Like Father, Like Son

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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”

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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?

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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?

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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

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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

Challenges of the Single-Person Agency

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Meeting the challenges of seeing customers in person and networking with principals and customers were just a couple of the dilemmas detailed by reps participating in a MANA special interest group teleconference for single‑person agencies.

Over a three-day period, MANA members shared their experiences as they navigate a post-Covid selling world where getting in front of customers is more challenging than it’s ever been before.

Perhaps the situation that many single-person agencies find themselves in today was best described by one rep who boasts a long tenure in the profession. “I’ve been a rep since I was in diapers in … Read the rest

Taking a Detour Back Home

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Just as so many others who grew up in and around a family‑owned independent rep business, Jeffrey Blumenauer ultimately settled into a rep career.

Before following that path, however, he took a serious detour which has provided substantial benefits for himself and for the Blumenauer Corporation, located in Ocoee, Florida. “I grew up in the business,” explains Blumenauer, the third generation of his family’s company. “My time growing up was spent sweeping in the warehouse and in the office stuffing envelopes with invoices. I can remember meeting with principals as a kid and going on sales calls across Florida with … Read the rest

The Other Side of Communication

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There have been innumerable articles in this publication and others concerning the communication that manufacturers should expect from their reps. There’s another side to this subject, however. When several reps were asked what they truly value in the types of communication that they receive from their principals, here were some of their reactions.

“While most of our principals are fairly small, putting out a regularly scheduled newsletter would obviously be a major undertaking for them. What they do, however, is to religiously let us know anything and everything important that’s happening with them that can impact our work in the … Read the rest

In Hiring Salespeople: No One Size Fits All

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One of the most valuable bits of advice that came from a MANAcast on the subject of “Hiring Salespeople for Your Manufacturers’ Rep Firm” was that “one size hardly fits all.”

By that, MANA-member Phillip Ferrell meant that when an agency is faced with the task of filling a sales position, there’s no one approach that is going to fit the needs of all agencies.

Ferrell, president of Agri-Sales Associates, which employs 20 salespeople, explained that by and large, his agency has followed fairly traditional steps when it comes to filling vacancies. “However, your approach to finding new people really … Read the rest

Rep Firm Finds a Home

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If ever there was a “friendly camp” for a rep firm to call home it proved to be Gallagher Fluid Seals, Inc.

According to Chris Gallagher, CEO of the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based company, “When we learned from Dupont, one of the manufacturers that we work with, that the owner of its distributor in New England (IES Technical Sales, Danvers, Massachusetts), was interested in transitioning out of the firm, we opened acquisition conversations with the firm’s owner Mike Berry.”

Gallagher explains, “IES is a segmental distributor for Dupont Kalrez and deals only with targeted customers in the semiconductor and vacuum … Read the rest

Strengthening the Relationship

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It’s hardly unusual that rep‑principal relationships start off very well, but before anyone realizes what’s happening, things begin to sour.

Part of the cause for this disintegration of the relationship is that once reps are signed on, they are all too often forgotten. A bad situation can be exacerbated when principals fail to offer reps any orientation, visiting the home plant is not encouraged or there’s no strategic plan and no real commitment to the rep way of going to market. It would appear that as long as the orders keep on coming, nothing has to be done to maintain … Read the rest

Rep Adapts to Market Needs

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MANA isn’t alone in celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Joining the association in achieving that milestone is Altherm, Inc., an independent manufacturers’ rep firm serving the plumbing and heating industry. And if there’s anything the agency can point to as a reason for its lengthy and prosperous tenure, it’s adaptability and flexibility.

“In dealing with the manufacturers that we represent, they’re always talking about the importance of alignment,” explains Tom Gallagher, president of the Ridgefield, New Jersey-based rep firm. “They’ll always tell us how important it is for us to be aligned with what they hope to achieve. What … Read the rest

MANAchat Explores Supply Chain Concerns

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Extended lead times, increased prices, supply problems, and pushback from customers combined to provide plenty of subject matter for a three-day MANAchat earlier this year.

An interesting side effect of the aforementioned, according to the 21 reps who participated in the chat, is that some reps find themselves having to fend off requests from principals to consider accepting commission cuts since higher product pricing has resulted in increased commission payments.

Discussion on that subject emphasized that all parties (manufacturers, customers and reps) are faced with the prospect of dealing with increased pricing. While those higher prices may result in higher … Read the rest

Defining the Word “Value”

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Elsewhere in this issue of Agency Sales magazine, a rep offers his definition of the value that he delivers to the principals he works with. Conversely, a manufacturer recently communicated to Agency Sales how she defines the value proposition.

According to the manufacturer, earlier in her career she was faced with the task of justifying the continued use of her company’s network of independent manufacturers’ representatives. She quickly offered a convincing value proposition that tipped the scales in favor of retaining reps. Her experience serves as a valuable lesson to others faced with the same dilemma.

Here’s how that national … Read the rest

The Importance of Reps Marketing Themselves to Principals

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It’s critical that independent manufacturers’ representatives market themselves to existing and prospective principals just as if they are a product or service. That was just one of the important bits of advice offered by John Haskell (aka Dr. Revenue) during a MANAcast earlier this year.

According to Haskell, “When dealing with principals, the first thing the rep has to do is to think of themselves as a product. It’s important that they think that way. They’ve got to build themselves a business profile and a marketing plan that makes them look desirable to manufacturers.”

Haskell, a frequent contributor to Agency Read the rest

The Secret to Selling Commodity Products

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It’s very satisfying when the message promoting the value of reps gets repeated by an outside source. Recently, the following came across our desk from a company that provides a matchmaking service for manufacturers and reps. It’s interesting that the benefits cited by this company so closely echo the message that has consistently been repeated for years by Agency Sales and MANA.

According to the company, it’s important to consider the type of product that the manufacturer is taking to market. Off-the-shelf products tend to be sold through resellers. The reseller’s value add is same-day delivery. The more engineered the … Read the rest

Following Words of Wisdom

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Tom Schoenauer Jr. is more than happy he heeded the words his father spoke years ago; and not only did he heed those words, but he also took them to heart.

Schoenauer’s father, Tom Sr., served as the vice president of sales for a manufacturer that sold its products through a network of independent manufacturers’ reps. Among his duties in that position were hiring, supervising and paying reps. According to the younger Schoenauer, “Growing up I spent a great deal of time working in the shop. One thing I’ll always remember my father saying when he was writing out reps’ … Read the rest