Years in retail sales earned John R. Richter a reputation as a marketing tiger -- steely eyed and passionate about his work.

That's just what Invest Financial Corp. wanted to help the Tampa, Fla.-based investment marketer plot a course into the next century.

Last month, Merlin Gackle, the company's president, named Mr. Richter to head Invest's sales and marketing efforts. At the same time, Mr. Richter was put in charge of new business development. The promotion effectively makes him Mr. Gackle's right-hand man.

Now Mr. Richter is responsible for boosting the sales volume of Invest's 1,300 bank sales representatives, not an easy task in a year when most banks saw their investment sales seriously slump.

The South Carolina native is no stranger to challenges. He spent 15 years at Sears, Roebuck & Co., where he eventually worked his way up to head of merchandising promotions, but his retail career started in more humble surroundings.

"I sold shoes at Marilyn's Shoe Store when I got out of college," said Mr. Richter.

But he said it was a good experience and taught him an important lesson: "You'd better put on the table what people want and need," he said. "That's what will drive the sale."

To put that philosophy into practice, Mr. Richter is busy pounding the pavement to "get closer" to Invest's bank customers and find out what products and services they want.

What he's found so far he said, is that most bankers want "direction, not just telephone support and a few visits."

Mr. Richter hopes that Invest's new year-long marketing plan will give its bank customers the guidance they need. The plan helps bank officials build a marketing budget and includes step-by-step strategies to drive investment sales.

Mr. Richter says that the marketing plan will "have a dramatic impact on our business."

Invest is also developing services to attract new clients.

For example, Invest's outsource services division is a key area where the company hopes to reap new profits. The fledgling division aims to "unbundle" many of the services offered to Invest customers as part of a package -- such as due diligence and financial-planning services -- and sell them to other banks.

Mr. Richter is working alongside Bradley Grubb, a senior vice president who directly manages the new unit, to try to get it off the ground.

With new business opportunities shrinking, investment product marketers like Invest are also turning to small banks as a source of fresh business. Unlike their bigger brethren, these community banks need more expertise and support. The downside of dealing with small banks is that they generally generate less sales volume than large and midsize banks.

Mr. Richter says the challenge is to make these smaller sales programs more profitable for both Invest and small banks. To that end, the volatile markets that have caused such a slump in investment sales might actually be a boon he added.

"I think the [volatile markets] are really helping us," Mr. Richter said. "It helps us get out there and build business instead of just sitting there taking orders."

It been a busy year for Mr. Richter. While zigzagging across the country selling Invest's wares, he's managed to present the annual marketing plan to 97% of the company's 200 bank customers.

John R. Richter

Executive vice president, Director of sales and marketing Invest Financial Corp.

Mr. Richter is committed to keeping the company on top of the investment products heap by pushing its sales reps to be more productive and nurturing the company's fledgling "out-source service division," which provides services on a piecemeal basis to clients.

Career track

1992 -- 1994: Senior vice president and director of marketing at Invest Financial, overseeing the marketing technology group

1990 -- 1992: President of WestMark, an investment products marketer based in Portland, Ore.

1985 -- 1990: Executive vice president at Bankers First Corp., Augusta, Ga., and president of its marketing subsidiary, Lafayette Marketing Inc.

1970 -- 1985: National sales promotion manager for Sears, Roebuck & Co., Chicago

Vital statistics:

Born: 1947, Charleston, S.C.

Education: Charleston Southern University, Charleston

Family: Wife and one son; married 25 years

Hobbies: Golf, fishing, and hunting

First job out of college: Sold women's shoes

Dream car: Jaguar convertible

Dream vacation: Two-week golf excursion to Ireland and Scotland

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