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Hangin’ With Klecko: Why this Salesman is No. 1

During my 30 plus years of baking, I’ve witnessed three decisions that have revolutionized the Twin Cities wholesale baking industry.

The first took place years ago when SuperMom’s moved to St. Paul Park and resurrected the donut culture. Up to that point the Twin Cities couldn’t seem to gain traction getting business owners to invest in donut franchises.

When I look back, it really was genius how SuperMom’s figured out donuts didn’t need their own retail space after putting display cases in gas stations where donuts become destination products and impulse purchases.

The second baking decision that had permanent impact was when Peter Kelsey opened his New French Bakery. Peter developed a traditional French bread line that used to be the pride of Minnesota, but with a new ownership group and increased distribution, Peter’s recipes have lived on and become the pride of our nation.

This brings us to the third decision, a moment which was recently announced to me when Greg Helland, the founder of Gregory’s Foods Inc. sent me a text that he was about to name Mike Skara his new director of sales.

Without a doubt, this is the most intriguing hire I’ve seen in a long time.

Over the last several years, Gregory’s Foods has added a new facility to accommodate its expanding product line. Mr. Helland has finally obtained the growth needed where he could have interviewed applicants nationwide to head up his sales team, but instead, he decided to stay in-house, and when I asked why, he responded:

“Let me repeat a quote that’s used in a lot of sales training courses. There are four kinds of people in this world:

No. 1: Those who make things happen;

No. 2:  Those who watch things happen;

No. 3: Those who wonder what happened;

No. 4: Those who don’t know anything happened.

Mike Skara is the personification of No. 1. He makes things happen. You don’t need to ask him twice to get something done.”

Recently when Mike stopped by and I had an opportunity to congratulate him, I dragged him into my office and ran him through a gauntlet of questions, first of which was what was he going to do differently? 

Mike answered: “You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Gregory’s has great employees and we’ve been given all the resources we need to continue thriving, but one of the things I think all sales reps need to remember is their connection to customers.

“Nowadays I see a growing trend in sales reps viewing their clients as commodities, and that’s easy to do. With the increase in technology, it’s really easy to touch base through texts and social media, but I’ve never felt that’s enough to strengthen a partnership. There needs to be contact and friendship. I’ve always believed it helps to be friends if you want to build trust.

“To be successful both sides of the partnership have to care about each other. There’s nothing I enjoy more than moving forward with a client. Let’s face it. In any sales partnership, both parties are linked so one of two things is going to happen, they will either move forward, or backward, together. I like to move forward.”

Now that my guest was comfortable, I delivered the money question: “I know you were a head kitchen manager for close to a decade, do your friends in kitchens and bakeries give you grief for crossing over to the dark side, to sales?”

Mike leaned forward and answered without flinching: “Part of maturing is learning to put aside ego and realize your quality of life is going to improve if you make the most of opportunities. When I go into a bakery, I don’t tell bakers how to bake, that would be foolish. But one thing I can do is tell my clients how to make money.”

When I asked for specifics, Mike continued: “Well, to start with, I have access to a laboratory filled with really smart people that can help bakers discover new or improved ingredients; I also send commodity reports to my clients. When catastrophe hit Texas, Florida and Mexico, that didn’t just affect ingredient prices like, let’s say sugar, but it also drove up the cost of other items like packaging and poly bags.”

Next I asked Mike what he felt most clients are looking for out of a sales rep.

He responded: “I’ve found most people don’t want their sales people to be visionary, they just want them to solve problems and be reactive. Successful clients won’t let you solve problems most of the time; they want reaction and answers, all of the time.”

One of the reasons I believe Mike Skara’s promotion is such a big deal is because over the last 20 years, Minnesota’s baking guilds have dwindled to the point where they have little relevance. Bakers simply don’t have the same education and resources that they’ve had in the past, but now that Mike’s responsibilities have grown, that means his platform will, too. If commercial baking is going to flourish in Minnesota, our industry is going to need a dozen bright minds to get the ball rolling and Mike Skara is just the person to give it that initial push.

  When I told him that I thought he was going to grab the torch and become the face of Minnesota wholesale baking he laughed and said: “I’m always open to a challenge, I’ve done my time and now I’m ready to take the next step forward. I’m in a great position actually. I’m working for a guy who’s done a masterful job growing his company. In 25 years he’s gone from schlepping bags of yeast to becoming one of the biggest bakery manufactures/distributors in the upper Midwest. I’m really looking forward to picking his brain.”

Greg Helland, I can’t tell you how excited I am about this new hire. In addition to growing your company, I think Mike Skara is going to be great for our industry.

Thanks for giving him a shot! 

Dan “Klecko” McGleno is the CEO at Saint Agnes Baking Company in St Paul and can be reached electronically at kleckobread@gmail.com, at the office at 651-290-7633, or on his cellular device at 651-329-4321.

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