Rep Career Spells Freedom


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


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
Read the rest

An Endorsement for Synergy


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?”


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


“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


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?


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


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


photo of Tasha SharpEven the shortest of visits to MANA member Sharp Incentives’ website ( 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
Read the rest

The Need to Invest in the Rep’s Efforts


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


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


“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


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


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
Read the rest

Process, Procedures and Professionalism Sustains Agency Success


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


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


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


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


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

Facing the New Abnormal


At the conclusion of a week of MANAchats devoted to the subject of effectively communicating with principals and customers in the midst of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the 38 MANA members who participated agreed on a number of subjects.

  • It should come as no surprise that no one felt the end is in sight, nor could they predict when the logistics of how they conduct business might ever return to the way they used to.
  • “Staying in touch” — by any means possible — with principals and customers is now more important than ever.
  • Relationships remain the foundation for the rep
Read the rest

Manufacturers’ Representative Provides Support for “Made-in-America” Effort


One year comfortably into his retirement, an Ohio rep was reminiscing about his 27-year career as an independent rep when he settled upon one especially fond memory.

“As I look back over my career as a rep, there’s one incident that’s especially important to me. I was able to assist a small Ohio business to gain a higher percentage of a world-wide market and at the same time to grow as a ‘Made-in-America’ company. While what I went through to help both the manufacturer and the customer sounds a bit complicated, principally because I had to devote a lot of … Read the rest

Redirecting the Conversation


While in the midst of trying to maximize the efficiency and contributions of its rep council, a manufacturer accessed several of the articles on that subject that have appeared in the pages of Agency Sales magazine.

After reviewing them the manufacturer contacted us with the following observation: “With a certain amount of regularity one or more of our rep council members seem to force discussions in a negative direction. They seem to have their own agenda and are bound and determined to complete it no matter what.”

We’ve heard this complaint previously and in response there’s really nothing wrong with … Read the rest

One Rep’s Approach to Educating His Principal


If there’s one constant in every interview Agency Sales conducts with members it’s a question concerning the need for reps to educate their manufacturers as to what they actually do for them in the field.

A failure to perform that function ultimately can lead to some manufacturers making assumptions that all reps do is walk to the mail box each month to collect their commission check.

After he was approached by one of his manufacturers with a request to accept a commission cut on a major account, one MANA member recently reached out to Agency Sales magazine to detail his … Read the rest

Selling Service Works for This Rep


If there’s anything that might set the Mantec agency apart from competitors, it’s the agency’s working philosophy it has embraced when it comes to representing a service provider vs. a typical products principal.

As stated on the agency’s website, “Since its founding in 1976, Mantec has strived to provide both customer and principal with the highest quality products and services available.” Note the inclusion of the word “services” in the agency’s description.

According to agency founder Pete Mann, who founded the Pomfret Center, Connecticut-based agency in 1976, “In 1981 we were approached by a testing laboratory that had no outside … Read the rest

Exploring the Move to Reps


It’s more than gratifying when a manufacturer communicates with MANA and Agency Sales concerning the reasons why they have gravitated to the use of manufacturers’ reps.

That happened recently when the manufacturer of a line of industrial paints and coatings wrote, explaining: “We are exploring the use of reps as a way of filling voids in our marketing coverage. While we are not fully ready to appoint agents at this time we wanted to find out what was available. That was our reason for joining MANA. So far, we have learned that there are plenty of firms and individuals interested … Read the rest

Frontline — Changing With the Times


Contacted in the midst of an agency name change and physical move Rick Root good naturedly took a look back as to how he began his career as an independent manufacturers’ rep.

Root, CEO and COO of Frontline Sales & Marketing, explains, “My friend’s parents owned an agency at the same time I was gainfully employed as an operating engineer. My friend’s father extended an offer to me to ‘come over to the dark side’ as a manufacturers’ rep.”

Root’s introduction to the rep profession was a bit different from many of his peers in that “I had never sold … Read the rest

Celebrating Years of Success


A little over three years ago, Agency Sales magazine profiled long‑time MANA member Murray Percival Company, Auburn Hills, Michigan. At that time we noted that the agency had logged more than 57 years serving the electronics assembly market. This year, as the agency marks its 60th anniversary, we felt the time was right to make a return visit and ask the agency principals to share some of their thoughts on what they felt the future might hold for them.

With that six decades of history to draw from Murray Percival Jr., president and CEO, notes that as he and the Read the rest

Making the Right Choice


Over the course of a year of communicating with and meeting in person with manufacturers, there are some questions that are asked over and over.

Among the most commonly posed are:

  • Having chosen an agency to go to market with, how do I know I’ve made the correct choice?
  • Having chosen that agency, how can the manufacturer be sure they are going to get their fair share of the rep’s effort and time in the field?

Thankfully, Agency Sales magazine has any number of manufacturers we can call upon to address those concerns. Taking those questions in order, one long-standing Read the rest

A Rep’s View From Both Sides of the Desk


Shortly after Craig Deerman opened his own agency doors two years ago, he arrived at a couple of valuable observations learned while sitting on the manufacturer’s and rep’s side of the desk.

Deerman, Deerman Sales, Birmingham, Alabama, armed with 18 years of unique expertise in the residential, commercial and decorative plumbing products’ markets, noted that:

  • Networking for reps is a bit of a different game from what he had previously experienced as a manufacturer.
  • And, manufacturers aren’t always knowledgeable and appreciative of everything that reps do on their behalf.

Speaking of the former point, Deerman maintains, “From the manufacturer’s perspective, … Read the rest

Team Support Spells Success


When a panel of three manufacturers was asked by another manufacturer who was brand new to working with reps what kind of support he should expect in order to make the partnership work, the trio on the panel answered unanimously “teamwork.”

One of the manufacturers offered, “You don’t need just one person or one ‘rep champion’ in your organization. What you truly need is to introduce the philosophy of team support — and that’s much more than just support in the sales function. Your manufacturing support team should include individuals from accounting, manufacturing, shipping, advertising, public relations, and operations. If … Read the rest