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Exploring standards for manufacturer’s representation agencies

Friday, October 28, 2016 - 07:00
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Most people under 25 grew up with mobile devices and tablets to connect themselves to products and services. Small retailers in other industries recognized the value in search engine optimization, and crafted content rich websites that guide their visitors’ questions to solutions that included YouTube videos, a convenience for self-training at any point.  

Digitally savvy retailers are embedding key words rather than generic words so that their website appears at the top of a search engine result. Rather than talking about themselves, the retailers are willing to give away information so that they are viewed as a trusted resource at any given point of this online relationship.

Larger parts retailers are integrating search engine optimization technology into their content rich websites. They know which keywords to steer the consumer to their e-commerce site that includes pricing, visual product attributes, and related products to buy. But I argue that many WDs, jobbers and smaller retailers are equally positioned to create their own blogs, videos and eBooks that engage their customers by what their products and services can do for them.

Best practices to improve any business function are ubiquitous but not often enough shared across lines. Data and factual based evidence are the decision making tools to identify new revenue opportunities and eliminate avoidable costs. Introducing external information to complement internal point of sale history helped narrow the product coverage gap. In one instance, a rep agency category captain exposed me to a garden variety of metrics to spot additional profit revenue and product share insights. What I valued was our collaboration with an impartial fresh set of eyes to determine what to add, hold or remove from an assortment during an annual line review.  

A master purchase order workbook containing account numbers, contact names and order requirements was created to assist the buying and special order process when a buyer was out. Tracking customer back orders became more manageable when I persuaded one vendor to coincide their open order reports with mine, which included shipping date and product disposition. In all, these examples improved fill rates and reduced wasted time.  

Resistance may arise from WDs, retailers or even suppliers who may perceive their businesses to be stronger than it truly stands. Some accounts may not give a rational reason why management opposes close collaboration with a rep agency, and yet they bemoan a shrinking customer base. When offering assistance, they reply all is “OK” when in fact a department is spread too thin. Consider how your rep agency balances multiple rival accounts in the same territory. An obvious barrier is a lack of communication or candor, but I suspect other reasons are there; so I encourage management to further explore ways to define what trust means to each account.

Obviously these observations are neither the end nor a final prescription, but a start to spark lively debate as to what are a viable set of standards for a rep agency in the auto care industry. “What can I do better?” was a question that one rep had always asked me after each meeting. He was genuinely invested in candid feedback for continual improvement. This small gesture went a long way because he wanted to transform into a consultant to help grow both the supplier side and the WD/retailer.

Working with a manufacturer’s rep agency is a never ending journey, but I am convinced that self-reinvention is one way to rise to the top.

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