Reps are the unsung road warriors of our industry. They pay the price to travel to make house calls to all the small dealerships in their territory. In a world where business is increasingly done by e-mail and over the Web, there is nothing that can replace a face-to-face relationship with your manufacturers rep.
If you want to sell high-end gear and do it profitably, it is wise to invest your time in building key relationships with these gatekeepers. As more and more AV products become available through discounted channels, the reps hold the keys to the exclusive products with protected prices.
Although most reps are independent, they really work as the eyes and ears of the manufacturers who are busy with developing and manufacturing products and can only deal with the logistics of mass marketing. An army of reps connects them to the thousands of small CI businesses across the country. Reps have to work hard to set up the best dealers and meet sales quotas for the lines they represent.
A good rep is your best friend and ally in this business. Most have years of valuable experience and you know that they are a tremendous source of information about the products they handle. But they are much more than that. They have the unique vantage point, able to see an overview of a wide range of dealers and markets. From that valuable big picture perspective, they have seen success and failure stories of dealers who have gone before you. They know the numbers that you and your competitors are doing, and they really care about the success of your business.
So, whenever you sit down with a rep and make projections about the growth of your business and the products that really suit you, you have to be very realistic. There are many products in this marketplace that might interest you, just like there are lots of attractive ladies walking down the street. While you may flirt with the idea of handling a number of products from time to time, it is the job of the reps to work with you to determine where the best long-term successful relationships can be arranged. They are there to help match you up with the most compatible products.
When it comes to choosing the products you want to handle, dont be greedy. Most custom installation firms can only support a few brands in each product category. In fact, you really help your chances of succeeding by carrying as few lines as possible. Within those lines, you should only handle the products that directly focus on your competency and your target clients and price points.
To keep your lines lean and mean, it really helps when you can select products that can meet a number of your needs. For example, if you attempt to sign up for Mark Levinson, that will only provide a few products for a few clients. You may find the large initial buy-in to be difficult. But if you handle Sonance, you will find speakers, volume controls, infrared products, interconnects, accessories, etc., that will make it easy to do lots of business with that one company and easily meet your targets. That is how it should work, and it keeps your reps and the manufacturers happy.
Your part of the relationship is to get behind the product line 100 percent. Your reps job is to get behind you 100 percent. Have you ever invested thousands of dollars to setup a new dealership and then flown your techs in for factory training and pushed out $1 million in proposals only to discover six months later that four other companies in your little market have just been set up to sell the same line? When you work with a good rep, you will never have this type of surprise. A good rep is a team player with you and watches your back. They will keep you fully informed of the goals for your company and market, and will do their best to make sure that you are never stung by this type of politics.
When you set up your product mix, give preference to products that are handled by quality rep firms. Make clear efforts to support them in every way. As more and more AV products are sold through the Web or discounted channels, the profitability of our entire industry is eroding. These reps are ambassadors of high-end profitable flagship products in our industry. You cannot succeed without them.
If future forces in our market ever attempt to eliminate these invaluable reps, it will be a sad day in our industry. If your business is a success, you can bet there are some reps to thank. They are undoubtedly the nicest bunch of guys in this industry and we could not do it without them.