Enjoying the Family Effort

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Armed with an entrepreneurial passion, years of industry experience — not to mention the backing and involvement of his family — two years ago Stephen Ceolin opened his agency doors in Canada and today he couldn’t be happier.

With more than 25 years of industry experience, Ceolin and his agency, Ceolin & Associates, Inc., Orangeville, Ontario, Canada (near Toronto), today provide sales and marketing solutions across Canada for businesses in the retail home improvement and hardware marketplace. In fulfilling that role the agency provides:

  • Full-line representation.
  • National and regional footprints.
  • Marketing campaigns.
  • Retail service.
  • Product knowledge and training.

According to … Read the rest

Tips for Developing New Markets With Reps

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“How can I find a high-quality independent manufacturers’ rep in a territory and what can he or she and I do to introduce my product to the marketplace?”

That was the question posed and answered by Hank Bergson earlier this year in the course of one of MANA’s popular and well-attended teleforums. This teleforum, entitled Developing New Markets With Manufacturers’ Representatives, tackled the situation faced by manufacturers and reps when manufacturers seek to introduce a new line or new product into a territory.

At the outset of the discussion Bergson, president of Henry Bergson & Associates, LLC, and the … Read the rest

Publicity to the Rescue

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A manufacturer that joined MANA during the last year was looking for a way to support its newly created rep network’s efforts in the field.

Publicity came to the rescue. In researching how best to communicate its message to prospective customers, the manufacturer located a national trade publication devoted to its industry that was more than willing to publish an article on how this company was introducing its niche product to a new market — via independent manufacturers’ representatives. The only restriction was that this had to be a how-to article, not a commercial. The manufacturer jumped at the chance … Read the rest

Warming Up the Cold Call

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It’s not unheard of to have a rep maintain that cold calls are, if not a thing of the past, certainly a practice not nearly as common as they used to be. Everything from the ability of potential customers to hide behind their voice and e‑mail and overly efficient gatekeepers have combined to make the traditional cold call more challenging than ever before.

That’s why the endorsement by one rep for this vestige of years ago — the time-honored cold call — was somewhat surprising. Over the course of a lengthy lunch a veteran rep salesman voiced his enthusiasm and … Read the rest

No Room for Complacency for Keller Industrial Products

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Looking for an independent manufacturers’ rep firm that possesses the attributes that manufacturers look for and MANA touts? Look no further than Keller Industrial Products, Inc., of Clarence, New York. The agency, now in its eighty‑second year — and counting — can boast of deep roots in the territory it serves, not to mention a lengthy record of firm relationships with its principals that average more than 25 years of service. Buried in that average is the fact that Keller can trace its relationship with one principal back more than 50 years to 1966.

According to Greg Matthews, a partner … Read the rest

Correcting Misconceptions

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When a manufacturer that was considering switching from a direct to an outsourced sales team voiced misgivings about making the move for two major reasons, another manufacturer seated at the roundtable discussion was quick to jump in.

According to the first manufacturer, “I have some serious reservations about whether any rep firm is technically savvy enough to sell my products. On top of that, I’m used to exerting complete control over my direct salespeople. If I make the switch, I’m not going to have that same level of control and I believe that’s going to adversely affect our sales efforts.”… Read the rest

For Reps — The Past Is Definitely Prologue

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Earlier this year when TV reporter Ted Koppel took a quick look at the past, he brought to mind how much our world — and really by extension the world of reps — has changed in a relatively short period of time.

In a poem Koppel put together for the CBS “Sunday Morning” TV show, he points out that there was a time not too long ago when we all depended on roadmaps to chart our way before there was GPS available in our cars. Or, how about the fact that today when conducting research instead of consulting our trusty … Read the rest

From Teacher to Rep in Just a Few Steps

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The fact that Peter Scholtens played with model trains as a child and stops at rail crossings as an adult does little to explain how and why he is today an independent manufacturers’ representative serving the rail industry in North America. Rather, he can point to an entrepreneurial spirit coupled with a desire to do what he truly wants to do for the rest of his life for bringing him today to where he heads Integrity Rail Products.

Founded two years ago and headquartered in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, the agency’s products include locomotive traction control systems, locomotive electrical components, and … Read the rest

Lessons Learned From Being a Manufacturer

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One of the more common paths to follow on the way to becoming an independent manufacturers’ rep is to start as a manufacturer. Two manufacturers who followed that path compared notes at an industry meeting earlier this year and there were two areas in which they credited their former careers for providing them with some valuable knowledge.

In the area of being able to truly understand what the rep does, one rep emphasized, “One thing I’ll never forget is the fact that the rep owns the customer. That’s why when we made the move from a predominately direct sales operation … Read the rest

Starting (From Scratch) as a Rep

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A desire to make a move from working in a molecular biology laboratory to a career in sales coupled with a fortuitous recommendation from a friend was what propelled Keynae Agnew into a career as an independent manufacturers’ representative.

According to Agnew, who was armed with a degree in biochemistry from Texas A&M University, “A little over 12 years ago a gentleman who had his own one-man rep organization mentioned to a friend of mine that he was looking to hire someone to assist with office work and if the candidate had a science background that would be a plus. … Read the rest

Kudos to MANA’s Manufacturer Seminar

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Following his attendance at MANA’s manufacturer seminar last fall, one manufacturer was thankful that he was able to take corrective action before any damage had been done. According to the manufacturer who was right in the middle of making the move from a direct to an outsourced sales force, “I thought that by making the change I was going to be able to kiss goodbye all the planning and budgeting that I had to do with my directs.”

He noted that when he brought up this subject during the seminar, he learned very quickly that wasn’t the case. “I learned … Read the rest

It’s Never Too Early to Plan

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As he contemplates his and his agency’s experience over the course of developing and executing a succession plan, Corbin Gunstream reflects on the importance of the four Ds — Death, Divorce, Dissolution and Disinterest. While not the only guiding principles for an agency owner contemplating his or her exit strategy, they remain important considerations.

Gunstream, a partner in Engineered Industrial Products, Inc. (EIP), Santa Fe Springs, California, began working for the agency in 2005 and has been responsible for territory management in Northern California and Northern Nevada. He became partners with Kurt Fisher in 2017 and serves as CFO for … Read the rest

Rep Impressions of Regional Sales Managers

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While hardly planned or even expected, an early morning golf match provided a recently retired independent manufacturers’ representative with the ideal opportunity to share his thoughts on the contributions that manufacturers’ regional sales managers can or should provide for their reps — and their customers for that matter.

According to this rep who came fully armed with more than 15 years of experience selling a full line of products through distributors, “The first thing you have to keep in mind about a rep is that he’s in business to make money. If whatever the regional manager does really doesn’t contribute … Read the rest

Revisiting the Relationship

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Point to a difference in cultures or an unfamiliarity with U.S. business practices, but whatever the case, an impediment to good relations developed when an overseas manufacturer began working with an independent manufacturers’ rep.

It was obviously a positive that the manufacturer was aware of the importance of communicating shared expectations and for the need of a written contract that insured the best interests of both parties. On the negative side, however, was the principal’s apparent lack of knowledge of how to establish, nurture and maintain good personal relations between his company (including his factory people) and his rep.

When … Read the rest

Meeting Goals Set Long Ago

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The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” might accurately describe the perception many people have of the water and waste water treatment industry. For Carl Janson, however, it’s exactly the opposite. For the president of Riordan Materials Corporation, water and wastewater treatment are a constant in his life and in the life of his independent rep agency.

The Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-headquartered Riordan Materials Corporation puts forth the following goal in its mission statement: “Our mission is to provide quality, cost-effective solutions for our clients, while providing the best technical support services available before, during, and after installation. We are … Read the rest

Being a Rep Means Facing Challenges

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November coverLate last year, Lisa Wilson was contacted by Agency Sales magazine to describe her efforts in spearheading a MANA special interest group for female agency owners called “A League of Their Own.” While that article in the November issue detailed Wilson’s efforts in putting female agency owners together to share and learn from experiences and best practices, there’s more to Wilson’s history as an independent manufacturers’ representative. Her agency, L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., Bristol, Wisconsin, specializes in motors, stainless steel coatings, surface preparation products and industrial cleaning solutions.

According to Wilson, her beginnings as an independent rep can be … Read the rest

Filling a Void

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Being the biggest isn’t always the formula for success. That’s what one manufacturer maintained as he explained, “I know that I’m a small fish in a much bigger pond when it comes to getting the attention of successful reps.

“What has worked for me is that I’ve had great luck when I take a really close look at the other lines the manufacturers’ representative represents. After looking at the rep’s entire offering, I determine if there’s a void. What that void represents is a niche for me to fill. Once I identify that void, I’ll contact some of his other … Read the rest

Rep Firm Built on Personal Service

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Joe Figueroa points to a singular event that sent him on his way to opening his own rep agency close to 20 years ago.

As the president of Latin America Sales Company, Inc., (LASCO) Middleton, Massachusetts, recalls it, “In 1997 a light went on when I was sitting in a sales meeting for the manufacturer I worked for. As they explained how they were going to answer customer calls, I knew I could do the job much better than they could.

“Here’s how they explained their plan: When customers called, a new voice mail system would ensure that we didn’t … Read the rest

Rep Councils Eliminate Us vs. Them Environment

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Simple is always better and simple is just the way Charlie Ingram describes how and what a rep council is.

Ingram, vice president, sales and marketing for Eriez Magnetics, Erie, Pennsylvania, maintains that a rep council “is put together for manufacturers and reps to exchange ideas on how they can work better together to serve their mutual customers. In a nutshell, it’s all about discussing mutual challenges and deciding how best to improve your business practices.”

That was just part of the message delivered by MANA Board member Ingram and MANA-member Kurt Jacoby, Dempsco, Inc., Dayton, Ohio, as they participated … Read the rest

Spelling Out Expectations

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When there’s been a strain in the relationship between principal and rep, the cause of any friction may often be traced to a failure in communication. That’s the view of one manufacturer who noted, “I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard my fellow manufacturers say their reps claim they didn’t know what the manufacturer wanted out of the relationship.”

He explained, “I’d maintain it always comes down to keeping open the lines of communication. And to accomplish that goal, what has to be done? I’d maintain that it’s not all that difficult; but it does take some time … Read the rest

Adopting 3Rs When Vetting Prospective Lines

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In the simplest terms Doris Harkness’ process for vetting a prospective or new line may be defined by three words — let’s call them the 3Rs: Responsive, Resourceful and Respected. If a manufacturer can show it possesses those three attributes, chances are they can find a home with Harkness’ agency.

Harkness, who heads the Pace Company, Richmond, Virginia, maintains that any manufacturer that desires to be represented by her agency had “better be clear about the type of company they are. We are the most resourceful, respected and responsive bulk handling rep in Virginia. Any manufacturer that we partner with … Read the rest

Making the Most of MANA Membership

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It happens more times than not that in the course of an interview with a MANA member, the member will offer a compliment about the association’s services.

For instance:

  • Elsewhere in this issue of Agency Sales, one rep notes, “What’s been very helpful to us is that in its wealth of information about how reps can become more professional, the association offers valuable information on how to effectively evaluate the performance of principals via line productivity analysis.”
  • It’s commonplace for reps to note that they’ve been very successful in locating new lines or having prospective principals find them via
  • Read the rest

Rep Councils: Two Are Better Than One

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Here’s how one manufacturer described his company’s experience with rep councils:

“We have 22 reps on our team. Early on we started a rep council and learned that it was a very effective way to build the cooperative links that have made us successful. However, we soon discovered that the work of the rep council was diverse and often time-consuming. It seemed to us that we were often asking the council members to do too much for us, although none of them ever complained. However, we thought a lot about this and came up with the idea of having two … Read the rest

Reps’ Hunger for Training Remains a Constant

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Earlier this year a MANA member reaffirmed the long-held belief of this association that reps continually seek the training needed to succeed when he said, “As the rep considers the task being assigned, the hope is that you have really good principals in those situations where you don’t necessarily have the skill set to perform the function. Your message to the manufacturer should be that ‘We really believe in this but we need your help in terms of training.’ The training in question could be provided through your principal’s internal personnel. The best situation would be that your principals would

Read the rest

Making It
“A League of Their Own”

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As detailed in the 1992 film A League of Their Own, when men were shipped overseas to do battle during World War II a number of the jobs that were left vacant because of their absence were filled by women. Hardly exempt from that predicament was the world of baseball. In the 1940s the owners of baseball teams, not wanting the sport to be dormant indefinitely, decided to form teams with women. As a result, scouts were sent across the country to recruit women athletes to populate a four-team league.

A bit of a recollection of that time took place … Read the rest

Proactive Communication Saves the Day

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A manufacturer recently related to Agency Sales magazine how when one of his best performing reps erred in a personnel decision, a potentially disastrous situation was quickly defused.

Here’s how he described what happened: “A one-man operation that I’d describe as one of our very best reps had reached a growth point where he had to hire another rep to take some of the load off himself. Unfortunately, he made the wrong decision. From the first day the new rep started working, there was a falloff in performance from the rep firm. We noticed it right away when we didn’t … Read the rest

Women Open Their Own Doors to Rep Careers

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The independent rep profession has much to offer to any budding entrepreneur willing to take a chance. But to listen to the participants in a MANA teleforum early this summer, it’s an especially attractive and welcoming career for women.

That was one of the key takeaways from a session entitled “Opening Doors for Women Rep Owners.”

The three participants in the teleforum each offered their view of the profession and stressed that the business opportunities, flexibility, and the opportunity for women to exercise their multi-tasking abilities were especially important.

Participants in the teleforum were:

The Reality of Being a Rep

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When Claudia Cort decided to open her agency doors more than eight years ago she admits that she was aware she was facing a daunting task, but “I never knew it was going to be as hard as it was. I had spoken to other reps ahead of time so I thought I knew what was in store for me, but they never told me how really hard it was going to be.”

Despite that beginning, Cort, Cort Marketing Group, LLC, Eden, Maryland, has prevailed and now the agency, which includes her husband Peter and four sub-reps, serves the kitchen … Read the rest

Keys to a Working Relationship

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In the course of a conversation late this summer, a rep put forth his thoughts on the type of relationship he looks for with his principals.

“I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years and my agency has been in business a little over 50 years. During that period of time, I’ve learned to truly value working with new companies that have a continual supply of new and innovative products. On top of that, I’ve learned that any time I am able to locate a manufacturer that appreciates the synergy that exists between their products and all the … Read the rest

Maximizing the Value of Field Visits

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“You hired us to increase sales, not to be your travel agents or ‘yes men.’” That’s how one rep described his reaction to a principal’s request that they make all the necessary arrangements for a visit to the territory, including getting plane tickets, making hotel reservations, not to mention setting up appointments with customers.

According to the rep, “When the principal’s new sales manager came on board for one of our lines one of the first things he asked was that we prepare for his visit in the field. Let me emphasize that there was no particular reason for the … Read the rest