Advantages of Partnering With Reps

Have you hugged your rep today?
Please excuse an industry veteran's "if I could start again" insights, but, quite candidly, I wish I'd read something like this when I started out in the kitchen and bath industry.

If I could do it all over again, I would select my reps with more focus, I would not have so many of them at one time, I would pay for their lunch (occasionally), and I would use them as a tool a success tool.

Reps may very well be your number one business asset. Typically, they call on hundreds of kitchen and bath accounts, of every size and level. They are exposed to the big business of manufacturing, distribution, home centers and multi-unit builders, in addition to the smallest "mom and pop" operations. They've been there, done that, worn that T-shirt, as the saying goes.

Reps think about how to make their accounts better. They think about positioning their products in your marketplace. They take the systems, methods, strategies and tactics learned at each stop, and synthesize them into "a success plan." This platform of knowledge is available to you for free, it comes with "their territory." Therefore, it only makes sense that you should ponder how to win them over, use them for mutual benefit and grow into the sunset together.

Industry changes
Why bring up this subject, now, in July of '99?

The industry is changing. Manufacturing has become a competitive machine driven by efficient distribution it's not just serving dealers anymore. Distribution is driven by the science of marketing, dynamic pricing and positioning. Distribution is not only to dealers today, serious focus must be put on home centers, "whotailers," builder direct and end users who are researching, designing, specifying, ordering and doing complete kitchens/baths direct, via the Internet.

The customer has also changed. Gerald Celente, the world leader in trend forecasting, presented these powerful thoughts at the recent Kitchen/Bath Industry Show:

  • We're in a global marketplace, an economy fueled by e-cabinets, e-design, e-install, e-etc.
  • Speed, energy and respect are a must you can't do it "your way" any more.
  • 42% of your market is preparing and consuming fewer meals than they were a decade ago.
  • 56% of your market is not entertaining at home.
  • The typical meal now takes 20 minutes to prepare.
  • Meal kits (MKs) or "finished food" have replaced home meal preparation.
  • When surveyed, consumers say that they want to spend approximately 15 minutes preparing a meal.
  • Only 16% of meals served at home were prepared at home, from scratch.
  • Sometime in the future, 70% of all U.S. homes will not have children living in them.
  • Breakfast is a MK on the fly, lunch is eaten out, even in school, and dinner is a MK in front of the TV, at the desk in the in-home office, or at the office.

With all these changes, you need help help you can get from your reps, if you'll only take the time to create a relationship a bond so strong that they'll want to commit to work with you, as a partner. After all, what you do immediately affects them, and if you're not doing what they need, they'll find other accounts who understand the principles and dynamics of partnering.

Win your rep over
I've talked to the reps, and this is what they say will win them over, and turn them into your partner in the pursuit of success.

  • Demeanor: How do you talk to your reps? Do you treat them as consultants who can bring you success, or do you dismiss them as a cost-of-production keeping you from dealing with the manufacturer/distributor direct? Remember, your reps can be a tremendous base of business development knowledge and contacts. But they must like you and desire to build a partnership. What you say and the way you say it means everything.
  • Involvement: Get them involved the same way you do the people on your payroll. Send them pictures, press releases and personal touches when their products end up in your jobs. When your rep gives you special service, make a big deal of it. How about a thank you letter or special recognition dinner? Make them feel their worth to your organization.
  • Respect: When you catch your rep doing something right, tell the v.p. of sales. Make a big deal out of it. Reps' commissions and standing with their manufacturers/distributors are negotiable. Your recognition can go a long way in getting them higher pay, tenure and respect. Think long and hard about "respect." Dealers tend to raise the roof when something goes wrong, why not do it when things go right?'
  • Details: Cross your "T's" and dot your "I's." Many times, problems are self inflicted, not supplier generated. Share the load. When information is sent to you, read it. Know the spec book. Study the acknowledgement and understand what you are buying.
  • Understanding: Looking at things from the rep's point of view can go a long way. Some things, such as special orders, shipping, weather, labor, and the like, are beyond the rep's control. Rather than blame it all on your partner, work together to find solutions. Then you become a sail on the success ship, not an anchor.
  • Honesty: Be honest! Credability and honesty go a long way. Don't make up stuff to get what you want. Don't say it's in the mail when it's not. If you received something and it's not to be found now, tell the truth. Pay your bills on time. Don't make your partner jump through hoops for the sport of it. Keep "rushes" to a minimum. Pay for your mistakes it will set a standard for your relationship. Crying wolf wears out in a hurry.

The thought occurs to me that you may not have a rep you'd want to partner with. Maybe none of your reps have the horsepower or desire to help you succeed. Then, you have a choice to make shape up or ship out. The cost you pay for a rep is in the neighborhood of 5% to 10% of the invoice. Let's say you paid out $100,000 to a manufacturer whose rep is on 8% commission, that means you've paid $8,000 for that rep your consultant. Did you get $8,000 worth of consulting?

Likewise, reps should ask themselves, was that dealer worth keeping for $8,000? It's a two-way street. Good reps those worth the money are hard to find. Do everything you can to keep them around.