Road Warriors: The Life of a District Sales Manager
By Chris Hester
People in the bowling community frequently wonder aloud how they would love to have a district sales manager job with Ebonite International. They believe all that is required is to ride around and visit pro shops periodically. How hard can that possibly be?
If you voice that opinion to a DSM, be prepared for their reaction because the reality is much different.
When asked how many days per month the Ebonite International DSMs typically travel, the most common answer is “three weeks on the road and then one week at home doing office work.”
“Not exactly sure how many days I have traveled this year, but a typical month would be traveling three weeks out of the month and a home week, but even the home week I go out and visit a few local shops or do a local mini demo,” said Shawn Morris, midwest region. “A typical travel week would be heading out on Monday and getting back on Friday. That being said, there aren’t a lot of typical weeks with three sales meeting weeks, Junior Gold, Bowl Expo, trade shows and seminars but I can tell you I have spent over 90 days in a hotel so far this year.”
This is time away from your home, family and friends.
“One of the hardest parts of the job is being away from my family,” said Adam Ishman, west region. “I do have a three year old and she is growing very quickly. It’s hard to balance work/life for me.”
Matt Gasn, EBI’s new southeast DSM, said being away from home a lot is difficult.
“I miss my girlfriend and we just got a new puppy named Joey and I miss her, too,” said Gasn.
Then, of course, is the fact you have to almost give up thoughts of being a full time competitive bowler. Anyone who has worked in the bowling industry knows, it is difficult to find the motivation to hang around a bowling center and practice after you’ve been there working all day. When you add that in with the high amount travel, there simply is not much time left to work on your craft.
“You can never just bowl like you use to,” Morris said. “What I mean by that is you are always on the job anytime you walk into a bowling center. You just can’t be one of the guys anymore.”
This is something a lot of people never think about. Whenever someone in the industry walks into a bowling center, they have dozens of people asking questions, wanting to talk shop or asking for bowling balls. This is something you learn to accept as part of the job.
“Not bowling as much as I’d like is tough,” Gasn said. “A part of me regrets never trying the PBA Tour full time. I think if I had stayed with it, I could’ve had some success out there.”
“My personal bowling has become frustrating because it’s hard to see myself not performing at the level I’m capable of because of the lack of practice,” he said. ”That being said, at the end of the day I love what I do and wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The TeamEBI DSM crew log countless miles each week, month and year as they perform their job around the country.
“I travel about 800 miles per week on average,” said Brad Bridges, central region DSM. “I have the smallest territory in size, but probably the most customers.”
“I probably average 1,000 per week,” said Tyson Branagan, south central DSM. “Certainly not every week, some more, some less, but I work a very large territory geographically. When I make some bigger trips, 1,000 miles can easily be done in two days.”
Adam Ishman also stated he puts easily 1000 miles per week on his truck, but he went on to add, he gets to fly a lot more due to the territory he has to cover.
With all of the time logged behind the wheel, meals can become an issue. The easy button is fast food, but too much of that can obviously take a toll a person. And, of course, skipping meals isn’t necessarily an option.
“I try to avoid fast food as much as possible,” Brad Bridges said. “Unfortunately, it makes it near impossible when you spend the entire day on the road and you want to visit as many places as you can.
“There are a lot of meals spent in the truck while driving,” he said.
Tyson Branagan shared a similar thought.
“I learned fairly quickly that forgetting meals was such a bad thing, because then it became fast food,” he said. “It’s certainly a challenge to eat healthy, but when I must get something faster, I try and learn something healthier at the [fast food] places.”
“I actually have spent some time at home trying to learn more for myself how to best eat. That said, Chipotle is always a go to,” he said.
Shawn Morris, like Branagan, tries to find healthier fast food options when possible.
“My go to food on the road when I am by myself is Subway/Chick-Fil-A. I am a big salad and granola bar guy,” he said.
“Plus I try to hit the fitness rooms at most of the hotels,” he said.
The daily grind would likely wear on anyone, but there is a rough side and then there is a good side.
“Meeting new people is probably my favorite part of the job,” Matt Gasn said. “Plus, I’m lucky with my territory, so driving in Florida and seeing the scenery is nice.”
“The pro shop industry is definitely a difficult one and I pride myself in trying to help them be as successful as they can possibly be,” he said.
“The people and relationships I have created from travelling to all these places and just being a part of the bowling business is one of the best things about the job,” Adam Ishman said. “Bowling has given me a lot and I am happy to give back to help out in any way I can grow the sport.”
Brad Bridges agrees that being so involved in a sport he loves is his favorite thing about the job.
“I also really enjoy the people in the bowling industry,” he said.
Many people who have been in the bowling world for a decent amount of time can relate to that. The relationships you develop are usually the best part of the game. The actual bowling aspect is all well and good, but the friends that are made along the way are what make the bowling world special.
In addition to these things, there are also many elements people would never expect to be part of the job. From a mountain of emails, to phone calls and text messages a DSM is virtually on the clock 24-7. Then, there is the physical side of the job as well.
“The amount of emails a DSM gets is staggering. On average, I am involved in over 1000 emails every month,” Brad Bridges said.
“People often think this job is simply constantly fielding calls and messages asking for bowling balls and it certainly is not,” Tyson Branagan said.
“I work about half the weekends throughout the year,” Shawn Morris said. “I think most people just never realize it is kind of a never ending job with getting text or calls as early as 6:00 am and late as 9:00 pm seven days a week.”
“There’s more manual labor involved than one would think,” Matt Gasn said. “I’m lifting case boxes and demo balls in and out of my truck nonstop.”
“We all have storage units we keep all this stuff in and are constantly moving it around as we get new balls, marketing materials, paperwork, etc. I live in Florida so it’s super humid. I try not to shower before I go to my storage unit because after 10 minutes of doing whatever it is I’m there to do, I’m drenched in sweat and need a shower,” he said.
Adam Ishman shared similar thoughts.
“There is a ton of hours put in. Most people only see the events and things we do that are the fun part. There is a lot of logistics, planning, and time that goes into everything we do,” Ishman said.
“My usual work week, including office work and also travel, is roughly 65-70 hours a week,” he said. “I do feel that most people don’t understand the basics of bowling and there is a tremendous lack of education in the world. My goal is to help bridge that gap with public seminars and basic education.”
“This also goes to PBA and understanding how good those guys really are,” he said. “They just see the TV shows and scores and don’t know anything about what is on lane or understand the differences of what they bowl on in league and what the PBA tour is really like. Those guys just don’t get enough credit for that.”
All in all, there is a ton of work involved for the DSMs, but across the board they all enjoy what they do and do the job with pride. They are key parts to what makes the team run.