Past Practices Can Work Today


When Mills Rendell, formerly with Rendell Sales Company and now the president of Zeus Battery Products, read “Is This the Future for Many Outside Salespeople” in the September 2022 issue of Agency Sales, it caused him to reflect on his career as a rep. It also reminded him that there’s no room for excuses if a rep is having difficulty getting in touch with customers and no substitute for hard work if a rep is seeking a path to a successful career in sales.

According to Rendell, “There’s no need for me to go into a great deal of … Read the rest

MANAchats Let Reps Share Concerns


Whether it’s considering if the role of the rep is changing, sharing tips on how to use technology to maximize productivity, or offering advice for getting in front of ever-elusive customers, regularly scheduled MANAchats have become a welcome meeting place for association members. Those and other subjects were addressed in recent sessions of the chats that were participated in by numerous MANA members and took place over several days.

Contacting Customers

As noted in another article that appears in this issue of Agency Sales, the lasting impact of Covid and other variables have made it more difficult for reps … Read the rest

Defining the Meaning of Value


Manufacturers’ reps and their principals truly believe they are adding value for their customers. Despite this belief, however, many of them have seen their profit margins become razor thin because of deeper discounting, extended terms, and special offers. The question that should be front and center of everyone’s mind is this: “If we are adding value, why do our customers continue demanding lower prices?”

In answer to that ever-present question an industry consultant offered some thoughts that manufacturers ought to be sharing with their reps.

Customers have heard the promise of added value from advertisers and salespeople for years. Yet, … Read the rest

Retired Rep Spreads the Word


While Bob Gillen claims that he retired in 2008, that really doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, the former independent manufacturers’ rep explains that today he intends to devote efforts to spreading the word about who and what a rep is.

In a recent conversation with Agency Sales, Gillen, who for years ran the single-person Gillen Associates in Raleigh, North Carolina, explains, “Now I’d like to do something different. I’d like to conduct seminars in a free venue focused on the career of being a manufacturers’ rep. I’m thinking of something like two-year community colleges, public libraries, churches, … Read the rest

The Single‑Person Agency and “Ghosting”


Several reps who participated in a MANAchat devoted to the single-person agency reported that they were being faced with “ghosting” by prospective and existing principals. For the uninitiated, ghosting is a colloquial term that refers to abruptly cutting off contact with someone without giving that person any warning or explanation for doing so.

Here’s how one of those reps faced with that experience explained his dilemma: “I’ve had four or five experiences recently where I’m interviewing with a principal. We go over each other’s wants and needs, and I get excited about the prospect of working with them. They promise … Read the rest

Dealing With the Merry‑Go‑Round


It was a little bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy when one manufacturer described the difficulty he continually faced when it came to filling direct sales positions in a number of his territories.

According to the manufacturer, “It seems as if they (the factory direct salespeople) can’t wait to get out the door. We just get them trained and attuned to developing relationships in the territory and then they either take another position in our company or leave the company entirely. It’s like being on a merry-go-round that keeps spinning people off.”

This manufacturer is hardly alone in facing this problem. … Read the rest

Aquest “Waits” for No One


Talk to Phil Roland, who opened the doors to his rep firm a good 36 years ago, and before you know it, you’ve received a healthy dose of enthusiasm, confidence, and an appreciation for the necessity to embrace change. In effect, perhaps his agency’s company philosophy is best incorporated in the following: “‘Wait’ is a four-letter word we do not tolerate; we constantly push ourselves, our principals, and our customers. We are not for everyone — we are an ‘acquired taste.’”

Roland founded Aquest in 1986 as a natural outgrowth of his always wanting to work for himself. “Following an … Read the rest

ALOTO Members Share Experiences


When members of “A League of Their Own” (ALOTO), MANA’s Special Interest Group for women manufacturers’ representatives, virtually got together late last year, several of their shared areas of concern clearly mirrored those that are heard from the association’s general population. Interestingly, in response to the question, “Is there anything different about being a female vs. a male manufacturers’ rep?” one of the most common observations made by members of the group was, “I don’t notice any difference in being a female agency owner. There are no situations where we are treated any differently, and I have no problems getting … Read the rest

How to Treat a Rep


In the course of an interview with a rep that focused on his long-standing relationship with one principal, the rep volunteered that while there were many reasons why the relationship has weathered the test of time, there were three very important attributes the principal possessed that the rep valued:

  • “The principal’s in-house rep-support teams are outstanding. When we contact them there is no problem left unsolved, no question left unanswered.”
  • “They generously support us in our joint field visits to customers, and they always allow us to take the lead in presentations to customers.”
  • “They have insisted that we complete
Read the rest

Rep Gains Freedom He Sought


When he opened his agency doors 20 years ago, Steve VanDenBerg was hardly a stranger to the world of reps. As he recalls, “For several years, I was involved in inside sales for electronic distribution. I regularly met with reps and knew several older people who were reps. What was intriguing about what they did for a living was the fact they could go out there with complete freedom and do something they were interested in. I found that the reps I dealt with were free spirits who built their own customer base.”

Following that initial attraction, today VanDenBerg finds … Read the rest

MANAcast Examines Line Card Profitability


At the outset of his presentation during a MANAcast devoted to the subject of Line Card Profitability Analysis, MANA President/CEO Charley Cohon used the analogy of Olympic rowers to make a point.

According to Cohon, “Manufacturers’ representative firms have a lot in common with Olympic rowers. Just to qualify to compete we have to be fast, agile and impressive performers.

“But when it comes to line card profitability analysis, some of us forget what Olympic rowers know: To be winners, you have to take the boat out of the water regularly to clean and wax the bottom. And before the … Read the rest

There’s Nothing Like Working Together


It’s no secret that reps don’t always react in a positive manner when one of their principal’s regional sales managers asks them to schedule joint sales calls.

One manufacturer, however, couldn’t miss the opportunity to pass along positive comments she received from a rep on his RSM. According to the rep, “The sales manager was very upfront when he told me not to be wary of selling other lines that I represent — when the opportunity presented itself. But the main purpose of his joint sales call visit was to make appointments with especially good customers for his products and … Read the rest

Like Father, Like Son


Thankfully Dan Wolfskill was just as attracted to the rep way of life as his father was years before him. That’s why the transition of agency leadership from father, Joe, to son, Dan, has gone so smoothly for MANA member James Industries, Inc. (JII).

The story of this Bellville, Texas (about 60 miles northwest of Houston), rep firm begins with Joe Wolfskill, who explains that he began his career in 1974 on the corporate side. After completing training programs all over the country in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and York, Pennsylvania, a rep career called out to him. According to Wolfskill, “I … Read the rest

The Secret to Making Customer Contacts


As if the point had to be made, participants in a series of MANAchats late last year spent a great deal of time discussing the difficulties they were having in getting sales appointments with customers.

Over a period of two days MANA members who were owners of single-person rep firms detailed the roadblocks they were encountering in their efforts to represent their principals.

While several chat participants pointed a finger at workplace changes that were implemented during Covid as the major culprit for this situation, there were also some remedies that were forthcoming from the discussions.

At the outset of … Read the rest

Making a Partnership Work


A manufacturer recently wrote to Agency Sales about the relationships he enjoys with several of his independent reps. This manufacturer should be forgiven for his boasting because what he wrote about shows that he and his reps know what it takes to forge a strong relationship.

Here are a couple of the reasons why the manufacturer felt he was entitled to be so proud about how he works with his reps:

  • “We and our reps have worked long and hard at sustaining relationships. It’s a little like a marriage. If the little things go wrong and you start picking at
Read the rest

Changing Tune for a Rep Career


Just as so many others before her, Jamie Benson never really set out to become an independent manufacturers’ rep. Her first dream was to become a big-shot singer-songwriter-musician.

According to Benson, “I think you either have the rep business in the family or you somehow stumble into it. As for me, I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and spent the hot summer afternoons in my bedroom learning how to play the guitar and recording myself on my tape player. I fantasized about playing on a great big stage with bright lights and a crowd of fans singing along with my … Read the rest

There’s More to Marketing Than Just Having a Website


When it comes to marketing an independent manufacturers’ rep agency, the number-one weapon appears to be the existence of an effective, professionally developed website. That was the consensus from a group of MANA members who participated in a week-long series of MANAchats devoted to the subject of marketing your manufacturers’ representative business.

At the outset of the conversation about rep websites, the point was made that approximately 80 percent of MANA members have websites that are easily found by manufacturers who access the RepFinder®, MANA’s online directory. “Basically, if a manufacturer is seeking representation, they’ll usually eliminate those … Read the rest

Playing the Ratings Game


It’s hardly uncommon for principals to rate the performance of their reps and for reps to rate their principals, but here’s a bit of a different twist to the ratings game.

A manufacturer recently informed us that she’s made it a regular practice to ask her reps to rate her performance with them. “Our motives are fairly clear cut,” she maintained. “We simply wanted to know where we stood above and beyond our competitors and the other lines that our reps carried. This was an outgrowth of the fact that we’re well aware of how most of our reps perform … Read the rest

Relationships Key to Rep Career


Establishing and maintaining relationships were the ultimate magnets that attracted Marilyn Kahler to a career as an independent manufacturers’ rep. That was 36 years ago and according to Kahler, the attraction is the same today as it was back then.

Today Kahler heads Tri‑Fab Solutions, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Opened in 1973, Tri‑Fab Solutions was founded by Ron Shinn as a company to supply custom mechanical components to a wide range of industries throughout Arizona. With the expansion of maquiladoras in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, Tri‑Fab Solutions was one of the first representative firms to help secure product for OEMs in … Read the rest

One Can Be the Loneliest Number


It was unavoidable that the words to the 1968 song “One is the loneliest number” came to mind during a MANA special interest group teleconference earlier this year devoted to the concerns and problems faced by single-person rep agencies.

As the words to the song go:

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.
Two can be as bad as one.
It’s the loneliest number since the number one.”

Owners of single-person rep firms are faced with the daunting task of doing everything themselves, whether it’s strategic planning, searching for prospective principals, travel and entertainment related to selling to … Read the rest

All A’s on This Report Card


A manufacturer recently offered what he viewed as a report card that evaluated his company’s performance in the marketplace once they had made the move from a direct to an independent manufacturers’ representative sales network.

Here’s how he described his company’s experience: “From the very beginning the combination of all of our reps’ talents clearly became evident. Their in-depth knowledge of the territory, local contacts and relationships coupled with their flexibility in the field immediately improved our market performance.”

He continued, “Then there’s the issue of synergy. The agencies we chose to go to market with had line cards that … Read the rest

Relationships Are Key for CEP Sales


Independent manufacturers’ reps Kurt Kroemer and Gary Coval have a keen appreciation for the relationships they enjoy with the manufacturers they work with.

The two, who head CEP Sales, Inc., Zionsville, Indiana (a suburb of Indianapolis), are quick to acknowledge the healthy relationships their agency enjoys with its principals. Consider their words:

  • “We have been blessed with high-quality manufacturers to sell for, learn from and grow with, so we feel fortunate about this. If there is anything I might wish they were a little more appreciative of in our relationship, probably the only item that comes to mind is that
Read the rest

MANAchat Tackles the Need for Effective Communications


If a rep doesn’t communicate regularly and effectively with a principal, they’re not going to have that principal for very long.

While there was no arguing that point during a MANAchat earlier this year, MANA members who participated in the three-day chat were quick to emphasize that if the communications you’re providing the principal don’t benefit the rep, the principal and the customer, then time and effort is wasted. As one rep stated: “If our communication to the principal benefits us and the customer, then I have no problem doing it. On the other hand, if it’s just a matter … Read the rest

The Secret to Getting Attention


There’s an ever-present concern that presents itself to manufacturers’ reps when they are seeking the attention of principals looking for representation: “What do I have to do to show a manufacturer that I’m the right one for him?”

Here’s how one manufacturer addresses that concern:

  • “Here’s the first thing I consider: Do I even know he’s there? What has the rep done to establish his brand in the territory? How long have they been in business? Do they communicate what other lines they represent?”
  • “Has the agency been a presence at important trade shows that I attend? Have they ever
Read the rest

Keeping It in the Family


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


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”


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?


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?


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


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