Manufacturers' Rep Breakfast Facilitates Networking

“To be a rep, you must have something to sell.” Not quite the insightful, attention-grabbing opening line needed to start a column, is it?

How about this one? “A manufacturer needs someone to sell its products.” Not an earth-shattering statement, either.

As a matter of fact these two statements are incredibly obvious. When you add the fact that this is an essential common need of both reps and manufacturers, you’d assume there are plenty of easy and established ways for all to get together. Surprisingly, there are very few, but there is one that is enjoying great success.

Industrious reps looking for new product lines have long written letters, made phone calls and sent out their resumés hoping to find a manufacturer. Manufacturers, on the other hand, have advertised and utilized word of mouth. Too often, both end up accepting business relationships simply because they received a response. Someone called them back.

In today’s business environment, there’s little time to do the proper research or have those important face-to-face meetings integral to ensuring the creation of successful business relationships. This is why the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Council of Manufacturer’s Reps has created its annual Manufacturer’s Rep Breakfast.

The New Breakfast
I am a volunteer on NKBA’s Council of Manufacturers’ Reps. Like everyone else, we used to hold the typical “show” breakfast where, on one morning during KBIS we would get together, hire a speaker to bestow upon us his or her wisdom while we feasted on runny scrambled eggs, under-cooked bacon and some of those deliciously chilly hash browns. Of course, year in and year out, we’d have the same friendly couple of dozen people there with some minor networking amongst ourselves.

Four years ago, the people that constituted our Council decided that it was time to recreate this function. They envisioned, along with the help of NKBA’s Manufacturers’ Council, a new sort of event. As a result, an innovative networking breakfast was born, where reps looking for manufacturers and manufacturers looking for reps could get together and have the opportunity to truly network.

As Tom Doty (well-respected rep from Michigan), Rep Council volunteer, told me, it’s our version of a match-making service. “If you’re looking for a rep, go to where the reps are. If you’re a rep looking for a line to sell, go to where interested manufacturers are,” he explained, describing the simple beauty of this event.

Here is how it works: Reps sign up for the breakfast, while manufacturers sign up for the breakfast and a table to show their wares. Then we all get together and share a meal. But, instead of listening to someone else talk, we talk to each other. While we are seated, the room is surrounded by tables with manufacturers’ products enticingly exhibited on them.

After we eat, the manufacturers staff their stations, the reps walk from table to table and we all try to sell each other on why we should be interested in what we each have to offer. While it’s not quite speed dating, it does bring us all together in a room where all of us have the same objectives.

If you’re a rep, this method sure beats walking around McCormick Center wondering which manufacturers are looking for a rep in your area. As a manufacturer, it certainly trumps watching 50,000 people walk past your booth, not knowing that the lady with the Coach briefcase across the aisle or the guy with red Jos. A. Banks tie two people over are successful reps in the territory where you desperately need help.

This is your chance to make that quick introduction and see if there is a match in product and territories. It’s the opportunity to get that card and exchange literature. It’s also your opening to see the face, actually shake a hand and decide if this is someone that you want to spend more time getting to know. As New York rep and NKBA Executive Committee Member Lee Minor commented to me, “It’s all about bringing quality, sales-driven manufacturers together with rep agencies who are equally aggressive and distinguished.”

If you absolutely love the runny eggs, crave the half-cooked bacon and long for the deliciously cold hash browns served at industry breakfasts, I promise that you will get them. But even better, you will attend an event where you actually meet the people that may offer you opportunities for the coming year and beyond.

A Networking Success
What are the results so far? Well, they’re better than could have ever been imagined. We are fast approaching our fourth Manufacturers’ Rep Breakfast under this format. It will be held once again this April at KBIS. The first year saw increased attendance over that of the previous year under the old format.

The next year, 2004, word spread of the previous year’s success and it was truly a show stopper. Like most show breakfasts we had a ballroom reserved, assuming it would certainly meet our needs. After the date was announced, we quickly reached capacity for both reps and displaying manufacturers. Fortunately, we were able to make arrangements to add a ballroom and double capacity. Then, to our surprise, we were above capacity once more.

Again, we were able to make additional arrangements. The NKBA staff was able to move us to another section where we would be able to have tripled the capacity that we originally had budgeted for. Registrations continued to flourish and once again we were above capacity. In the end, we had enough manufacturers’ reps and displaying manufacturers to fill an entire conference ballroom, four times our originally intended goal. We actually had to turn a few companies away.

Last year brought yet another banner success, with the number of attendees again being greater than the year before. But in the light of 2004’s attendance figures, we had the foresight to plan for the overwhelming response and were able to meet every goal. This year, we are planning for even more manufacturers and manufacturers’ reps to take advantage of this networking-focused opportunity.

Both reps and manufacturers would benefit tremendously if there were more events like this available during the year. But there are not. Logistically, it’s just not feasible. KBIS is the one time of the year where we’re all under one roof, and we all need to make the most of the opportunity.

This year at KBIS, there will be a ballroom full of people, all hungry for more than breakfast – a group of reps looking for manufacturers and manufacturers looking for reps, all getting together to truly network.

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This article originally appeared in Kitchen and Bath Design News 2/2006

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