Sager Legendary Employees Define Distributing Confidence

Excerpt from "Sager Celebrating 120 Years of Distributing Confidence® A Look Back from the Beginning"
Author Barbara Jorgensen

“I was the first person Sager had hired from another distributor. The company was very family-oriented and generally [Sager] would hire friends or relatives and they’d all start in the warehouse and work their way up. I was the first outsider to come in and I felt a lot of pressure to do well. But I think I brought in a few new ways of doing things that they recognized made sense. You never had to be afraid to share your ideas.” – Pete Talbot, Sager Celebrating 120 Years of Distributing Confidence®.

While Ray Norton Jr. remained dedicated to the Sager company fundamentals, he recognized the enterprise had to adapt with the times. Sager always had a history of taking care of its employees - Joe Sager used to host employee outings in the 1930s and 1940s at Silas Ten Acres in Wayland or Pemberton in Hull for hundreds of people. Even during tough times - such as the Depression - Sager looked after its workers. It's a commitment Norton Jr. and the company would continue to follow and expand upon. 

Prior to the 1960s, Sager’s salaries had always been consistent with industry practices: salaries were low but the company extended generous loans to company employees. “Joe Sager was a product of the Depression and he ran a tight ship,” says Gordon MdWade, a retired Sager employee. “He was quite good to his employees – there were times during the 1930s and 1940s that he could have laid off people, but he didn’t.”

But Norton Jr. recognized things were beginning to change. “My sense is that Ray [Norton Jr.] implemented a benefits plan that was more generous than it had been,” reflects vice president of supplier marketing – electromechanical Craig Sanderson, drawing on his father Ray Sanderson’s experiences at Sager during this time period, and later his own first-hand knowledge of the company’s employee practices. Norton Jr. raised salaries and extended other benefits to employees. McWade had started working with Sager in 1939 and returned after serving in World War II. “It was a definite change,” he says. “The big thing was the profit sharing – it made a big difference as an incentive.”

Ray Norton Jr. was also instrumental in implementing Sager’s first full-time outside sales force. In Boston, recalls retired Sager employee and the company’s first true field sales representative Frank Flynn Sr., “outside sales” initially meant walking to customer sites such as the New England Aquarium and Spaulding Hospital. (“I think he just wanted me out of the building,” Flynn quips.)

As the company began expanding service outside of Boston and the metropolitan area, Norton Jr. and later Ray Norton III took advantage of such opportunities to match skills against geographical requirements. One such beneficiary was Gordon McWade and the outside sales position that made his life easier. In 1977, Sager moved its headquarters from Boston to Hingham, MA. McWade lived in Groton, MA and his commute to Hingham was at least one hour back and forth each day. “Ray [III] knew what I was up against,” says McWade, “so he said why don’t you start out from home and call on customers. It was a much better setup to head out from home.”

McWade and other employees say they were treated like family when they worked for Sager. The company trusted its employees and relied on them for unparalleled customer service. Ray Norton Jr., like all Sager employees, learned about the company from the bottom up and did everything from sweeping floors to buying and picking products off the shelves. And like Joe Sager, Norton Jr. preferred to work on the sales floor just like everybody else. “Nobody received special treatment,” says Craig Sanderson. “Everyone was trained the same way and treated the same way. [Ray Norton Jr.] was very hands-on, but was content to remain in the background,” says Sanderson. 

Former Sager employee Pete Talbot, still Distributing Confidence® at 80 years old