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Illustration_60886103 / Kheng To To / Dreamstime
Iillustration_60886103 / Kheng Ho To / Dreamstime
Illustration 60886103 / Kheng Ho To / Dreamstime

Reps Exchange Ideas at Keystone Meeting

Sept. 26, 2003
The nearly 200 independent reps from the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Electronics Reps Association (ERA) and Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA) who spent three days at the inaugural Keystone Conference at the Saddlebrook Resort near Tampa, Fla., Sept. 10-13, learned that no matter what they sell, independent reps in different industries have many common concerns.

The nearly 200 independent reps from the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Electronics Reps Association (ERA) and Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA) who spent three days at the inaugural Keystone Conference at the Saddlebrook Resort near Tampa, Fla., Sept. 10-13, learned that no matter what they sell, independent reps in different industries have many common concerns.

Reps shared their experiences with “offshoring,” where vendors and customers move manufacturing plants to China and other less-expensive manufacturing sites around the world; heard from Martin Regalia, chief economist, U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the U.S. economy should be noticeably better in 2004; and attended more than a dozen workshops on key aspects of running a profitable rep firm.

The move of U.S. factories to offshore locations was a top concern at the conference, and Ron Rutkowski, president, Control Sales, Elk Grove Village, Ill., captivated the audience with his experiences starting up electronics manufacturing firms in China. Rutkowski, an electronics rep, private labels electronics components for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) accounts in the United States.

The electronics industry has been hit even harder than the electrical business with the loss of customers, and the Chicago-based ERA trade association has set up several trade missions to China for its members interested in starting up ventures similar to Rutkowski’s manufacturing companies. MANA, Laguna Hills, Calif., also recently led a contingent of its members to China on a similar mission. Hank Bergson, NEMRA’s president, said NEMRA members have not had as much interest in a trade mission, but that the association would sponsor one if the need arises.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Regalia said that while burdensome U.S. regulations and bad policy decisions are pushing U.S. manufacturers overseas, part of the demise of manufacturing in the United States can be attributed to the fact that the U.S. economy is maturing.

“Growing globalization will continue to pose challenges to the U.S. manufacturing sector,” he said. “But growing productivity and increased efficiency in the United States will help counter the trend to produce abroad. More important, the factors that appear to have radically tipped the scales against U.S. manufacturers, especially in the last few decades, have not been these global forces but, rather, bad domestic policy decisions.

“Reforming the regulatory, legal, and tax systems such that they continue to provide the necessary protection and raise required revenue without placing undue burden on the economy would help ensure a vibrant manufacturing sector well into the 21st century.”

The Keystone Conference attendees were nearly all owners of independent rep firms, with the exception of several manufacturers on one panel. Bob Smith, vice president of sales and marketing, for Pass and Seymour/Legrand, Syracuse, N.Y., brought an electrical wholesaling industry perspective to the vendor panel, “Reinventing your rep firm — from your principal’s perspective.”

Smith said independent reps must be able to, “help create demand and develop new markets while selling and servicing more sophisticated end users and distributors while combating fierce competition coming at them from all sides. In addition, today’s rep needs to be sharper, leaner, technologically savvy, financially sound, marketers, outstanding in sales and flat out sound business people.”

NEMRA chairman Sam Johnson, principal, Electra-Tek Carolinas Inc, Greensboro, N.C., and a member of the Keystone committee took away more than 30 ideas from the presentations and breakout sessions.

“They were all so good that I had some work to do to get them down to about 10 that I can implement right away,” he said.

Specifically, he learned how several reps were receiving retainers from manufacturers for selling new products or “missionary lines”; why reps need to invest in technology; share annual business plans with key principals; and diversify into new markets or geographic areas.

Tony May, H.M. Brown, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, said his journey to Tampa was well worth it. “What I learned at the Keystone Conference and what I’ll be able to put to use in my agency will more than pay for the cost of my registration.”