Hardware Manufacturer Relies on Reps


More than 20 years ago, the A.L. Hansen Company found its business increasing at such a pace that there was no way the company’s direct sales force could keep up. It was then that the manufacturer of commercial vehicle and industrial hardware turned to manufacturers’ representatives to manage the increased sales and instantly provide them with more “feet on the street.” The business partnership worked so well that it remains intact today and has resulted in the company’s being added to the growing list of Agency Sales “Perfect Principals.”

According to Dan Davis, Vehicle Equipment Company, Inc., Dallas, Texas, “We’ve represented the company since 1997. Over that period of time we’ve visited the factory a number of times for various sales schools. They also have supported us with joint field visits to customers, as well as participation in trade shows.”

Constant Flow of Communication

High on the list of characteristics that Davis covers when speaking about his principal are the company’s willingness to constantly provide feedback, and in general keep the lines of communication wide open. “They’ve always honored our time and are more than willing to provide us with all we need to know concerning what’s going on with the company, including new product information. Mainly what I’m speaking about is their dedication to feedback. As the rep, it’s our job to meet with customers and develop the business. It’s then that A.L. Hansen does all it can when it comes to providing us with the answers we need to get the job done. That includes engineering support and any feedback needed on quotes, delivery, etc. It’s the support they provide us that allows us to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.”

While citing the benefits of the frequent joint sales calls, Davis explains that the most prevalent means of communication between his agency and the principal remains voice mail, e-mail and personal phone calls. “We’re probably more proactive than others when it comes to staying in touch with our principals. It’s hardly busywork; rather, when we start on a project, we find that there are always myriad details along the way that the manufacturer ought to be apprised of. We’ve always practiced the philosophy of being proactive with our communication. It’s just a part of the way we manage the deal.”

Reps Provide “Feet on the Street”

Centrally located in Waukegan, Illinois, the 86-year-old A.L. Hansen Mfg. Company, Inc., is owned and managed by William and Justin Hansen, grandsons of the founder.

Looking back to 1985, when the company first started using manufacturers’ representatives, Patti Smith, sales manager, explains, “Our sales were going absolutely crazy at that time. We needed outside sources to handle the business, and that’s when reps came on board. In addition to providing us with the additional support we needed in the field, we’ve also looked at — and continue to do so today — the cost of a direct sales force vs. manufacturers’ reps. We continue to believe reps are the way to go.”

Just as Davis emphasized the importance of constant communication between his agency and the manufacturer, so too does Smith point to the importance of staying in touch. “If anything, I think communication remains the number-one challenge between us and our reps. We know that when the rep meets with a customer, there’s a great deal of information that’s important to share with us. Likewise, we have details on new equipment, products or new procedures in the company that we should be sharing with them.” To assist in meeting that challenge, she explains that the company is looking into a new software system that will tie together all information and reports needed to maximize the relationship between rep and manufacturers.

In addition to the importance of relying on traditional means of communication, Smith also explains that she and her company are advocates for joint sales calls. “I’ve been with the company for 21 years, and the joint calls I make allow me to spot new business opportunities that might normally be missed.” Smith travels with reps about every other week and notes that reps are notified well in advance and operate under a planned itinerary during her visits.

In addition to the joint sales calls, A.L. Hansen supports its reps via qualified sales leads, participation in trade shows and the on-going support of company engineers, some of whom travel with Smith when she makes joint sales calls.

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Jack Foster, president of Foster Communications, Fairfield, Connecticut, has been the editor of Agency Sales magazine for the past 23 years. Over the course of a more than 53-year career in journalism he has covered the communications’ spectrum from public relations to education, daily newspapers and trade publications. In addition to his work with MANA, he also has served as the editor of TED Magazine (NAED’s monthly publication), Electrical Advocate magazine, provided editorial services to NEMRA and MRERF as well as contributing to numerous publications including Electrical Wholesaling magazine and Electrical Marketing newsletter.