Following a Career That Rewards Effort

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Matt O’Grady’s father, grandfather and uncle were all policemen, so naturally — he became an independent manufacturers’ representative. While obviously not following the same career path as some other family members, today he sounds perfectly happy and content as president of CAM Associates, LLC, with locations in Itasca, Illinois and Delevan, Wisconsin.

As he looks back on how and why he became a rep, O’Grady explains that as a student at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, “I majored in communication because I felt no matter what career I pursued, I would have to be an effective communicator. At the … Read the rest

CRM — Friend or Foe?

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While it may be impossible to identify what follows as a trend, the fact remains there have been a number of MANA members who have recently contacted the association with their thoughts on what some term as “onerous” requirements that they provide regular updates to their principals on their principals’ CRM systems. At the very least, if it’s not a trend, it’s certainly an area of concern.

Perhaps serving as a preface to a discussion of this subject are comments that have appeared recently in Agency Sales. For instance:

  • “Maintaining a manufacturer’s CRM (often salesforce.com), rep salespeople lose time
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Self Motivation

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In the course of listing a menu of the reasons his company has gone to market with reps, one manufacturer let Agency Sales magazine know what really gets him enthused about working with his nationwide network of reps. “We never have to spend any time worrying about them getting out of bed in the morning and having them make sales calls. They do that all by themselves.”

He continued, “While we are totally committed to reps nationwide, we do have one small territory where we have a three-person direct-sales office that handles a few accounts. Even though they’re located near … Read the rest

Rep Councils — The Perfect Communication Tool

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If comments from reps and manufacturers who participated in a series of MANAchats were any indication of the effectiveness of rep councils, all manufacturers have to do is to ask their reps to participate and reps will readily accept the invitation. Attesting to the importance of a manufacturer having a rep council, one rep offered the opinion that “If I was interviewing for a line, one of the most important questions I’d want an answer to is whether they have a rep council. If they do, then that’s a very strong signal that that’s the kind of company that wants

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A Rep Council Checklist

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While the previous article describes what transpired earlier this year during the course of a three-day MANAchat devoted to the subject of rep councils, what follows can serve as a primer or checklist to consider when approaching the rep council from either the manufacturer or rep point of view.

✔ Communicating Goals

At the outset, to ensure that your plans for operating a rep council don’t proceed in a vacuum, it’s critical to communicate.

Communicate with every person who will be involved with the operation of the council. As to what you’re going to communicate, start with the goals you … Read the rest

From Coal Mining to Sales

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Over the years Agency Sales has reported on many individuals who have made the leap from any number of professions to become independent manufacturers’ representatives. Former teachers, professional baseball, basketball players, golfers, nurses, and even an FBI agent have detailed their changes in profession.

This brings us to Rich Deering, who early in his career worked as a coal miner. Today Deering heads Industrial Sales Associates, Inc., (ISA) in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition to MANA, ISA is a member of the Power-Motion Technology Representative Association (PTRA).

The agency’s website acquaints visitors with the fact that as an independent manufacturers’ representative, … Read the rest

Parting the Right Way

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A rep contacted Agency Sales recently to relate how two manufacturers recently terminated him and several of his peers throughout the country.

According to the rep, “With the first manufacturer, a change in their sales management pointed them in the direction of going direct rather than staying with their rep network; we had heard of their decision early on via the industry grapevine. When we asked them about it during the year, they confirmed what we had heard. Instead of bailing immediately, we opted to stay with them without seeking an immediate replacement on our line card. We did that … Read the rest

Staying on the Offensive

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Rather than waiting for the proverbial next shoe to drop, Vic Myers Associates (VMA) went on the offensive when it came to dealing with the understandably onerous restrictions that agencies like it and others had to work their way through during the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic.

An important part of that offensive move was the acquisition in February of new headquarters space in Arizona, specifically for the purpose of allowing VMA personnel, customers and principals to meet face‑to‑face.

With four main offices located in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, VMA is an agency engaged in the representation of instrumentation and … Read the rest

Anxious to Get Out in the Field

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As lockdown restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 epidemic continued to be lifted, it sounds like Linda Gunter was feeling the same restlessness and impatience she faced in her previous career as a paralegal. She couldn’t wait to get back out on the road meeting face-to-face with customers.

Gunter, president of Gunter Medical, LLC, San Antonio, Texas, admits that it’s not easy for her to sit still. “I’m a people person. I just can’t sit on a computer all day or sit behind the desk. I’ve got to be out there meeting with people.”

That’s why when the travel and customer … Read the rest

Tips for Restarting a Rep Council

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Over the course of several virtual networking presentations conducted by MANA during the last year, one subject continued to raise its head — rep councils.

Combining several conversations that transpired among manufacturers that tuned in to the presentations, one that remains pertinent was an exchange between two manufacturers, one of whom was looking for tips on how to restart his council after a lapse of several years. The advice from the other manufacturer was: “The best place to start is to look to your beginnings. Don’t build on what you did previously. Take a look at what your problems were, … Read the rest

To Plan or Not to Plan

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MANA and Agency Sales magazine have long advocated for independent manufacturers’ reps to have a business plan for their agencies — and not only have the plan, to but update it regularly. The adage “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” comes to mind as reps are constantly reminded of the importance of updating and communicating the existence of their business plans to principals.

Even the quickest review of articles that have appeared in the association’s monthly magazine over the years will reveal a constant reference to the importance of business plans. Then there’s the contents of innumerable … Read the rest

Thoughts From An Old School Rep

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When he’s asked to describe himself, Marc Carver maintains he’s simply “…an old-fashioned rep. If anything, I am old school. I want to see my customers eye-to-eye, face-to-face. I am just a people person and I love what I do. I think my personality is perfect for being a rep, as I like to be self-employed and have no one to answer to except myself along with my customers and vendors’ greatest needs.”

Today, with more than 35 years under his belt as an independent manufacturers’ rep, Carver heads Carver & Associates, LLC, located near Portland, in Lake Oswego, Oregon. … Read the rest

Conducting Effective Sales Meetings

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Earlier this year, MANA addressed the subject of conducting more effective sales meetings for its manufacturer members.

At the outset of a MANAchat moderated by MANA President and CEO Charley Cohon, it was emphasized how an effective sales meeting can go a long way in creating an environment where a rep will truly want to work with a manufacturer and devote more time to a line than might be justified by the commission paid.

“What it comes down to,” according to one chat participant, “is that you’re competing for your rep’s mind share, and effective sales meetings can help you … Read the rest

Where and How to Find Rep Salespeople

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“When I start thinking about adding someone to my agency, I know I’m in for a rough ride. Just about everyone working in my industry right now is in the 50- to 70-year-old range. It’s more difficult now than ever before to find someone younger who might be interested in carving out a career as a rep.”

“I was so desperate the last time I had to hire someone that I developed a flyer describing the position and ran around town dropping it off in the hopes someone would be interested. I don’t think it’s a surprise to me or … Read the rest

Tips for Getting — and Keeping — the Rep’s Time

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Getting and keeping a fair share — if not more — of the rep’s time in the field remains a challenge for manufacturers. At least that was the consensus of half a dozen manufacturers who were queried in telephone and email interviews. To follow are some of the typical responses to the question: “What’s your major concern with working with reps?”

  • “If we’re going to represent 25 percent of the rep’s income, then I want a quarter of his time in the field.”
  • “We want to know that we’re high on the rep’s line card and that he spends the
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Line Profitability Remains Key to Rep Success

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The February issue of Agency Sales magazine profiled a MANA-member firm that at its beginning was willing to take on any line it could secure. Once the agency turned the corner to profitability, however, the agency owner explained, “Now we keep our product focus narrow and limited so we can effectively serve the objectives of the manufacturer, designer, builder and distributor.”

And elsewhere in this issue of Agency Sales, we describe how at its inception one agency took on 60 lines of products to represent. Now that agency has whittled its representation to a dozen because there’s no way … Read the rest

The Time-Honored Practice of Evaluating Lines

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The practice and the accompanying benefits of line productivity analysis are hardly new.

Consider the description of the process and the advice offered on the subject earlier this year by MANA’s Charles Cohon during the MANAchat described elsewhere in this issue of Agency Sales.

In addition, the subject was discussed and analyzed in depth in the Operations Manual for Manufacturers’ Representatives Firms, a lengthy publication produced with MANA’s assistance in 2006. In that manual the following endorsement for line productivity analysis was offered: “Regardless of the size of your representative firm, knowing and understanding each line’s profitability is … Read the rest

Keeping Focus on the Business

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It’s been more than two decades since Agency Sales magazine visited with Maureen Ingram, owner of The M&M Sales Company, and while over the years change has remained a constant for her agency, there are three things that haven’t changed:

  • Her adherence to the power of focus.
  • Her belief that strong relationships serve as the foundation for her agency’s success.
  • And finally, the maintenance of one of the agency’s core beliefs to provide POS (Positively Outrageous Service).

The Columbus, Ohio-based agency represents a variety of manufacturers that sell products to gift shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, hospital gift shops, major chains … Read the rest

Making the Move — Properly

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It’s hardly uncommon for sales and marketing executives to move to new companies every couple of years. Some do it because the road to the top in their company is blocked. Others do it because they are unhappy with their present jobs. And some do it simply because they become bored very easily once they accomplish what they set out to do.

Whatever the reason, when marketing people who manage a team of agents leave, they often cause chaos in the field without knowing it. Being an agent is living life on the edge of uncertainty. Commission checks are often … Read the rest

Post-Covid What Changes Are Permanent?

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Thoughts of what happened to everything from drive-in movies, blacksmiths, and stagecoach drivers — not to mention the traditional handshake — come to mind when considering the changes in how reps have conducted business as the more than year-long pandemic winds down.

Think for a moment about the absence of in-person sales calls, not to mention the fact that many of the offices reps used to visit are now empty as purchasing and specifying personnel work from home. Then there’s the marked increase in the use of virtual Zoom or Skype meetings and the increase in the use of email … Read the rest

Finding a Niche With Smaller Companies

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A drive to build a solid foundation for a career as an independent manufacturers’ rep coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit pointed Owen Swift in the direction of opening his own agency in 2017. Today, Swift heads Swift Scientific, LLC, Coventry, Connecticut. His one-man agency represents premium manufacturers of scientific laboratory equipment, reagents, and biologics and matches unique research and development technologies with specific lab applications.

Swift’s career background includes more than 15 years providing automation equipment and specialized consumable supplies to life-science researchers in the Northeast United States. His experience spans the drug development pipeline from discovery and basic research … Read the rest

Preventing Future Failure

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When a long-awaited addition became available to its product line, a manufacturer admitted that he rushed it to market.

In a positive move, he did take the time to support the effort with plenty of literature, inside sales support and online information and advertising. One thing he failed to consider, however, was the critical need to train his outsourced sales force. Taking the responsibility on his own shoulders, he explained that misstep this way: “We quickly responded to a need exhibited by the market for this product. Our thinking and planning was that we should get it into the hands … Read the rest

Operating Room Nurse to Independent Rep

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Armed with a self-described “big mouth,” a love of medicine and a desire to wear a suit and carry a briefcase, Willa Moats, CPMR, made the jump from operating room nurse to independent manufacturers’ representative 35 years ago. Today she heads Willcare Associates, LLC, Milford, Pennsylvania. The agency serves the greater New York area, northern New Jersey, and upstate New York.

Given her extensive medical background, the obvious questions for Moats are how and why she embarked on such a dramatic career change. She explains, “In the mid-1980s, as a single mother, I wasn’t making a great deal of money … Read the rest

The Need to Educate Principals

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When MANA members considered whether they had a responsibility to educate principals new to working with an outsourced sales force, caution was advised. In response to the question, “Is it a red flag that a potential principal has no experience working with the rep business model?” participants in a MANAchat responded with a resounding “Yes!”

In the chat, conducted over a week with 26 association members participating, some cautionary words were heard, however:

  • “If a manufacturer has performed his due diligence (and, why wouldn’t he do that?) before approaching an agency, you’d think that they’ve educated themselves about the ins
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MAC Meeting Tackles Covid Response

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While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact business and the world of reps specifically, there are a number of positives that have developed over the course of the last 12 months. That, in general, was the tone of the conversation from a Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC) meeting held late last year.

In a luncheon meeting moderated by Jerry Leth, MANA’s, vice president and general manager, and Jack Foster, Agency Sales’ editor, a group of MAC members discussed how the pandemic has impacted their lives and the lives of their principals and customers.

Founded in 1971, MAC is a … Read the rest

Rep Councils Smooth Communication

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Manufacturers’ independent rep councils go a long way to eliminate the “us vs. them syndrome.” That was one of the primary messages delivered by Charlie Ingram, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Eriez Magnetics, Erie, Pennsylvania, during a MANAcast.

“In a nutshell,” according to Ingram, “the rep council serves as an advisory board and operates as a way to provide information back and forth between manufacturers and their reps. A rep council’s purpose is not to hear reps’ complaints; rather, their ultimate purpose is to determine what improvements are needed when it comes to serving manufacturers’ and the … Read the rest

Rep Stresses Business Fundamentals

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Rick Wickizer humorously recalls that rice and beans were a staple on his dinner table when he opened his agency more than a decade ago.

According to Wickizer, Wickizer & Associates, Woodland, Washington, “Thankfully I had some savings and other resources because initially I knew I wasn’t going to make a lot of money.” He couldn’t have been more correct in anticipating a lack of income since he only turned a very modest profit during that first year.

In a nutshell, here’s how Wickizer got to where he is today: During the last recession, after the building industry collapsed, Wickizer … Read the rest

Finding Great Manufacturers’ Representatives

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Given the opportunity to compare notes on how best to attract top rep agencies, manufacturers who participated in a MANAchat held nothing back when it came to describing their experiences.

With a working title of “Finding Great Manufacturers’ Representatives,” over the two-day chat 14 manufacturers weighed in with how they found, signed and maintained successful relationships with independent reps.

One of the most effective means employed by one manufacturer was to counsel with some reps that he knew. Here’s how he explained his experience: “I met with some retired reps — reps who knew they weren’t in the mix for … Read the rest

Finding the Correct Piece of the Puzzle

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When a manufacturer was asked to describe his tried-and-true process for locating the ideal rep for a given territory, he introduced an analogy of locating the right piece to finish off a section of a jigsaw puzzle.

According to the manufacturer, “We’ve tried just about every method for locating reps that exists. That includes all of the directories that the various rep associations provide that serve our industry. However, I’ll have to admit that probably nothing beats a personal recommendation. As an example, about a month ago, one of our largest customers — and this is one of our top … Read the rest

Effective Communication in a Covid World

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Just as with so many of his fellow reps, the COVID-19 pandemic has to a large extent taken long-time MANA member Sid Ragona out of the field; but Ragona has hardly disappeared. Instead, while still tending to his rep duties, today he also can be found in a series of YouTube videos covering a number of topics impacting what reps do on a daily basis.

A simple YouTube search on the name “Sid Ragona” will reward interested parties with discussions of:

  • Mastering Zoom.
  • Elevate Your Zoom Meeting to New Heights.
  • Ten Tips to Becoming a Manufacturers’ Rep.
  • Home Office Basics.
Read the rest