half years ago, however, Kalmes’ job duties changed.
“The man who covered the local sales territory retired, and they needed someone to replace him,” Kalmes explains. “For a while the territory was absorbed by other salesmen, but that’s tough to do for any period of time. Eventually, the sales manager asked for my help.”
Because he was somewhat familiar with the duties that come with the job, thanks to his frequent site visits, Kalmes decided to make a career change, and he became a salesman. It was tough at first, he admits. “Maybe it was the time of the year, but when I started, there wasn’t a whole lot of interest in livestock buildings,” he says. “It took me a while to get used to it and get my first sale.
“What we sell are still considered agricultural buildings even though most of our sales aren’t to farmers,” Kalmes explains. “Our customers are people who live in the country and have animals, or they need storage facilities for their tractors and other vehicles.” Most of the sales are to hobby or full-production farmers or commercial structures such as warehouses or light manufacturing. Equestrian buildings are also popular. Every sales office can sell any building Walters Buildings manufactures, but each district has its own niche.”U40-Kalmes1.jpg
But once the first sale came, it didn’t take long for him to become one of the top salesmen for Walters Buildings. His sales district includes Dodge, Columbia, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, and Marquette counties in Wisconsin.
Not only has he become one of the best salesmen in the company, Kalmes is also the youngest. As one of the many talented, hard-working young members of the rural building industry, Kalmes is part of Rural Builder’s year-long 40th anniversary celebration identifying the leaders of tomorrow, those who were not born when the magazine started.
Although the majority of his customers are older than he, Kalmes never saw his age as a deterrent in garnering his clients’ respect. “People will say I sound much older on the phone,” he laughs, “but I think I get the same respect other salespeople get.”
Customer ratings show that Kalmes is not only respected but also considered a top-notch professional. His customers have given him a grade of 9.22 on a scale of 10, citing his professionalism and customer service. His jobs, say his co-workers, always check out well, also. His background in the building design side of the business comes in handy when he is making sure the structures are built properly and all the work is done to satisfaction.
Kalmes, like other salesmen in the company, has a dual title on his business card: district sales/construction manager. Not only does Kalmes make the initial sale, but he sees the project through from beginning to end, acting as the project manager. U40-Kalmes2.jpg
“I help with the permitting process if it isn’t already done,” Kalmes says. “Then I work with the owners or the subcontractors to get the site ready.” He handles everything from the selling to the pricing to making sure the building is up to standard.
The territory was well established, smoothing Kalmes transition into sales. While a number of his sales have been repeat business within the company, if not with him personally, he has established new customers.
The relationship he has with his customers is one of his favorite parts of his job. “With some people you just click,” he says, “and you can develop a closer-than-normal relationship. When you have that good relationship, they’re more willing to trust you.”
One of the things that frustrates him about the job is a matter he can’t control. “It frustrates me when somebody doesn’t follow through with a promise they’ve made,” he says, particularly when it throws the whole project off schedule.
Kalmes thinks the future is bright for Walters Buildings, a third-generation family-owned company, and his own career.
“The ag industry is consolidating,” he says. “Rural isn’t just farming anymore. This is a good opportunity to serve those looking for suburban-type buildings for personal belongings rather than focusing on just agricultural.”
For a farmer’s son like Kalmes, suburban buildings will be a big change. But as his switch from building design to sales has proven, change can be a great thing.

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