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

Zink Foodservice Makes Move to ESOP

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In addition to the changes that any company experiences during the course of a more than 40‑year history, Zink Foodservice, led by Jim Zink and Mike McGuire, made the major change last year from a family-owned business to an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP).

Zink Foodservice provides comprehensive sales, marketing, distribution and installation services for manufacturers and authorized dealers of foodservice equipment and smallwares. The agency, headquartered in Westerville, Ohio, has more than 70 associates (40 of whom are focused on sales), located in 10 office locations and four culinary centers in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio; Chicago and Indianapolis.

(As … Read the rest

What’s Important for Manufacturers?

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Independent manufacturers’ representatives are hardly the only participants on MANA’s LinkedIn discussion page. A recent visit to that location on the Internet found two manufacturers weighing in on issues important to them and their peers.

For instance, in a contribution entitled, “What Do Manufacturers Look for in a Rep?,” Charles Ingram, vice president of sales & marketing for Eriez Magnetics, maintains that “The best manufacturer-rep relationships are those where both parties respect each other, understand their mutual expectations and have shared business values. While manufacturers may have some variations on the attributes of rep organizations they wish to represent them, … Read the rest

Time and Circumstances Change Expectations

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Time was that reps sold products and received a commission check. It was as simple as that and the arrangement seemed to suit both sides — manufacturer and rep. But times have changed and so have what each side expects from the other.

That scenario served as the beginning of a conversation with Craig Lindsay, CSP, CPMR, founder and president, Pacesetter Sales & Associates, an independent manufacturers’ representative agency selling safety and industrial supplies to the industrial market across Canada. As the conversation progressed, however, several variables were thrown into the mix and the relationship isn’t quite as simple as … Read the rest

IUCAB Names George Hayward Award Winner

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photo of Peter FeiglIn Europe, manufacturers’ representatives are called “commercial agents.” And each year the Internationally United Commercial Agents and Brokers (IUCAB) chooses an exceptional commercial agent to receive IUCAB’s annual “George Hayward Award.”

This year’s winner Peter Feigl, of Peter Feigl Handelsagentur in Austria, gave an extraordinary acceptance speech. With Peter’s permission, we are reprinting his speech in Agency Sales magazine:

My name is Peter Feigl, I am 40 years old and I’m from Linz in Austria. At the beginning of my working life, I made an apprenticeship as a mechatronics. Then I became a field manager. And now I am a … Read the rest

Sub-Rep Success in a Niche Market

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Earlier this year when Grant Melocik, Grant Melocik Sales, notified MANA that he was not renewing his membership, that information was of the “good-news, bad-news” variety. Obviously, the bad news was he wasn’t keeping up his membership; but the good news was he was at the point in his professional career where he was looking forward to a well-earned retirement.

In his explanation for not renewing his membership, Melocik emphasized that “I did want to thank MANA for all that I have been able to learn from the organization and for the contacts that allowed me to pick up additional … Read the rest

Looking to the Future

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Concurrent with the publication of an article on the importance of succession planning in Agency Sales earlier this year, a manufacturer wondered how far he could go when it comes to asking about an agency’s future plans.

According to the manufacturer, “Thankfully, I’ve been in the position where I really haven’t had to worry about what my reps are going to do in the future because, by and large, each of the firms I work with have been more than willing to share information that pertains to how they operate now and what their future plans might be. These are … Read the rest

Whittemore Company Marks Centennial

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When Agency Sales was notified earlier this year of The Whittemore Company’s goal of expanding its territory into Kansas and Missouri, it couldn’t help but cast a spotlight on the agency’s rich history stretching all the way back to 1918 to the time when World War I was winding down and a flu pandemic was working its way around the world.

As the company readies itself to celebrate its centennial anniversary this year, Dave Zaval, who heads the Addison, Illinois-based agency, took the opportunity to recount not only how he forged a career as an independent manufacturers’ rep but also … Read the rest

Seeking New Opportunities in Canada

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Since he’s the relatively “new guy on the block,” Bernat Riera can’t be blamed for having the normal concerns that any start-up rep firm has. Attracting quality principals, gaining a presence on the Internet, negotiating exclusivity with principals in the territory, etc., are all matters that keep him busy.

But if anyone has the qualities that will make it work, it should be MANA-member Riera, who heads Les Produits BR, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada.

Before beginning his journey as an independent manufacturers’ rep earlier this year, Riera packed several years of selling experience under his belt. Ten years as a pharmaceutical … Read the rest

Dealing With Rep Turnover

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Don’t ever underestimate the value of being able to network with non‑competitive peers.

That’s what one manufacturer found during his attendance at an industry meeting. While this manufacturer had been working with reps for years, he had recently undergone considerable turnover among his reps. As a result, he was faced with the prospect of hiring new firms. But since it had really been several years since he had to go through that process, he was a little wary of what he was going to do. Coming to the rescue were several of his industry acquaintances, who offered a number of … Read the rest

More Advice on Succession Planning

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In the article that precedes this one, MANA President and CEO Charles Cohon takes aim at the subject of succession planning. As he draws upon real-world examples of why succession planning is so critical and addresses many of the how-to steps to take in order to get the job done, it’s worth noting that MANA and Agency Sales magazine have for years espoused the critical benefits of planning, forming and executing an effective succession plan.

More than a decade ago, under the heading of “There’s No Success(ion) Without a Plan,” this publication pointed out that the existence of a workable … Read the rest

Eastern Canada MANA Members Meet

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It didn’t take long for Bernat Riera to take advantage of his MANA membership. Shortly after joining the association the Waterville, Quebec, rep put the wheels in motion for the first of what is hoped for several networking meetings for members in Eastern Canada.

Riera, Les Produits BR, explained that the initial meeting in February was to be followed by another last month. “Several MANA rep members from the province of Quebec met with the joint goals of networking and identifying common interests. Our agencies basically cover eastern Canada and some represent lines for the entire country. The results of … Read the rest