In the 1970s and 80s when retail was in full bloom, manufacturer’s reps were considered by many dealers to be an important part of their business plan.
Reps provided assistance with obtaining product lines, store design, store promotions, hiring sales staff, scoring extravagant perks from manufacturers and more.
They also got a bad rap.
Many reps made a lot of money selling to large stores and stopped paying attention to the smaller dealer preferring to hang-out with the big, multi-store dealers. In the mid-1990s, as custom installation and the internet began to grow, retail started to wane.
In those years, non-brick and mortar integrators were usually small companies of one to five employees. Because they didn’t have a retail store to mind, all the employees were usually in the field installing systems making it difficult if not impossible for reps to call on.
Looking for ways to sell more goods, vendors were requiring rep companies to start their own distributing companies. This took time away from the basic job of a rep – working with and visiting their dealers. As a result the rep’s influence with the dealer became less. The dependency on reps also decreased because integrators tended to do things on their own not requiring other’s assistance.
During the early 2000s manufacturers were looking for ways to reduce expenses. That’s when many began to lower rep commissions. To compensate, reps began to accumulate more lines spreading themselves very thin becoming less efficient.
Seeing this trend, larger vendors began hiring direct sales forces and reducing or eliminating rep firms from their sales plan. Many rep firms had to reduce staff and then consolidate with other rep firms. Others became one-man bands. As a result today’s rep firms are a shadow of what they were 10 years ago.
Turning Around So. Calif. Territory
In 2010, the owner of the firm that was representing and distributing our products in Southern California, Southern Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii decided to close the rep firm and go to work for a manufacturer – another example of a rep firm shakeout. Before he closed he recommended I speak with Eric Leicht, principal of AV Partners as a possible replacement.
AV Partners also represents Harman Luxury Audio (Mark Levinson, Revel, JBL Synthesis, etc), Digital Projection, James Loudspeakers and others. Eric and I had a meeting after which he decided to take the job as the new Tributaries rep for the territory. In addition to Eric, John Villano and Martin Byrne travel the territory and Kacy Reisch manages the office.
In 2006, SoCal was Tributaries Cable's No. 1 dollar-volume territory in the U.S. (out of 16). In 2007, SoCal dropped to No. 2, By 2008, it had dropped to No. 10 and then to No. 11 in 2009. Seven years later in 2016, SoCal territory is Tributaries’ No. 1 dollar-volume territory surpassing New York and Mid-Atlantic. That’s amazing – from No. 11 to No. 1; how did they do it?
They did it the “old-fashioned way”; following up, understanding their dealer’s needs, knowing their products, visiting dealers on a regular basis and helping them in whatever way that was necessary to get the job done correctly.
Integrators Discuss Rep Value
I called a few of AV Partners’ dealers and asked if they would comment on the rep’s importance to them. Here’s what they had to say:
“Eric, Martin and the team at AV Partners are an integral member of the growing quality AV dealers in the OC/LA area for years. They do their part to understand our needs as a dealer and facilitate solutions with vendors that end up providing an exceptional AV experience to our clients. They go above and beyond as AV ambassadors for our industry representing great brands and passing on vital information for increased profitability and efficiency for our business.” – Mark Ontiveros, Audio Images
“If we are ever in a bind, or if we ever just need to “ask” a random question about a projector or surround sound format there is no better trusted advisor and friend that Eric Leicht and the team at AV Partners. Eric is there for us at any time of day and in many regards nights as well. Whether we need help specifying equipment, designing a room, or even going out on job walks, there are very few reps in ANY industry that show the care and unrelenting commitment to their brand and dealer base.
“They don’t charge a fee for their time and they present their brands and us as a dealer of the brands with passion and integrity. Eric is passionate and anyone that knows him can tell you that he is never at a loss of words nor is he ever short on opinions. Perhaps it’s the coffee, perhaps it’s the love for his trade, but whatever the case we value and truly appreciate Eric Leicht and AV Partners.
“In a world and industry filled with ‘Tech-heads’ Eric and his team are a breath of fresh air and are True Ambassadors to our industry and we are so very happy to see their success and recognition which is well deserved and drastically overdue.” – Josh Maiman, Integrated Home
“AV Partners is very responsive. Martin Byrne has an excellent knowledge of all his products and is reachable 24/7. I can text him at 7 p.m. and get a response. He’s been in retail. Any question I have he will either have the answer or find it and get back to me. AV Partners is a great Rep Firm.” – Jeff Haas, Haas Entertainment
“John Villano from AV partners has always gone above and beyond the call of duty, but most importantly he has helped me take my company to the next level both in our Quality of products and our service. He has helped us increase our organization as well as our Profitability. I have dealt many great reps over the years and John is by far one of the best, as well as an all-around great guy.” – Mikel Zimmerman, AE Audio Video
“We wanted to take this opportunity to recognize the invaluable service and support the entire team at AV Partners has provided us over the years as our go to product representatives. Eric, John, and Martin are always quick to respond and always eager to assist in any way possible regardless of how big the project is.
“We don’t just consider AV Partners as just a product rep firm, but also as friends and an integral part of the Micheal’s Company team. Many of the other reps we deal with would be well served to follow standards set by their team. We look forward to many more years of successful projects.” – Paul Moser, Micheal’s Company
“AV Partners is a big leap above the rest of the pack. They call on their dealers on a regular basis and provide on the job site support for the products they sell. Eric and Martin donate their time to help their dealer’s design meaningful theater systems that feature award winning solutions. AV Partners are there to help in every step of the way; they provide more support to their dealer base in our market than any other rep firm. They are a great asset to our organization.” – Steve Working, Audio Concepts
“I have worked with both John Villano and Eric Leicht for a few years and have to say I have never been anything short of impressed. It is always nice to know that you have a rep that is there to help through any situation and go the extra mile. They always have the answer to any questions I may have and if they are not sure, they have an answer to me within a few hours. AV Partners are really there to help, not just take orders like some other reps. It’s funny, but I actually always have a smile on my face when I get off the phone with John. I really couldn’t ask for a better couple of guys with whom to do business. I want to thank both John and Eric for all they do and all they will continue to do.” – Aaron Guttman, Sound Environment Inc.