Building a Rep Firm


Talk to husband-and-wife Johnny and Laci Davis about their growing rep firm and the word that surfaces the most is “grit.” That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given the agency name. But it’s important to understand how they came upon that name and what it means as they continue to grow their agency.

In 2022, after a 16-plus-year career in the pool and spa industry, Johnny Davis, the agency’s CEO and co-founder, together with his wife Laci, made the decision to build something of their own.

According to co-founder and Chief Content Officer Laci Davis, before they … Read the rest

Group Tackles Single-Person Agency Concerns


If participants in a MANA single-person agency special interest group discussion earlier this year learned anything it was that they’re more alike than they are different when it comes to the challenges that they face.

That conclusion is borne out from the variety of subjects that were introduced by the group, all of which showed that just about every one of them shares the same concerns and challenges as the others. Whether it was having difficulty getting appointments with customers, pulling timely quotes from principals, or dealing with manufacturers who are anxious to have reps conduct pioneering work for them, … Read the rest

MANAchat Takes on Challenge of Finding Reps


While it can remain a challenge to find reps to represent their lines, manufacturers maintain there are steps to take when it comes to finding the right fit. That was a major takeaway from a MANAchat when manufacturers got together to discuss their challenges and successes when it comes to signing on with rep firms.

Setting the stage for the discussion, one manufacturer explained, “Typically, like just about everyone else, we generally go through the search and interview process, followed by a trial period in an effort to establish what the expectations and relationship would look like. We’ve had some … Read the rest

Reps Build Something of Their Own


The three partners of The Garham Group have been able to achieve their goals of successfully creating and growing a business all their own while “Bringing Products to Life.” As stated on the agency’s website (, the products they “bring to life” reside primarily in their customers’ backyards.

Anthony Zasuwa, one of the agency’s three partners, states: “We specialize in exterior building and outdoor living materials. These include decking, railing, cladding, foundation, and hardscape products. During the last five years, there’s been a real emphasis on backyard spaces. As an agency, we focus on selling innovative products that last a … Read the rest

Changes Can Trigger Line Productivity Analysis


Sometimes it takes a trigger to spur a rep into action. It might be something along the lines of a change in commission rates, new ownership taking over a manufacturer, or dealing with a new sales manager, but whatever the cause, reps report that performing line productivity analysis can be an indispensable tool when these changes occur.

That was the gist of conversations that took place in the course of a MANAchat devoted to the subject of reps carefully analyzing how profitable their lines are.

One rep started off the conversation by stating a fairly common predicament that many reps … Read the rest

Evaluating Goes Both Ways


Whether manufacturers know it or not, their reps are constantly evaluating the profitability of their lines. This can be done formally via a structured line profitability analysis or informally with the rep actually measuring how much time he spends on a line and then asking himself if it’s really worth the effort. Depending upon the analysis of accumulated data, what inevitably can result is a parting of the ways.

Two reps recently reported to us the results of their decisions concerning some of their lines. According to the first rep, “Ours was a fairly simple decision. We contacted two of … Read the rest

Guided by Best Practices


If Mike Gallagher has learned anything over the course of his lengthy and successful business career it is the value of employing and relying on best practices.

Just as so many reps before him, Gallagher, president and CEO of Centro, Inc., began his business career on the manufacturing side of the desk working for companies including Thomas & Betts, Norton Abrasives, and Square D Company.

“I spent most of my business life working with large companies that sold products through distribution and rep channels. When I was about 40, I determined that my goal of serving as president of a … Read the rest

Reps’ Likes and Dislikes


When Agency Sales magazine reported on a MANAchat that was devoted to a discussion of what reps like most and don’t like about their jobs, it must have struck a chord. Since that article appeared in the December issue, several reps have weighed in with their thoughts on the very same subject. Overall, those who took the time to comment expressed great satisfaction with their choice of profession; however, for every satisfied rep, there were others who voiced some misgivings with what they have to face on a regular basis. Overall, their opinions might very well serve as recruiting tools … Read the rest

Making the Right Choice


When considering what type of rep — whether a generalist or a specialist — is best for you, what it comes down to is determining from the outset what works best for you and your company.

For instance, one manufacturer that is firmly in favor of the generalist maintained that “although agents do need a certain level of technical sophistication in order to sell our products, that level is not as high as you might imagine. I look for agents who have a wide range of competencies; who can move quickly from one sales situation to another.”

On the other … Read the rest

Selling Boxes — As a Start


While Matt McCroskey was raised and educated in Ohio, his family had deep roots in California, and that’s where he built and continues to grow his more than 30-year career as an independent manufacturers’ rep.

According to McCroskey, his great grandparents bought property in Southern California more than 100 years ago. As a result, following his graduation from Ohio State University, he had someplace other than Ohio to follow his career dreams. And, oddly enough, those dreams of sales began with selling cardboard boxes.

According to McCroskey, “One summer two friends and I got a job selling cardboard boxes, and … Read the rest

Tips on Working With Sub-Reps


The similarities of reps working with principals and reps working with sub‑reps were evident over the course of a MANAchat. High on the list of those similarities were how and where do reps find sub-reps, and once found how do you work with them effectively and pay them fairly?

The problems that reps face in finding sub-reps were evident early on in the conversation when the question was raised “Why would a rep firm want/need to engage with a sub-rep?’

In answer the group of reps participating in the chat emphasized that often a manufacturer will place demands on their … Read the rest

What Reps Expect


The joint concerns of what reps and principals should expect from each other in the relationship were tackled by a group of manufacturers and reps when they recently got together. See if any of these items are important to you. First, consider what they had to say about the rep’s expectations of their principals.

Expectations — “Will there be a clear understanding from the very beginning of our relationship of the expectations of each other that we’ve jointly agreed upon? How about collections? If a joint customer is in arrears, do they expect me to go out and make collections? … Read the rest

College to Sales to Repping


Rick Pierce’s path from college to heading his own rep firm could be described as more “typical” compared to so many other agency owners who have been profiled in Agency Sales magazine.

So many others have begun careers in far-flung ventures covering everything from teaching, law enforcement, and even professional sports. For Pierce it was an entirely different story. After studying marketing in college, he began a sales career with a manufacturer. In his words “I began working for a manufacturer as number 32 in their sales force of 32. I left 14 years later as number two.”

His reason … Read the rest

“Belly-to-Belly” Selling


The continued benefit of in-person contact with prospects and customers was stressed during the course of a MANAchat when reps who participated constantly pointed out that nothing beats “face-to-face, belly-to-belly” selling.

According to one rep, “Here’s the problem that’s been going on for 20 years now: You go to a website to check out a company or a product and everything you read tells you that the company producing the product — or the product itself — is absolutely fantastic. You never read how something is mediocre or performs poorly in the field. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that … Read the rest

Understanding Reps


A manufacturer who was switching from a direct sales force to reps called recently for some guidance.

During the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he planned to take on each rep in each territory on a trial basis. When he was asked why and what he thought an appropriate trial period should be, he answered, “I want to make sure that I’m doing the right thing by switching to reps and I want to make sure that each rep I appoint is going to be able to do the job to my satisfaction.”

When it was explained that … Read the rest

Rep Strives to Empower Entrepreneurs


In 2019, when Jo-Anne Hernandez opened the doors to her agency, Business Lazo, little did she know she was going to run headfirst into Covid-19 and the problems and challenges that accompanied the pandemic. However, armed with the entrepreneurial zeal that is mandatory for reps, she’s successfully come out the other end to today head the Princeton, Massachusetts-based agency.

Business Lazo, LLC, is a sales, consulting and marketing company. The agency is a certified minority- and women-owned business with more than three decades of sales, consulting and marketing experience. According to Hernandez, “Our agency’s expertise spans from startups to Fortune … Read the rest

Treating Reps as Family


In the course of a conversation covering a variety of topics a manufacturer with a long history of working with reps was asked if he would be willing to share his thoughts/philosophies concerning house accounts.

Here was his thinking on the subject: “We’ve been in business for well over half a century and have a proud history of working with independent reps for more than 40 years. With that long period of time in place, we’ve adopted a philosophy that we treat our reps as part of our family. We don’t look upon them as ‘just those guys who get … Read the rest

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