“We have a little bit of a different business model than everyone else,” says Jim Starin, talking about the company he founded in 1988 that has grown from a fledgling Midwest-based regional sales rep firm to playing a significant role in the success of a “who’s who” of manufacturers, as well as the thousands of professional designers, installers and dealers who utilize their products across North America.
The original rep firm was called “Starin Marketing,” a moniker now simply adapted to “Starin.” But the subtraction of that second word actually reflects the steady addition of a huge array of services – marketing being just one of many – that the company provides. A short-hand term to describe the Starin model is “distributor,” but really, it’s only a starting point.
Based where it started 25 years ago in Chesterton, IN, about 40 miles east of Chicago, the company defines itself as a “channel manager,” a hybrid of a product distributor, customer service and fulfillment center, and sales and marketing team representing more than 55 brands at current count. And, by the way, the rep firm aspect remains, although it’s now less than 10 percent of the overall picture.
“Our mission is to make the job of the AV professional easier and more profitable,” Jim Starin explains. “We can exactly mirror what each manufacturer we work with wants in terms of programs, pricing, and so on, for its dealer/re-seller customer base. Each of these arrangements is custom and has to account for every single detail for every single manufacturer, so there’s nothing cookie-cutter about how it’s set up.
“In the past, customers felt like they were being put on the ‘B team’ if they dealt with a distributor, but that’s definitely not the case with the way we approach it,” he continues. “Our customers also understand the advantages of the consolidation of brands and services we provide. If something goes wrong with a component or system, there’s no finger-pointing – they know that they have a single source to go to in order to directly address and fix the problem.”
A headquarters facility in Chesterton serves as the heart and hub of the operation, custom-built in 2006 to provide 10,000 square feet of warehouse space for product staging and distribution, and another 6,000 square feet for dozens of staff specialists and infrastructure to support it, including a large technical training and education facility outfitted with plenty of A/V capability.
Owing to its substantial growth, a few years ago Starin began leasing another 50,000 square feet of warehouse space in nearby Portage, IN, and has also revamped a previous facility to accommodate the company’s IT operation.
Numerous other Starin team members work remotely, spread among 10 offices, joined by more than 70 contracted independent rep firms, in order to provide face-to-face, hands-on support of the continent-wide customer base. It’s an arrangement that enhances both convenience and communication between the company and the customer. “We have ‘feet on the street’ for every re-seller in North America,” notes Starin.