Reps Get a Bad Rap

April 4, 2005
There are several rep firms in my territory who practice a form of brand extortion. If Im interested in bringing in one of the brands they represent, then its implied that I need to also bring in another brand they haveeven if I dont want or need it. What are my options?
--Name and address withheld

There are two ways to look at this issue. One assumes that you have a good rep. The other assumes the opposite.

Lets be nice to our cuddly friends, the reps, and assume that youve got a good one. But, you ask, what is a good rep? A good rep is one who brings you products and information to improve your business. A good rep understands how to increase your business and profitability. A good rep has your best interests at heart. And the best rep helps you make decisions that are right for you, regardless of their interests.

That said, theres a good chance that your reps arent blackmailing you with the tag-along product. Rather, your rep is trying to help you by shoehorning in a product line that you may not currently be interested in, but may actually need. Fear not. The rep cant make you continue to buy products that you dont want. Like Grandma with a fork full of haggis, he can only pressure you to try it once.

Now think about the secondary product that your rep wants you to try. Had he tried selling you this line in the past, but you werent interested? Perhaps you rejected the line out of hand, without giving it the kind of careful consideration that a good rep deserves. And now, with you clamoring for a line that you want, the rep has an opportunity to nudge you to reconsider the secondary line that you earlier refused. Again, theres nothing wrong with a bit o the nudge. He cant force you to drop anything, and he cant force you to buy what you dont want.

Its so nice to think that your rep is one of the good ones. So warm. So benevolent. I sense, however, you believe your man is in the majority of not-so-good reps. Yeah, Im referring to the sleazy, conniving, arm-twisting thugs who manipulate your business to their liking. The scoundrels.

Shoving products down your throat, holding back the best lines until they get all of your business and threatening you on a quarterly basis with proposed distribution changes if you dont make the numbers. Boy, you hate these reps, dont you?

I frequently hear dealers grouse about their rep firms and their heavy-handed ways. Boo hoo. Have you ever tried having a meaningful conversation with yourself? Have you ever returned a reps phone call the first time he called? If youre like most dealers, then you perceive reps as a benign nuisance. Their time is worth little to you until you want something from them that you cant have. Then theyre evil incarnate.

Just remember how reps earn their living. Its not by selling products for the manufacturer, but by selling products to you. Semantics? Not if you ask a good rep firm. Reps know that manufacturers and the lines they carry come and go quickly. Most of their manufacturer relationships have a 30-day termination period, but dealers are a long-term bet, staying in a market for many years. So whom does the rep protect? The dealer who sticks around, or the manufacturer who is transient?

Its you, dear reader, who the rep is protecting. If you believe that hes so terrible and manipulative, then bypass him and call the manufacturer directly for the line. Tell them that you want their product, but the rep is forcing you to take a secondary brand to qualify. Youll see how quickly you can get exactly what you want, without the reps help. I cant see, however, how this would serve your long-term needs.

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