"You're not a truck driver. You're a sales person who drives a truck." That's what the public sometimes doesn't understand about the Schwan's Route Sales Representative (RSR), according to Tom Natz, an RSR whose routes are in Minnetonka.

Natz became an RSR two years ago after a long career in sales and marketing. "I always knew I wanted to be part of business," he said. "I started out in DECA, the high school program in marketing. I went to college and studied distributed education and coaching. I worked for a music industry distributor. Then I had a number of sales jobs. I came to Minnesota with Michelin Tire. Schwan's was one of my national accounts when I came here in 1984. I didn't know that I'd be driving that truck 25 years later."

Schwan's is a very different company than it was 25 years ago. "Schwan's has evolved," said Mike Smith, Senior Director of Public Relations & Communications. "Door to door is the heart of our business, but we have robust online business. If you order online, you get rewards points. When RSRs come into the depot, they have a bag of orders waiting."

"I try to get as many preorders as possible," Natz said. "When I first started, I put together a letter, introducing myself and the rewards program."

A sales career at Schwan's begins with 15 days of training, then up to six months as an RSR Trainee. After that, the RSR gets a route of his or her own. "You're able to run your own business," Natz said. His RSR career is not unlike his experience as a franchise financial services adviser, he said.

The career ladder can include moving up to a Territory Sales Lead, District Manager and Regional Vice President. For Natz, a new position called "Igniter" has appeal. It's a role that focuses on gaining customers through social media, cold calling and hosting special events. For now, though, he said, "My purpose is to secure my retirement. If I can do that in route sales, I'm comfortable doing what I'm doing."

What's the secret of success as a Schwan's RSR?

Understanding how to sell — it is an art. You have a route sales area and a number of customers on the route. Customers move, they pass away. We have to add to the route. My philosophy is "two a day, every day." Two new customers, or a customer and a prospect — someone who will give me their name, phone and email address. I try to hold myself accountable to the two a day.

How do you turn a prospect into a sale?

People will buy from you if they like you. You need quality, price and service — Schwan's provides the quality. We're price competitive on over 80 percent of our products. The RSR provides the service.

What are some of the challenges of being an RSR?

Staying motivated. As with anything in life, you get down. It's important to have someone like Brad Devereaux, my TSL, to provide leadership. The next day gets better.

What do you like best about being an RSR?

I'm really in control of what I want for myself and for my life. Schwan's allows me the freedom — within guidelines — to build that business. The clerk at the grocery story may say hello, but with the TSR and the route customer, it obviously is a relationship. How many of your friends do you see 26 times a year?

For current opportunities at Schwan's, visit http://careers.schwansjobs.com

ON THE JOB: jobslink@startribune.com