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Setting the Record Straight About Reps

Independent rep Richard Fairbrother of Taylor Sales in New Hampshire says the maligned group is necessary to the survival of both manufacturers and dealers.


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“Do you know what they’re saying about you?” Over the past two weeks, my email has been inundated with forwards, comments and speculation regarding certain articles and video addressing the value of Rep Firms, and the Reps within. These comments, ranging from both good to many bad, even some outrageous, have ignited a firestorm regarding the discussion of Reps, and whether or not we have value to anyone within the industry. 

As a Rep in the industry, and now principal of my firm, I find it hard not to be distracted by these comments and even harder not to have a knee-jerk reaction to many of them. It’s human instinct. But then the Rep in me kicks in and the first question I ask is, “Why are these questions and comments even being made in the first place?” The second part of my Rep instinct kicked in and said, “This is an opportunity to set the masses straight!”

Since Larry Pexton went on record first, I decided to call him up and ask him the motivation behind his question. As quoted: “Where are the bright, young, up-and-coming manufacturers’ reps who will offer the right kind of education?”

My conversation with Larry was excellent. Triad Speakers has long been using Reps and sees the value in them. His was an honest question, simply pondering the future of new Reps as they provide a particular skill set and solve one of the issues in selling their product to dealers and ultimately, the end users. Larry was thoughtful, engaging and very up-front. I gave him some reasons as to why and he thought they were observant and true as well. 

Cue then, the release of the Azione Unlimited’s roundtable discussion about the value of Reps, which, strangely enough, had no Reps in the room. It does seem incredulous to me to have a conversation about Reps, without inviting Reps. One was invited, but it “didn’t work out.” 

When I spoke with Richard Glikes, president of Azione Unlimited, he informed me that the original motivation was based on a vendor meeting in St Louis, and the questions, now out in the open, were first bandied about by vendors, in June 2012. Citing it wasn’t the time or place on the agenda for such discussion, it was brought up as a talking point recently, to which the video shows. He and I also had a great conversation, and many thanks go to him for being so transparent with what happened and the information contained therein.

Some of the comments were extremely critical. Some were full of hyperbole (hope I’m not in the 20 percent that must die). Some were flat out ignorant.  Many were supportive. But what everyone in the room seemed to agree to is that the current “Rep Model” is broken and it’s up to us Reps to fix it!  Be careful what you wish for.

The final straw was the somewhat insulting list of 36 Pieces of Advice Reps need to know”. As if hearing many critical or disparaging remarks regarding our performance, ability and worth in our industry in the video wasn’t enough, we were then handed a list of how to do our jobs. Gee thanks, I had no idea. Insulting, at the least. As Mr. Spock would say, “Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.”

Hey, isn’t what’s good for the goose, good for the gander?  My mother used to say that if people start looking at others and throwing stones, it’s to hide insecurities of their own.  Especially the neighborhood bullies.  And I suspect, that the reason the discussion was brought forth, wasn’t for the purpose of letting the Reps benefit from a groundswell of outcry that we aren’t paid enough or are jobs should be made easier in light of two sets of clients and the economy.  We may never know.

Reps Are Vital for Survival
Now, a few Reps immediately spoke out, others spoke out as well. But since I expected some sort of unified response from Rep associations, or more comments from Reps themselves and don’t see them, I decided I could sit on the sidelines no longer.

Before we begin, let’s realize that Reps currently have jobs because we are necessary to the survival of both manufacturers and dealers. Manufacturers don’t have to time, expertise or money to pay the amount of people needed to replace a Rep Firm.  Dealers can’t afford to be wrong about their product choices or business practices.  They at some point need to rely on the counsel of others.  The fact we already exist should be anyone’s first clue as to the fact we have value.

What Reps Do
My job, as defined by my predecessor, is to actively represent our manufacturers and our dealer base within our territory in the hopes of impacting sales revenues. Simple, right? Hardly. In any given day, I am responsible for:

  • Build a relationship with every dealer in our database.  (Can take 6 minutes, can take a year, might be never).
  • Be aware of our territory and to whom each dealer does what.
  • Understand the products and services currently offered by each dealer to each of the their customers.
  • Understand any pre-existing or future political/relationship potential hiccups with any dealer/manufacturer/customer among and between any other dealer/manufacturer/customer.
  • Understand the needs of my manufacturers.
  • Understand the needs of my dealers.
  • Understand the most beneficial and potentially prolific placement of all products within my manufacturer’s item lists.
  • Understand and extoll the story of our manufacturers in addition to building the value of their products and services in relation to profit, needs, and services offered by any dealer.
  • Create advertising/marketing campaigns on behalf of our manufacturers who don’t have brand name recognition, or such departments.
  • Introduce our manufacturers to our dealer base, with the hopes of impacting sales.
  • Introduce the concept of how the dealers would be able to sell said products, to achieve greater profit, differentiate themselves from competition and provide excellent services through quality, performance and price.
  • Teach dealers how to interface with customers who don’t know the value of performance or an experience, all the while when they believe the word value means “price.” (HDMI cables anyone?)
  • On any given day, drive 0-230 miles for an appointment.
  • While you’re on the road, manage any incoming calls, emails and/or texts to provide.
  • Buy lunches and dinners.
  • Listen.
  • Give advice. (This only applies when dealers or manufacturers ASK us to.)
  • Give the right advice.
  • Provide tech support.
  • Apply our knowledge of our territory, successful sales tactics, and new and creative solutions in which other dealers are partaking, in an effort to make all dealers better.
  • Answer the phone. (Apparently within 24 hours, which I find astounding as most of ours are done within 15 minutes, unless we’re in a dealer meeting which we don’t answer our phones and the meeting may take one to two hours).
  • Answer emails. (Apparently within 24 hours, which I find astounding as most of ours are done within 15 minutes, unless we’re in a dealer meeting which we don’t answer our emails, and the meeting may take an hour to two hours).
  • Accurately know every single thing about every single item in our line cards.
  • Provide timely information and price sheets.
  • Take weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly sales calls from our manufacturers.
  • Report weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly to or manufacturers.
  • Be blamed when sales suck. (It happens.)
  • Be accused of “clerking” sales when sales are good. (It happens, a guy on an internet video told us so.)
  • Handle RAs (return authorizations), provide technical support and make sure no damage is done by the manufacturer to the dealer and vice versa when things go both right and wrong.
  • Paint a picture of where and how any dealer can be successful, not only with our products, but truthfully with anyone’s.
  • Have consistent and timely communication with all dealers and manufacturers.
  • Attend mandatory meetings at trade shows.
  • Arrange trainings and/or webinars between us dealers and manufacturers.
  • Attend your open houses and help with the sales process.
  • Help consult with you onsite, with your customers, as the “expert.”
  • Research and identify trends and sales techniques that are new, worthwhile or old and vulnerable.
  • Know who’s going out of business and who’s getting into business.
  • Share news, both good and bad.
  • Interface with distributors/buying groups.  (Many of whom sell into our territories without us seeing a penny.)




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About the Author

Richard Fairbrother
Richard Fairbrother is principal of Taylor Sales in New Hampshire.

12 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Paul Epstein  on  12/07  at  10:57 AM

Extremely well said. This article needs to appear in the print issue of the magazine. You’re right, there were many that spoke up about the value of independent reps as IPRO does throughout the year but you have a very concise and well thought out description of the value.

Posted by Dave Humphries  on  12/07  at  12:55 PM

Richard.  I would also agree that you articulated this message very well. Great job… This should be in the print edition.

IPRO Recently held it’s annual conference.
Both Richard Glikes of Azione and Larry Pexton of Triad were in attendance. IPRO has been very pro active for years in evolving our organization to better serve the integrators and our industry. We have a very active manufacturer group that comprises 30 manufacturers . This group of leading manufacturers directly work with IPRO to help us understand and implement
the synergies that make us collectively ( manufacturer and rep firms)  a better team to serve our integrator customers. As far as developing new people who will grow in our industry. We also have had new leaders group in place (for 3 years)  ,which comprises of the bright younger folks from our rep firms. This group advises IPRO on a variety of technology and marketing tends that enable us to adjust our direction as well as helping them develop thier careers so some day they will lead and own thier own companies and help move our industry forward.

So the AV rep organization with 85 members ,( IPRO)  that does serve this industry is continually working with our dealer and manufacturer partners to make all of us more effective and successful.

The one thing I would observe in all of the back and forth in the media over last few days is that no one from the CE Pro editorial board has reached out to the IPRO leadership for our input?

David Humphries
President
IPRO

Posted by Rich Riehl - BidMagic  on  12/07  at  01:19 PM

Three cheers for reps!!

Did you notice that the consumer electronics industry and the home installation industry are both in a major struggle for survival right now.

In order for these industries that we work in to make it, Manufacturer’s reps are one of the most valuable resources to make it so.

Reps make it possible to manage brand names that differentiate the good products from the crap and the pros from the wanna be’s.

To me the choice is this:

Vote for Reps to understand and manage the product lines, so buyers have quality choices and a reason to walk in a TV, Stereo retailers door.

OR—-

Flush our whole industry and let all consumers buy at WalMart or Amazon. Close all custom shops and give everybody who works in our industry food stamps.

Posted by Jason Knott  on  12/07  at  01:40 PM

Very thorough analysis Rich that I believe will be enlightening to many readers.

I might remind everyone that this is not a debate between CE Pro and the industry. None of the articles in this conversation—including Larry Pexton’s Q&A, the video synopsis, the Azione PR or Rich’s commentary—are CE Pro opinions.

We are vibrant supporters of all aspects and channels in the custom electronics industry and offer the website and magazine as a continuing conduit for great discussions such as this one.

Posted by Richard Glikes  on  12/07  at  01:43 PM

Richard Taylor did a magnificent job with this tome. I just sent out a “Survey Monkey” to all the reps I know. It asks them to answer questions about how dealers and manufacturers can help reps be more productive.

Now we’ll get to put the shoe on the other foot. Should be provocative as well.

Best, Richard

Posted by Glenn Quatrochi - JG Connected Marketing  on  12/07  at  02:05 PM

Spot on Richard!

Who are the people suggesting that we “not attempt to drive a car during phone conversations?” If I stopped driving every time I needed to conduct business on the phone, I wouldn’t get anyplace!

Posted by Peter Lazarus  on  12/07  at  02:14 PM

Over the 3 decades I’ve been in the business, this “conversation” crops up periodically like dust devils in the desert…‘sound and fury signifying nothing’. Everything Rich enumerates is true, but there is a never ending supply of new players to our industry who have to master the game. Some catch on quickly. Others flounder about blinded by hubris and lack of experience until they either shape up or wash out. The most any of us can do is to do each day what must be done.

Posted by Nelson Vega  on  12/07  at  02:56 PM

ON the Money Rich! The art of making friends and influencing people is a lost art. The fact is that we are on the road making contact, conducting demos, reaching out to communities outside our direct “responsibility” in order to raise the level of awareness and create business for our business partners. We do this because of obvious reasons (compensation, market share, more sales) but more imprtantly we love what we do. I, as I’m sure you do, love what I do. I enjoy making friends, being a man of my word and connecting people that may have either never connected on their own or needed me to make that connection.
As I tell all my associates, half the stuff I sell has the word “play” in it or on it. This stuff is fun! I enjoyed reading your perspective and from a fellow associate, well done.

Posted by Jay Minsky JG Connected Marketing  on  12/07  at  07:12 PM

Amen Brother! Richard well put thank you. I for one will stand right next to you if you need help waving our flag.

CE Pro please put this in an ink copy.

Posted by Sam Schwartz  on  12/07  at  07:28 PM

Bravo!
I have been in the consumer electronics industry, an industry that I absolutely adore, for most of my life and the last seven years have been spent as an independent sales agent.
I have had fun and shed tears and sweat to stay independent.
I have had to gently “encourage” some accounts to pay outstanding invoices so that I could get my commission.
I make myself available to both my vendor partners and valued resell partners on an almost 24/7 basis.
And I still struggle to make ends meet.
But, at the end of the day…this is an industry that I adore.

Posted by Rolf Seichter  on  12/08  at  09:42 AM

Hi all, Reps and Manufacturers.

I have been recruiting, hiring, firing Reps since the 1980’s and believe that I know quite a bit about Reps, Manufacturer’s and how to make a Rep successful for the principal. I am still working with many Reps in North America and Europe as of today in my role as President, New Business Development, for a high-tech Tier-2 Contract Manufacturer, headquartered in HKG/China.
But let me first make the following statement: The classical Rep firm, especially their owners who already worked in that firm in the 80’s and still now in 2012, still believe that the Rep needs to be always on the road, drop off date sheets, be present at the show where their principal exhibits, help expedite orders, the Rep just taking notes when they visit a client with the principal and the Rep does not add value by their presence, and bring over Xmas presents once a year.  The classical Rep still expects leads every day from the principal, and has most likely a territorial responsibility.
I don’t know how you feel, but I know that the paradigm has shifted about 180+ degrees.  Let me use the store sales, compared to Internet sales as a good example. If you see a part/product in the store, you take a look at it and you might order it through the Internet, due to better pricing.  Same in electronics:  young engineers and electronic designers (who all have an ixxxx on hand or a laptop, iPad, etc) will not call a Rep firm anymore for a catalog and/or for a meeting, they will look up the parts, products, on the internet and order the samples at Digi-Key, Arrow, or whatever distributor. In the early years, the Rep was the ONLY good source for preliminary product information, samples, data sheets. Today, all the information is available through GOOGLE and distributors, years ago first through PDF files, now even with video and live web-cast FAE’s with demo’s of the product.
So, what is the new role of a Rep?

Here is my suggestion: The Manufacturer’s Representatives should call them themselves FAC’s, which stands for Field Application Consultants on their Business card. A Rep should also have individual Biz Cards with and of their TOP THREE principals, it suggests to being closer to the principal than just a Rep. A Rep should be heavily involved through LinkedIn and other Business groups for Business Networking, especially important when key individuals leave a firm and start working somewhere else. A Rep should work on NEW BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT all the time, like getting the info on new electronic start-up’s in their area (Cisco and IBM where a start-up at some point of time!). Rep’s should visit – not exhibit – at vertical shows and walk around at the show. If they are performing booth duty for their Principal, the Rep does not have a chance to see what other companies are at that show, or what competitors are showing and demonstrating. Rep’s should all have the proper Smart Phones and/or Pad’s with them on the road to be able look up a new company in an Industrial Park, where you have not seen that logo and/or sign previously.
And what is the role and responsibility of the principal?

We provide constant training for the Rep’s, they visit us at least once a year and we pay for their air fare. Best would be if the Rep can combine that trip together with a new potential client visiting us. We provide travel funds up front to ease the burden of visiting shows and the expenses involved. We are tough with Account Registration but fair in the processing of the follow up with newly registered accounts. We provide pre-sales aids and we are always available through engineering resources to meet vis-à-vis with a new client. From the first level of management up, everyone in our organization has a cell-phone or mobile comm device and is available 24/7, weekends included. If a Rep follows the New Business Development paradigm and utilizes our support, there will be no complaints from either side.

Your comments please !!

Rolf Seichter  
Gilford, NH

Posted by Joe Perfito  on  12/10  at  02:23 PM

Rich you did an excellent job of explaining and analyzing the Rep ‘s job. I would agree with you on all points. Having been on all sides of these issues; retail salesman, factory direct rep, independent rep and now manufacturer, I have seen the good the bad and the ugly. Our company, Tributaries, over the past 21 years has seen some of each type. Unfortunately. it’s the bad and the ugly that stir these discussions. Sure, there are bad reps just as there are bad retailers and bad manufacturers. Generally, market forces tend to prune out the bad ones. Also, I believe some of the difficulties are with manufacturers having unrealistic expectations on what a rep firm can deliver. When I started Tributaries, one of the first rep firms I hired was the Denon rep. I thought he would be going to all his dealers and selling Tributaries. What I didn’t understand is that Denon produced 80% of his income and that Tributaries commissions barely filled his gas tank. The amount of time I received was equal in percentage to the income received. Needless to say I was not impressed with the results. I fired him and moved on to company I could be important to. I believe many manufacturers who complain about bad reps should re-examine their hiring practices. I know of manufacturers who will call dealers and ask who he/she likes as a rep. Each time I’ve done that it wound up a bad choice. Another is hiring out of desperation. That almost always fails. The moral to this is as it has been, is now, and shall always be - for a dealer or a manufacturer look for the rep that will work for your business, follow-up on your emails and phone calls, make appointments to see you regularly and show up on time.

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