Keeping the Industry Strong

Manufacturer’s representatives are a critical link in the supply chains of many manufacturers. Companies that are looking to enter a new market, solidify their existing market presence, introduce a new product or are seeking sales manpower they may not possess often look to representatives as an extension of their own businesses.

Industry-specific manufacturer’s representatives offer a number of advantages  including product expertise, intimate knowledge of their territory and, in many cases, decades-old relationships with manufacturers and wholesalers. 

In this issue of Wholesale and Distribution International, we spotlight a number of the companies that not only help keep manufacturers’ products on warehouse shelves, but also provide the training and resources necessary to keep those products running in optimum condition.

Training Capabilities 

Like the wholesale distribution companies they supply, manufacturer’s representatives face stiff competition from big-box and online suppliers. One common way representatives handle this competition is by carrying more technical and specialized products and knowing more about how those products work.

Several of the companies spotlighted in this issue share their technical knowledge with their customers through regular training programs. Representatives of plumbing and heating products, in particular, commonly house “live fire” training and demonstration areas within their headquarters. 

Michel Sales Agency, on page 58, equips its training area with up-to-date systems ,including a 2-million-BTU boiler with a 500-gallon storage tank. ROI Marketing, on page 56, was seeing such a demand for training services that it recently began offering weekly sessions. 

For manufacturer’s representatives, offering customers hands-on experience with large and complex equipment greatly improves customers’ ability to perform their jobs.   

“The better prepared a customer is to install a product, the fewer call backs there are going to be after installation,” says Cam Marklowitz of MJM Associates Inc., profiled on page 52. 

Relationship Building

For MJM and other companies in this issue, training programs are just one aspect of their overall customer service strategies. Manufacturer’s representatives pride themselves on maintaining close relationships with product end-users such as plumbers, contractors and mechanical engineers, as well as manufacturers and wholesalers. 

Relationship building is particularly important for companies in regions that are larger in land area than population density. Bailey Sales, on page 46, serves a territory that, while including Seattle, also covers the entire state of Washington as well as Oregon, northern Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

“Outside of Seattle, we have a small market but a lot of drive time,” says Rick Root, one of the company’s principal owners. “There are five or six wholesalers who really run the majority of our Puget Sound territory, so we rely heavily on the relationships and trust we’ve built with them.”

Bailey Sales and other representative organizations keep in close contact with wholesalers and others through technology, including job quoting and tracking software, as well as through strategically located offices. 

Attraction and Retention

Although manufacturer’s representatives, like the wholesale industry as a whole, are seeing steady economic growth, most companies are grappling with the same major challenge. 

“The single biggest challenge we face is the lack of youth entering the trades,” says Stew Chaffee, president of Rich-Tomkins Company, profiled on page 30. Chaffee notes the average age of a plumber and distribution employee in the United States is 58. “We’re a very old industry, and not very sexy; there will be a shortage of 260,000 plumbers in the next five years, which is a very major problem,” he adds.

To address this challenge, manufacturer’s representatives are teaming with industry associations such as the Association of Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association in outreach efforts. These efforts include encouraging high school students to pursue the trades as future career opportunities. 

Manufacturer’s representatives are also focusing on attracting younger qualified talent to their own organizations. For many companies, these recruitment efforts are paying off because of their positive internal cultures, which attract new employees as well as encourage employee retention. 

Each company’s definition of a positive culture may be slightly different, but philosophies such as open-door communication, lack of hierarchy and schedule flexibility are common. As Jim Tracey, president of Added Sales (page 40) puts it, “family comes first.”

For manufacturer’s representative companies that are attracting and retaining skilled employees and offering unique value-added services, the future is bright. 

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