Like Father, Like Daughters


Anyone doubting the admonition that “history repeats itself” should pay close attention to the history of the William Baker Company.

More than 40 years ago, Jim Baker, who heads the six-person Indianapolis, Indiana, rep firm, recalls he was at a point in his professional life when he was anticipating a course change. Armed with little knowledge about what his father, Bill, did for a living, he raised the prospect of a change during dinner with his parents one night. His father, who had opened the agency in 1972, floated the idea of the younger Baker joining the rep firm. Ultimately, … Read the rest

Reps Detail Challenges


The majority of reps relish the opportunities presented to them by being their own boss. With that appreciation for independence, however, comes the realization that there are many challenges that accompany being an independent manufacturers’ rep.

Several of those challenges were emphasized in the course of a MANAchat that was conducted over the course of three days earlier this year devoted to a discussion of what reps like least about their jobs. High on the list of challenges facing reps were:

Dealing with principals who don’t appreciate what the rep does for them — “I love what I do for … Read the rest

A Contract — Always!


When a manufacturer heard a comment from an attorney concerning working with reps in the absence of a contract, here’s how he reacted:

“I can understand what the attorney was saying. He advised reps to be wary and to avoid contracts that were not fair to both sides. As a matter of fact, he stated his case quite succinctly when he said: ‘In the absence of a clearly worded contract that is fair to both the manufacturer and the rep, I’d advise the rep — if he really wants/needs the business — to go ahead without a written contract.’

“That’s … Read the rest

Finding Warmth in the Southwest


It was a desire to get out of the wet and cold of Oregon more than 20 years ago that led John Armstrong to make a move to Arizona and ultimately to open his own rep agency.

According to Armstrong, “Since he got out of the Navy in World War II, my dad was a plumber. He also was an apprenticeship instructor for many years. Following in his footsteps, I completed the plumbing apprenticeship program in 1991. It was at that time that I thought to myself ‘This is not a bad gig.’ I turned out of the apprenticeship program … Read the rest

MANAchats Tackle International and Single-Person Rep Firm Concerns


Business concerns specific to reps that work in an international arena and problems encountered by single-person rep firms were the subjects of two MANAchats conducted earlier this year.

“Look for the low-hanging fruit and be quick to build relationships.” That was just some of the advice that developed in a MANAchat devoted to the subject of reps — the majority of whom represented U.S. manufacturers internationally — working in an international arena.

Addressing the subject of low-hanging fruit, one rep explained, “For me, the Middle East represents the best low-hanging fruit. They have the most money and have an even … Read the rest

Always Rely on a Contract


MANA has been especially active over the last several months when it comes to conducting MANAcasts and MANAchats during which association members can network and share solutions to various concerns and problems.

More than once during those sessions, the subject of contracts between reps and their manufacturers comes up. To that point, there’s never a bad time to emphasize to both reps and their principals that it’s critical to have and rely upon the terms spelled out in a written contract between the two entities for the following reasons:

  • While personal relationships and handshakes are great, they should never serve
Read the rest

Following a Path From Banking to “Repdom”


A number of independent rep agency owners can point to having started their careers on the manufacturing side of the desk. At the same time, however, over the years Agency Sales magazine has profiled reps who can point to a variety of other career beginnings. Included in those are law enforcement, teaching, and even former professional athletes (golf, baseball, basketball).

Add to that list the career path — commercial banking — traveled by Mike O’Malley.

According to O’Malley, president of Asian Medical, Inc., “I was a commercial banker for more than 10 years lending money to small- to medium-sized enterprises … Read the rest

MANAchats Tackle Contracts and Shared Fees


The changing landscape of contracts between reps and manufacturers and the growth of shared territorial development fees were linked earlier this year in two MANAchats.

In one chat devoted to the contracts that reps sign with their principals, members of A League of Their Own (ALOTO), MANA’s Special Interest Group for women, discussed and dissected their experiences when it comes to negotiating and living with contracts. A subsequent chat was devoted to the existence and use of retainers or monthly fees paid by manufacturers to reps when pioneering work is called for.

In the first instance, one rep stressed the … Read the rest

Sales vs. Product Training


If one manufacturer didn’t know beforehand that his agents thirsted after product training vs. sales training, he certainly knows it now.

That’s what the manufacturer reported after some input from several of his independent agents. According to the manufacturer, “I had several of my reps approach me with a request for training. But, at the same time, they were adamant that they didn’t want sales training. They were after product training. Their message to me loud and clear was that since they had already carved out successful careers for themselves as independent representatives, they knew what they had to know … Read the rest

Hiring and Partnering With Sub-Reps


Just as manufacturers should weigh the financial benefits of hiring an outsourced sales staff vs. independent manufacturers’ reps, so too should reps weigh whether hiring a direct employee vs. working with a sub-rep is the best way to expand or cover a territory. That was just part of the subject matter covered during a MANAcast by John McNellis.

McNellis, a former MANA Board member, heads McReps, Inc., Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a national multi-person agency that works with a mix of both direct and sub-reps. The agency has represented specialized component manufacturers for more than 48 years. It focuses on custom-engineered parts … Read the rest

Reps Opt for ESOPs


What does ESOP stand for? As defined ESOP is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. An ESOP grants company stock to employees every year. The stock value is based on the value of the company, while the number of shares awarded are based on how much each employee earns. Typically, it is part of a compensation package where shares will vest over a period of time. But, in reality, it is much more than that. Historically ESOPs motivate employees, increase productivity, improve worker retention, keep jobs local, contribute to business longevity, and much more.

While such plans aren’t for everyone, they … Read the rest

Action vs. Reaction


For every action there naturally is going to be a reaction, and that’s exactly what happens when a manufacturer makes an inquiry of a rep. That point was made recently when a rep asked the following: “One of my lines’ competitors tried to hire me. I declined out of loyalty to my current principal. Is it unprofessional or bad manners to share that information with my current principal?”

What’s important to keep in mind here is that reps are going to react — one way or the other — to questions of that type. Here’s some of the feedback on … Read the rest

Creating a Career Path


It’s a bit of an understatement to say Marshall Maguire followed a rather circuitous path to where he finds himself today — the head of Maguire Technologies, Salisbury, Massachusetts, a veteran-owned manufacturers’ rep agency.

Here’s the outline of that path he traveled: In 1972, with the end of the Vietnam War still three years away, Maguire joined the Air Force, where he was assigned to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) as an aircraft hydraulics/pneumatics specialist. At that time, SAC was charged with overseeing the protection of the United States in the event the Cold War ever escalated to “hot.”

Following … Read the rest

More Help for the Single‑Person Agency


Time management and developing relationship skills were high on the list of topics that were addressed during one of MANA’s latest teleconference chats devoted to single-person agencies.

On the one hand, many of the chat participants made the point that they’ve been able to make sales while they work remotely away from the customer. “It’s unbelievable the amount of work we’ve been able to successfully complete without personally touching base with the customers. It’s interesting that looking back you had to bang on doors over and over if you wanted to be successful. But what we’ve found today is that … Read the rest

Motivating the Network


When a manufacturer with a history of working with a network of independent reps asked an audience of reps how he could best motivate some of his reps who he claimed were underperforming, there was no shortage of responses.

Kicking it off, one rep asked in return, how do you gauge that they are in fact underperforming?

After posing the question, the rep continued: “No doubt, there are some people who are underperforming. However, as I consider many of the reps I personally know, reps are driven to make as much money as possible. If they can’t make that with … Read the rest

Williston Sales Reviews Its History


Nine years ago, Agency Sales visited S. Williston Sales Company. This year as the East Greenwich, Rhode Island-based agency marks its 15th anniversary, Steve Williston, the agency’s president and CEO, took the opportunity to recall several of the agency’s challenges and milestones. At the outset, Williston notes that the agency’s passion and efforts to succeed have firmed up the agency’s position as it serves the HVAC industry in its territory.

According to Williston, he learned the independent manufacturers’ representative trade in the HVAC/R industry from his father, a respected rep in the northeast region, which includes Upstate New York and … Read the rest

MANA Members Share Concerns


MANA offers rep and manufacturer members opportunities to network and share concerns in teleconferences and MANAchats.

Dealing with customers they’ve never met in person and making face-to-face contact with customers in a post-Covid world dominated a MANA teleconference conducted by the association’s “A League of Their Own” (ALOTO), MANA’s special interest group for women.

Two of the discussion participants detailed what they described as unusual — but successful — relationships with customers with whom they never had an in-person sit-down meeting.

The first rep detailed, “I had been soliciting one customer for more than three years, but I had never … Read the rest

Get It in Writing


It’s not just the independent rep that believes having a written contract with their principals is imperative. That point was driven home recently when one manufacturer contacted Agency Sales magazine with the following thoughts.

“The executives of our company have always felt that it’s critically important to have our reps under written contract. Our approach is that we choose our reps very carefully. That means we spend a lot of time searching for reps, interviewing them, visiting them, and having them visit us and get to know our people. Figuratively, they become an integral part of our family, our organization. … Read the rest

Past Practices Can Work Today


When Mills Rendell, formerly with Rendell Sales Company and now the president of Zeus Battery Products, read “Is This the Future for Many Outside Salespeople” in the September 2022 issue of Agency Sales, it caused him to reflect on his career as a rep. It also reminded him that there’s no room for excuses if a rep is having difficulty getting in touch with customers and no substitute for hard work if a rep is seeking a path to a successful career in sales.

According to Rendell, “There’s no need for me to go into a great deal of … Read the rest

MANAchats Let Reps Share Concerns


Whether it’s considering if the role of the rep is changing, sharing tips on how to use technology to maximize productivity, or offering advice for getting in front of ever-elusive customers, regularly scheduled MANAchats have become a welcome meeting place for association members. Those and other subjects were addressed in recent sessions of the chats that were participated in by numerous MANA members and took place over several days.

Contacting Customers

As noted in another article that appears in this issue of Agency Sales, the lasting impact of Covid and other variables have made it more difficult for reps … Read the rest

Defining the Meaning of Value


Manufacturers’ reps and their principals truly believe they are adding value for their customers. Despite this belief, however, many of them have seen their profit margins become razor thin because of deeper discounting, extended terms, and special offers. The question that should be front and center of everyone’s mind is this: “If we are adding value, why do our customers continue demanding lower prices?”

In answer to that ever-present question an industry consultant offered some thoughts that manufacturers ought to be sharing with their reps.

Customers have heard the promise of added value from advertisers and salespeople for years. Yet, … Read the rest

Retired Rep Spreads the Word


While Bob Gillen claims that he retired in 2008, that really doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, the former independent manufacturers’ rep explains that today he intends to devote efforts to spreading the word about who and what a rep is.

In a recent conversation with Agency Sales, Gillen, who for years ran the single-person Gillen Associates in Raleigh, North Carolina, explains, “Now I’d like to do something different. I’d like to conduct seminars in a free venue focused on the career of being a manufacturers’ rep. I’m thinking of something like two-year community colleges, public libraries, churches, … Read the rest

The Single‑Person Agency and “Ghosting”


Several reps who participated in a MANAchat devoted to the single-person agency reported that they were being faced with “ghosting” by prospective and existing principals. For the uninitiated, ghosting is a colloquial term that refers to abruptly cutting off contact with someone without giving that person any warning or explanation for doing so.

Here’s how one of those reps faced with that experience explained his dilemma: “I’ve had four or five experiences recently where I’m interviewing with a principal. We go over each other’s wants and needs, and I get excited about the prospect of working with them. They promise … Read the rest

Dealing With the Merry‑Go‑Round


It was a little bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy when one manufacturer described the difficulty he continually faced when it came to filling direct sales positions in a number of his territories.

According to the manufacturer, “It seems as if they (the factory direct salespeople) can’t wait to get out the door. We just get them trained and attuned to developing relationships in the territory and then they either take another position in our company or leave the company entirely. It’s like being on a merry-go-round that keeps spinning people off.”

This manufacturer is hardly alone in facing this problem. … Read the rest

Aquest “Waits” for No One


Talk to Phil Roland, who opened the doors to his rep firm a good 36 years ago, and before you know it, you’ve received a healthy dose of enthusiasm, confidence, and an appreciation for the necessity to embrace change. In effect, perhaps his agency’s company philosophy is best incorporated in the following: “‘Wait’ is a four-letter word we do not tolerate; we constantly push ourselves, our principals, and our customers. We are not for everyone — we are an ‘acquired taste.’”

Roland founded Aquest in 1986 as a natural outgrowth of his always wanting to work for himself. “Following an … Read the rest

ALOTO Members Share Experiences


When members of “A League of Their Own” (ALOTO), MANA’s Special Interest Group for women manufacturers’ representatives, virtually got together late last year, several of their shared areas of concern clearly mirrored those that are heard from the association’s general population. Interestingly, in response to the question, “Is there anything different about being a female vs. a male manufacturers’ rep?” one of the most common observations made by members of the group was, “I don’t notice any difference in being a female agency owner. There are no situations where we are treated any differently, and I have no problems getting … Read the rest

How to Treat a Rep


In the course of an interview with a rep that focused on his long-standing relationship with one principal, the rep volunteered that while there were many reasons why the relationship has weathered the test of time, there were three very important attributes the principal possessed that the rep valued:

  • “The principal’s in-house rep-support teams are outstanding. When we contact them there is no problem left unsolved, no question left unanswered.”
  • “They generously support us in our joint field visits to customers, and they always allow us to take the lead in presentations to customers.”
  • “They have insisted that we complete
Read the rest

Rep Gains Freedom He Sought


When he opened his agency doors 20 years ago, Steve VanDenBerg was hardly a stranger to the world of reps. As he recalls, “For several years, I was involved in inside sales for electronic distribution. I regularly met with reps and knew several older people who were reps. What was intriguing about what they did for a living was the fact they could go out there with complete freedom and do something they were interested in. I found that the reps I dealt with were free spirits who built their own customer base.”

Following that initial attraction, today VanDenBerg finds … Read the rest

MANAcast Examines Line Card Profitability


At the outset of his presentation during a MANAcast devoted to the subject of Line Card Profitability Analysis, MANA President/CEO Charley Cohon used the analogy of Olympic rowers to make a point.

According to Cohon, “Manufacturers’ representative firms have a lot in common with Olympic rowers. Just to qualify to compete we have to be fast, agile and impressive performers.

“But when it comes to line card profitability analysis, some of us forget what Olympic rowers know: To be winners, you have to take the boat out of the water regularly to clean and wax the bottom. And before the … Read the rest

There’s Nothing Like Working Together


It’s no secret that reps don’t always react in a positive manner when one of their principal’s regional sales managers asks them to schedule joint sales calls.

One manufacturer, however, couldn’t miss the opportunity to pass along positive comments she received from a rep on his RSM. According to the rep, “The sales manager was very upfront when he told me not to be wary of selling other lines that I represent — when the opportunity presented itself. But the main purpose of his joint sales call visit was to make appointments with especially good customers for his products and … Read the rest