Post-Covid What Changes Are Permanent?

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Thoughts of what happened to everything from drive-in movies, blacksmiths, and stagecoach drivers — not to mention the traditional handshake — come to mind when considering the changes in how reps have conducted business as the more than year-long pandemic winds down.

Think for a moment about the absence of in-person sales calls, not to mention the fact that many of the offices reps used to visit are now empty as purchasing and specifying personnel work from home. Then there’s the marked increase in the use of virtual Zoom or Skype meetings and the increase in the use of email … Read the rest

Finding a Niche With Smaller Companies

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A drive to build a solid foundation for a career as an independent manufacturers’ rep coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit pointed Owen Swift in the direction of opening his own agency in 2017. Today, Swift heads Swift Scientific, LLC, Coventry, Connecticut. His one-man agency represents premium manufacturers of scientific laboratory equipment, reagents, and biologics and matches unique research and development technologies with specific lab applications.

Swift’s career background includes more than 15 years providing automation equipment and specialized consumable supplies to life-science researchers in the Northeast United States. His experience spans the drug development pipeline from discovery and basic research … Read the rest

Preventing Future Failure

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When a long-awaited addition became available to its product line, a manufacturer admitted that he rushed it to market.

In a positive move, he did take the time to support the effort with plenty of literature, inside sales support and online information and advertising. One thing he failed to consider, however, was the critical need to train his outsourced sales force. Taking the responsibility on his own shoulders, he explained that misstep this way: “We quickly responded to a need exhibited by the market for this product. Our thinking and planning was that we should get it into the hands … Read the rest

Operating Room Nurse to Independent Rep

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Armed with a self-described “big mouth,” a love of medicine and a desire to wear a suit and carry a briefcase, Willa Moats, CPMR, made the jump from operating room nurse to independent manufacturers’ representative 35 years ago. Today she heads Willcare Associates, LLC, Milford, Pennsylvania. The agency serves the greater New York area, northern New Jersey, and upstate New York.

Given her extensive medical background, the obvious questions for Moats are how and why she embarked on such a dramatic career change. She explains, “In the mid-1980s, as a single mother, I wasn’t making a great deal of money … Read the rest

The Need to Educate Principals

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When MANA members considered whether they had a responsibility to educate principals new to working with an outsourced sales force, caution was advised. In response to the question, “Is it a red flag that a potential principal has no experience working with the rep business model?” participants in a MANAchat responded with a resounding “Yes!”

In the chat, conducted over a week with 26 association members participating, some cautionary words were heard, however:

  • “If a manufacturer has performed his due diligence (and, why wouldn’t he do that?) before approaching an agency, you’d think that they’ve educated themselves about the ins
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MAC Meeting Tackles Covid Response

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While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact business and the world of reps specifically, there are a number of positives that have developed over the course of the last 12 months. That, in general, was the tone of the conversation from a Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC) meeting held late last year.

In a luncheon meeting moderated by Jerry Leth, MANA’s, vice president and general manager, and Jack Foster, Agency Sales’ editor, a group of MAC members discussed how the pandemic has impacted their lives and the lives of their principals and customers.

Founded in 1971, MAC is a … Read the rest

Rep Councils Smooth Communication

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Manufacturers’ independent rep councils go a long way to eliminate the “us vs. them syndrome.” That was one of the primary messages delivered by Charlie Ingram, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Eriez Magnetics, Erie, Pennsylvania, during a MANAcast.

“In a nutshell,” according to Ingram, “the rep council serves as an advisory board and operates as a way to provide information back and forth between manufacturers and their reps. A rep council’s purpose is not to hear reps’ complaints; rather, their ultimate purpose is to determine what improvements are needed when it comes to serving manufacturers’ and the … Read the rest

Rep Stresses Business Fundamentals

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Rick Wickizer humorously recalls that rice and beans were a staple on his dinner table when he opened his agency more than a decade ago.

According to Wickizer, Wickizer & Associates, Woodland, Washington, “Thankfully I had some savings and other resources because initially I knew I wasn’t going to make a lot of money.” He couldn’t have been more correct in anticipating a lack of income since he only turned a very modest profit during that first year.

In a nutshell, here’s how Wickizer got to where he is today: During the last recession, after the building industry collapsed, Wickizer … Read the rest

Finding Great Manufacturers’ Representatives

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Given the opportunity to compare notes on how best to attract top rep agencies, manufacturers who participated in a MANAchat held nothing back when it came to describing their experiences.

With a working title of “Finding Great Manufacturers’ Representatives,” over the two-day chat 14 manufacturers weighed in with how they found, signed and maintained successful relationships with independent reps.

One of the most effective means employed by one manufacturer was to counsel with some reps that he knew. Here’s how he explained his experience: “I met with some retired reps — reps who knew they weren’t in the mix for … Read the rest

Finding the Correct Piece of the Puzzle

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When a manufacturer was asked to describe his tried-and-true process for locating the ideal rep for a given territory, he introduced an analogy of locating the right piece to finish off a section of a jigsaw puzzle.

According to the manufacturer, “We’ve tried just about every method for locating reps that exists. That includes all of the directories that the various rep associations provide that serve our industry. However, I’ll have to admit that probably nothing beats a personal recommendation. As an example, about a month ago, one of our largest customers — and this is one of our top … Read the rest

Effective Communication in a Covid World

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Just as with so many of his fellow reps, the COVID-19 pandemic has to a large extent taken long-time MANA member Sid Ragona out of the field; but Ragona has hardly disappeared. Instead, while still tending to his rep duties, today he also can be found in a series of YouTube videos covering a number of topics impacting what reps do on a daily basis.

A simple YouTube search on the name “Sid Ragona” will reward interested parties with discussions of:

  • Mastering Zoom.
  • Elevate Your Zoom Meeting to New Heights.
  • Ten Tips to Becoming a Manufacturers’ Rep.
  • Home Office Basics.
Read the rest

Rep Career Spells Freedom

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Ask Carla Campbell why she became an independent manufacturers’ rep and immediately you get a one-word answer — “Freedom.”

Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but her determination to be her own boss and make her own decisions appears to be the driving force when it came to opening her own agency more than a decade ago. “I know freedom is a fairly broad consideration, but I really wanted to dictate for myself who I called on, when I called on them and how much time I spent traveling. Before I opened my own agency there was always the … Read the rest

Keeping the Lines You Need and Want to Keep

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The timeliness of a MANAchat late last year couldn’t have been better illustrated than when 52 participants offered their anecdotal input on steps reps can — and should — take to keep their most‑desired principals. Unfortunately, many of their stories related to how principals have slipped from their grasp.

As the conversations evolved from these stories, it became clear that there are some common reasons why reps can lose a principal. For instance, the most commonly cited reasons are these:

  • The rep has become too successful and there’s a certain amount of resentment on the part of the manufacturer to
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An Endorsement for Synergy

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In the course of a virtual gathering of several manufacturers and reps one manufacturer raised a subject that was important to him, but it was a subject that he admitted that he had come to terms with and understood the rep’s position.

“When I take the time to make joint calls with my reps in the field, I do so with the understanding well ahead of time that while we’re visiting the customer another subject or another manufacturer’s product line is going to crop up. When that occurs, the rep is going to have to take care of business that … Read the rest

A Key Question:
“What Now Big Shot?”

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When asked to recount recollections of his first day as an independent manufacturers’ rep several years ago, Steve Lamer good-naturedly responds: “I just sat there looking at my phone and asked myself ‘What now, big shot?’”

Thankfully, he can now look back on that day with a great deal of satisfaction as, today, he heads North Central Manufacturing Solutions, LLC, Madison, Wisconsin.

In part answer to that “What now?” question, Lamer recalls that among the first steps he wisely took as a rep was to contact business friends and acquaintances to let them know what he was doing and to … Read the rest

Maximizing MANA Membership

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“If I could do anything over, I’d join MANA sooner than I did.” That’s a common refrain when speaking with several long-standing association members. The reason they speak that way is that once enrolled as members of the association, they have available at their fingertips any number of products and services that point their agencies in the direction of professionalism.

Speaking to that point, Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO noted, “If there’s anything I would emphasize to MANA’s members, it would be to take it upon themselves to learn all about what the association offers and take advantage of … Read the rest

When Retirement Isn’t Really Retirement

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By the time Lisa Wilson reads this, she’ll hopefully be well into what she calls her “semi-retirement.” It’s semi-retirement — not retirement — simply because one of her long‑standing principals won’t let her go.

According to Wilson, who heads L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., Bristol, Wisconsin, “I’ve reached a point in my life that while I can still walk, talk and see, when I get up in the morning, I want to do what I want to do.”

L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., specializes in motors, stainless steel coatings, surface preparation products and industrial cleaning solutions.

Admitting that the current … Read the rest

Why Reps?

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Elsewhere in this issue of Agency Sales magazine, a manufacturer describes why and how he continues to work with reps as he has for the entire 24-year history of his company.

According to the manufacturer, “My wife and I own and run the company. While we do have some direct sales personnel, we’ve learned over the years of the many benefits that come with working with independent reps. One of those major benefits is that since we already have some business in the territories that we want to sell into, the fact is reps don’t really cost us anything. If … Read the rest

Jerry Leth Marks Two Decades With MANA

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If Jerry Leth thinks it was just yesterday that he joined the MANA staff, he should think twice because it’s been a lot longer than just yesterday. A great deal has happened in the world, in general, and in the world of reps specifically during the 20 years that Leth has been a staple at MANA headquarters.

While gas was averaging about $1.26 a gallon in 2000, George Bush had just narrowly defeated Al Gore in one of the closest elections in American history and cell phones were just emerging as more than a “yuppie toy,” it’s remarkable how many … Read the rest

Making a Mark With Special Incentives

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photo of Tasha SharpEven the shortest of visits to MANA member Sharp Incentives’ website (www.sharpincentives.net) offers a completely understandable explanation of what owner Tasha Sharp’s unique independent manufacturers’ rep firm is and what niche it fills in the marketplace.

To appreciate the role that this agency occupies it’s probably necessary to know that:

  • According to Incentive magazine, businesses in the United States spend $90 billion annually on non-cash incentives.
  • Over the past two decades there has been a significant jump in the number of U.S. businesses using non-cash rewards, rising from just 26 percent of all U.S. businesses in 1996 to 84 percent
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The Need to Invest in the Rep’s Efforts

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Over the course of four days association members participated in a free-wheeling MANAchat on the subject of developing new markets.

The sessions were entitled “Market Development Fees”:

  • What are they?
  • Why are they necessary?
  • What strategies should you use to convince your prospective principals they need to offer market development fees?
  • How long should such a fee last and how do you determine the amount?
  • Are market development fees mandatory every time you sign a new principal?
  • What do you provide the manufacturer in exchange for the market development fee?

The 53 independent reps who took part in the chats … Read the rest

Looking to Solve Problems

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Manufacturers search out and join MANA for a variety of reasons. One manufacturer recently recounted his rationale which was aimed at solving a couple of problems that had cropped up over the years.

According to the manufacturer, “Just as everyone else does, we look at our numbers and we reached a point where we knew we had to do something about our poor performance and shrinking market share. Even if the economy remained constant, we see our share of business getting smaller and smaller. It doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion that the way we’ve been conducting … Read the rest

Successful Succession: A Second Time Around

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“With advancing years, a manufacturers’ agent may be confronted with a problem peculiar to the nature of his business. Briefly stated, it is this: What becomes of his business, his valuable customer list, contacts and contracts when he is obliged to retire, or when he dies? Obvious answer: His business is sold.”

That scenario, outlined more than 60 years ago in an issue of The Agent and Representative — now Agency Sales magazine — rings as true today as it did then. And, if there’s any doubt that history repeats itself, have a conversation with Scott Howells, who’s gone through … Read the rest

Achieving “Emotional Favorite” Status

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When manufacturers participated in a week‑long series of MANAchats devoted to the subject of what they need to do in order to get more time and effort from their independent manufacturers’ reps, a number of constants rose to the surface of the discussion:

  • Regular visits in the field with reps firm up relationships.
  • Reps and their principals share in the responsibility for creating and following up on leads.
  • For their part, reps ought to create and share their succession plans with their principals.
  • The establishment and regular meeting of rep councils remains a critical factor in improving relations between manufacturers
Read the rest

Line Profitability Checklist

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Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, a group of manufacturers and reps got together to discuss, among other topics, line profitability analysis.

One rep was more than ready to examine the subject as he arrived at the meeting with a list of the criteria he regularly used when he annually evaluated his manufacturers. Among a fairly lengthy list of his considerations were the following:

  • What has the manufacturer done to keep the agency aware of competitive factors in the territory?
  • Has the principal provided his agencies with complete, comprehensive and practical product literature — in either printed or web-based form?
  • Has
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Process, Procedures and Professionalism Sustains Agency Success

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As Jobst, Inc., marks its 42nd anniversary this year, Michelle Jobst looks back 12 years to when she bought the agency and emphasizes that what she really purchased at that time was “good process, procedures and professionalism” to run a sales firm. And it’s those elements that continue to serve as a metaphorical three-legged stool that has sustained the agency over the years.

Walter Jobst Associates was founded in 1978 by Walter Jobst, Michelle’s father. The business started out of his home, where he and his wife “Kitty” worked together for many years and raised a family.

Michelle Jobst grew … Read the rest

Agencies Face Uncertain Future — Like Everyone Else

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Near the initial onset of the COVID‑19 pandemic The New York Times’ columnist Tom Friedman was interviewed on one of the cable news networks. In the course of the interview, Friedman made the point that once things settle down and there’s a bit of normalcy, he expects an explosion of remote learning to take place.

While not directly related to the rep’s lot in life, Friedman’s point resonated during the course of a conversation Agency Sales magazine had with a 16‑year veteran teacher who ramped up his remote learning efforts to stay in touch with students earlier this year.

Here’s … Read the rest

Split-Commission Dilemma

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A manufacturer that was about nine months into his initial experience with an outsourced sales force raised the question about how he should handle split commission situations.

One of his MANA-member reps was quick to provide him with a discussion on the subject that appeared in the pages of Agency Sales several years ago. Two of the highlights from that discussion follow:

  • “Commission splits are fairly common in engineered products. There are many different ways to fairly compensate all parties involved. The main thing to remember is that the compensation needs to be based on how much influence each agency
Read the rest

Selling in the “New Normal” Environment

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The term “New Normal” is one that is being popularly bandied about as we either wind down from the COVID‑19 pandemic or face the prospect of a second wave coming our way this fall. Focusing on that term for a moment, author, speaker, consultant, Terry Brock, observes that a look back at history shows a number of “New Normal” examples — and we’ve survived and thrived with each.

“Look back at everything from the American Revolution, The Civil War and even the move from the horse and buggy to cars. Think about the latter for a moment. If we felt … Read the rest

Feeling Comfortable as a Rep

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As Ken Russell-Murray looks back over the history and growth of his agency, he recalls that when he opened his doors in 1995, “I wasn’t apprehensive or nervous at all.” That’s probably the best frame of mind to have when making a major career change — and the years of success that have followed have proven him correct.

According to Russell-Murray, who heads ElectraSpec, Inc., “When I made the decision to open my own agency, for nine years I had been traveling throughout Canada and the Eastern United States as the sales manager for an electrical manufacturer. When the company … Read the rest