Keeping It in the Family

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Mark Finder’s origins as a rep in the fastener business are probably similar to those of many other reps in other industries. His father opened the B. Finder Associates, Inc., agency after sitting on the manufacturer’s side of the desk for more than two decades. Once his father opened the agency, headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, Finder, as so many other “sons of the owner,” gravitated to the business.

B. Finder Associates, Inc., founded in 1969, has thrived and prospered owing mainly to well-established relationships with principals and customers. According to Finder, “My father started in the fastener business in 1946, … Read the rest

Taking a Chance

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It’s tempting to rely on well-known quotes and clever sayings to best describe what one rep is currently going through.

For instance, consider:
“We must either find a way or make one.”
— Hannibal, Carthaginian general and statesman

Or, how about:
“Ain’t no chance if you don’t take it.”
— Guy Clark, American songwriter and folk singer

And finally:
“If someone gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
— Anonymous, unless someone wants to step forward and claim credit

To a certain extent they all fit the path one rep is taking when it comes to her efforts to bring what she … Read the rest

Looking for “Reinvention”

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The president of an electrical products company recently emphasized how important it was for his fellow manufacturers to be on the lookout for rep firms that have reinvented themselves.

According to the executive, the kind of rep that he looks to go to market with is one that operates in a lean and efficient manner. “The pressure for cost reductions in our marketplaces will certainly not subside. As a result, we’ve got to challenge everything we’ve always done. Once you do that you’ll be surprised at what you can do without.”

In the course of challenging everything you do, he … Read the rest

After Your Principal Is Purchased — What Now?

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An independent manufacturers’ rep is in the midst of enjoying years of a positive relationship with a principal. The tenure between the two companies is something they both boast about. Mutual expectations have historically been agreed upon and realized and sales continue on an upward path.

Then, one day the principal is bought out by another manufacturer, or a venture capitalist enters the scene with its own plans for the future. What follows are the dreaded words: “I don’t expect to make any changes to our current relationships.” Shortly thereafter that rep — and very probably the entire independent rep … Read the rest

Is This the Future for Many Outside Salespeople?

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Don’t employ a kneejerk reaction by labeling John Ahlering as a pessimist when he begins to detail some of the many challenges that independent manufacturers’ reps face today. Instead, give him the benefit of the doubt that he is in fact a realist and one who embraces what MANA and Agency Sales magazine have long espoused when it comes to the importance of reps providing value to their principals and customers.

Looking back over a more than 22-year rep career, Ahlering, founder and president of Coastal Technology Group, LLC, is the first to admit the rep-profession landscape has changed considerably. … Read the rest

The Question of Exclusivity

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When a MANA member described an issue they encountered when negotiating an agreement with a prospective principal, she got plenty of feedback from her rep peers.

According to the rep, “The principal in question does not want to define a territory and they want to work on an ‘account-by-account’ basis. They are not offering any exclusivity; they demand the agency be exclusive to them. They have yet to offer a defined reason other than it ‘is not in their culture to offer exclusivity and it’s something they haven’t done in the past.’ They have even hinted that it is illegal … Read the rest

Challenges of the Single-Person Agency

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Meeting the challenges of seeing customers in person and networking with principals and customers were just a couple of the dilemmas detailed by reps participating in a MANA special interest group teleconference for single‑person agencies.

Over a three-day period, MANA members shared their experiences as they navigate a post-Covid selling world where getting in front of customers is more challenging than it’s ever been before.

Perhaps the situation that many single-person agencies find themselves in today was best described by one rep who boasts a long tenure in the profession. “I’ve been a rep since I was in diapers in … Read the rest

Taking a Detour Back Home

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Just as so many others who grew up in and around a family‑owned independent rep business, Jeffrey Blumenauer ultimately settled into a rep career.

Before following that path, however, he took a serious detour which has provided substantial benefits for himself and for the Blumenauer Corporation, located in Ocoee, Florida. “I grew up in the business,” explains Blumenauer, the third generation of his family’s company. “My time growing up was spent sweeping in the warehouse and in the office stuffing envelopes with invoices. I can remember meeting with principals as a kid and going on sales calls across Florida with … Read the rest

The Other Side of Communication

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There have been innumerable articles in this publication and others concerning the communication that manufacturers should expect from their reps. There’s another side to this subject, however. When several reps were asked what they truly value in the types of communication that they receive from their principals, here were some of their reactions.

“While most of our principals are fairly small, putting out a regularly scheduled newsletter would obviously be a major undertaking for them. What they do, however, is to religiously let us know anything and everything important that’s happening with them that can impact our work in the … Read the rest

In Hiring Salespeople: No One Size Fits All

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One of the most valuable bits of advice that came from a MANAcast on the subject of “Hiring Salespeople for Your Manufacturers’ Rep Firm” was that “one size hardly fits all.”

By that, MANA-member Phillip Ferrell meant that when an agency is faced with the task of filling a sales position, there’s no one approach that is going to fit the needs of all agencies.

Ferrell, president of Agri-Sales Associates, which employs 20 salespeople, explained that by and large, his agency has followed fairly traditional steps when it comes to filling vacancies. “However, your approach to finding new people really … Read the rest

Rep Firm Finds a Home

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If ever there was a “friendly camp” for a rep firm to call home it proved to be Gallagher Fluid Seals, Inc.

According to Chris Gallagher, CEO of the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based company, “When we learned from Dupont, one of the manufacturers that we work with, that the owner of its distributor in New England (IES Technical Sales, Danvers, Massachusetts), was interested in transitioning out of the firm, we opened acquisition conversations with the firm’s owner Mike Berry.”

Gallagher explains, “IES is a segmental distributor for Dupont Kalrez and deals only with targeted customers in the semiconductor and vacuum … Read the rest

Strengthening the Relationship

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It’s hardly unusual that rep‑principal relationships start off very well, but before anyone realizes what’s happening, things begin to sour.

Part of the cause for this disintegration of the relationship is that once reps are signed on, they are all too often forgotten. A bad situation can be exacerbated when principals fail to offer reps any orientation, visiting the home plant is not encouraged or there’s no strategic plan and no real commitment to the rep way of going to market. It would appear that as long as the orders keep on coming, nothing has to be done to maintain … Read the rest

Rep Adapts to Market Needs

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MANA isn’t alone in celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Joining the association in achieving that milestone is Altherm, Inc., an independent manufacturers’ rep firm serving the plumbing and heating industry. And if there’s anything the agency can point to as a reason for its lengthy and prosperous tenure, it’s adaptability and flexibility.

“In dealing with the manufacturers that we represent, they’re always talking about the importance of alignment,” explains Tom Gallagher, president of the Ridgefield, New Jersey-based rep firm. “They’ll always tell us how important it is for us to be aligned with what they hope to achieve. What … Read the rest

MANAchat Explores Supply Chain Concerns

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Extended lead times, increased prices, supply problems, and pushback from customers combined to provide plenty of subject matter for a three-day MANAchat earlier this year.

An interesting side effect of the aforementioned, according to the 21 reps who participated in the chat, is that some reps find themselves having to fend off requests from principals to consider accepting commission cuts since higher product pricing has resulted in increased commission payments.

Discussion on that subject emphasized that all parties (manufacturers, customers and reps) are faced with the prospect of dealing with increased pricing. While those higher prices may result in higher … Read the rest

Defining the Word “Value”

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Elsewhere in this issue of Agency Sales magazine, a rep offers his definition of the value that he delivers to the principals he works with. Conversely, a manufacturer recently communicated to Agency Sales how she defines the value proposition.

According to the manufacturer, earlier in her career she was faced with the task of justifying the continued use of her company’s network of independent manufacturers’ representatives. She quickly offered a convincing value proposition that tipped the scales in favor of retaining reps. Her experience serves as a valuable lesson to others faced with the same dilemma.

Here’s how that national … Read the rest

The Importance of Reps Marketing Themselves to Principals

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It’s critical that independent manufacturers’ representatives market themselves to existing and prospective principals just as if they are a product or service. That was just one of the important bits of advice offered by John Haskell (aka Dr. Revenue) during a MANAcast earlier this year.

According to Haskell, “When dealing with principals, the first thing the rep has to do is to think of themselves as a product. It’s important that they think that way. They’ve got to build themselves a business profile and a marketing plan that makes them look desirable to manufacturers.”

Haskell, a frequent contributor to Agency Read the rest

The Secret to Selling Commodity Products

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It’s very satisfying when the message promoting the value of reps gets repeated by an outside source. Recently, the following came across our desk from a company that provides a matchmaking service for manufacturers and reps. It’s interesting that the benefits cited by this company so closely echo the message that has consistently been repeated for years by Agency Sales and MANA.

According to the company, it’s important to consider the type of product that the manufacturer is taking to market. Off-the-shelf products tend to be sold through resellers. The reseller’s value add is same-day delivery. The more engineered the … Read the rest

Following Words of Wisdom

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Tom Schoenauer Jr. is more than happy he heeded the words his father spoke years ago; and not only did he heed those words, but he also took them to heart.

Schoenauer’s father, Tom Sr., served as the vice president of sales for a manufacturer that sold its products through a network of independent manufacturers’ reps. Among his duties in that position were hiring, supervising and paying reps. According to the younger Schoenauer, “Growing up I spent a great deal of time working in the shop. One thing I’ll always remember my father saying when he was writing out reps’ … Read the rest

Reps Should Find Their “Yellow Tux”

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“Be different.”
“Be remarkable.”
“Don’t be a ‘me-too’ salesman.”

Those are just a few valuable words of advice from someone who knows what he’s talking about.

While Jesse Cole works in a world far away from that of independent manufacturers’ reps, the lessons he’s learned along the way to becoming the owner of two multimillion-dollar baseball teams can serve as a roadmap pointing to success for reps.

In addition to owning the Savannah Bananas and Gastonia Grizzlies minor league baseball teams in the Coastal Plain League, Cole is the founder of Fans First Entertainment and the author Find Your Yellow Read the rest

The Downside of Being Less Than Honest

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A manufacturer with a long and fruitful relationship with reps was asked whether it’s ever been a good idea for her or her agents to hold back information. Without missing a beat, she offered the following: “How could that ever be a good way to operate? If anything, I’d strongly recommend a practice of full disclosure on any and all issues, because isn’t the real foundation of our business relationship built on information, communication, trust and education?”

She didn’t stop there: “How about when we’ve got a new product introduction? Shouldn’t it be of paramount importance for us to let … Read the rest

Post Covid: The Future for Reps

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MANA members, just as other businesspeople throughout the country, are gradually emerging from a tumultuous year. While the challenges for many have been daunting, a remarkable number of association members report that they have weathered the business, economic and Covid-related storms quite well. As a matter of fact, several reps report that by making specific changes in how they conduct business, they have enjoyed record or near-record years.

In an effort to pass along some success stories, late last year in the course of a MANA panel discussion, three MANA reps reported on changes that have proved positive for them.… Read the rest

Conducting Due Diligence

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After participating in a virtual conversation with three of his reps on the continued importance of reps regularly evaluating their principals, a manufacturer offered his thoughts on doing the opposite.

“I annually review how my reps are performing and when I find a problem or determine that something is amiss, I take care of it right away. Here are a few of the things that I’m concerned with.

“Before I even choose which reps to work with, I learn all about their length of tenure in the territory. After that, however, I regularly evaluate:

  • Among their lines, how many are
Read the rest

MANA Marks 75 Years of Service to Reps and Manufacturers

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The Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA) celebrates its 75th or “Diamond” anniversary in 2022. And, while marking that milestone, the oft-repeated phrase, “The more things change, the more they remain the same,” comes to mind.

It was just five years ago that Charles Cohon, CPMR, the association’s CEO and president, noted that while “digging through” the first few issues of The Agent and Representative (the predecessor to Agency Sales magazine) it was notable that while MANA has undergone major change over the years, it was remarkable “how much it has remained the same.”

As he considered some of the changes … Read the rest

Principal Agreement Terminations

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MANA member attorney Scott M. Sanders identified three key areas to consider as he covered situations related to principal agreement terminations during a MANAcast:

  • Key contract terms and the ability for reps to collect unpaid commissions.
  • Potential ways around 30-day termination.
  • A discussion of state laws favoring reps when they make a claim for unpaid commissions.

At the outset of his presentation, which was followed by a question-and-answer session, Sanders maintained that independent manufacturers’ representatives were what he considered “road warriors.” As such, “They often take a long time to build up a book of business with a particular principal. … Read the rest

Finding the Winning Formula

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On the subject of the type of communication one manufacturer desires from its manufacturers’ representatives, one manufacturer appears to have landed right on top of a true winning formula.

Instead of asking for regular reports from the field, this manufacturer has asked its reps to only communicate when there’s something important to report. “The rep’s performance in the field shows us whether he’s doing a good job for us or not. If we were to push for regular reports, then that only muddies the water and to be perfectly honest, if we’re deluged with regular call reports, we’re not going … Read the rest

Embracing Backselling

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The concept of backselling seems to underlie so many conversations that Agency Sales has with independent reps when it comes to defining their relationships with their principals. So too is it the case with Tom Hoarty.

When he was asked, in general, how knowledgeable are manufacturers about what their reps do for them, Hoarty, Process Control Products, Burlington, Massachusetts, explains, “Sometimes you just don’t know what your principals don’t know. If a principal isn’t thoroughly knowledgeable about all that my company does for them as their representative, then it’s my responsibility to educate them.”

That’s a view that has long … Read the rest

Mobile Vans Worth 10,000 Words

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Talk about effective “show and tell” or “touch and feel,” that’s exactly what Ray Wilson, Techni-Reps, Inc., likes to do when someone brings up the subject of his agency’s two mobile product vans.

Wilson, who heads the Greensboro, North Carolina-based rep agency, proudly offers information about two Ford Transit product vans that have served as in-demand marketing tools in the North and South Carolina and Virginia territory in which it operates.

Here’s how the vans are touted on the agency’s website:

“We take the show on the road! We have multiple demonstration vans loaded with the latest products from the … Read the rest

Rethinking a Major Decision

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One manufacturer was fairly quick to back track on its decision to move from an independent rep sales force to direct salespeople. About 18 months after making the change the manufacturer went back to its time-tested and successful rep model.

According to the company’s sales manager, “We initially thought that we were at a point in our growth where it was economically justifiable for us to take our sales direct. To say we were wrong is an understatement. Not only did we come face-to-face with the economic problems just about everyone else has encountered, but we learned that there were … Read the rest

Dealing With the CRM Challenge

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  • Have manufacturer requirements that their reps fill out CRM reports replaced the daily, weekly or monthly sales reports reps have faced for years? It appears so.
  • Are these reports of any benefit to the rep or the manufacturer? Questionable.
  • Do manufacturers read them? Questionable.
  • Do they help reps sell better? Questionable.
  • Do reps fill them out; should they fill them out? Debatable.
  • What happens if/when a rep pushes back? Varied results.

As reps showed little reluctance to discuss this subject, these and other questions were asked and answered during the course of a MANAchat participated in by 31 MANA members … Read the rest

CRM: Some Legal Thoughts

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In the article on the MANAchat covering manufacturers requiring their independent reps to submit data and other sales call information to their CRM platforms, several reps observed that there could very well be some legal considerations affecting the rep’s independent status. In order to get some clarification on that matter, Agency Sales magazine contacted two attorneys that regularly consult with reps.

Gerald M. Newman is a veteran rep attorney and a partner in the law firm of Schoenberg Finkel Newman & Rosenberg, LLC. According to Newman, “While there are a number of factors the IRS considers when determining whether a … Read the rest