Independent Reps’ Event Provides Benefits

The words “they don’t make you anymore” recently tied together a topic I had long wanted to write about.

I happened along the words while engaged in casual banter with a handful of kitchen and bath professionals at a recent conference. The members of our exchange were grazing the surface of numerous topics regarding our industry. At an opportune time for me, the matter of a company seeking an independent rep popped up and one of my manufacturer friends looked at me and said: “They don’t make you anymore.”

Now, he didn’t mean me specifically, but rather, independent reps in general.

I found the statement both fascinating and intriguing. After all, as a rep, I thrive on being a valuable asset to a manufacturer. The words “they don’t make you anymore” certainly implied value based on limited availability – and that was good for me. Being a valuable asset is important when you’re being considered to rep a new line, but being valuable and in limited supply is even better.

That was not my first reaction to the statement, though. I initially found it to be wholly inaccurate; after all, even in our small cabal right then and there, I counted three independent reps, each with more than 20 years’ experience. The supply seemed rather abundant in the current circumstances.

As the conversation continued, my manufacturer friend spoke of how difficult it was to find a qualified independent rep, and how often his company had to settle for “whatever they could get.” He spoke about how advertising nets had been cast, headhunters had been sent forth, but few reps had been harvested.

He noted that, in today’s environment, very few people are willing to take on the risks of being an independent rep. After all, he pointed out, independence is a big leap, and the discipline required and insecurity involved make a lot of good people shy away.

He further commented that when a company interviews a salesperson, the first questions they often hear relate to how many weeks vacation they would get, what the health plan is like and how the 401K plan works – none of which are afforded to an independent rep.

After quietly listening to the comments of the group, I had to agree. Independent reps are not a huge group to begin with, and the quality ones are a unique and select pack in very limited supply.

As the group began to disperse, a comment was made that stayed with me for much of that day. One of the men grasped my elbow, leaned in, smiled and said, “We just can’t find guys like you anymore. We need a store where we can go and pick you out.”

A Great Opportunity

I missed an opportunity that day, and I hope everyone involved in that conversation reads this column. There actually is a great place for manufacturers to meet the highest-quality independent reps in the kitchen and bath industry – and to meet them all at once.

Furthermore, for independent reps, there is an incredible place to meet manufacturers seeking manufacturers’ reps all at once, too.

That place is the NKBA’s SHARK! BREAKFAST, held annually at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS).

The SHARK! BREAKFAST is an event for independent reps and manufacturers to get together and network. Though the supply of independent reps is limited in the kitchen and bath industry, this is the one time that the majority of them gather together in one large room. If you’re a manufacturer fishing for a rep, this is the best fishing hole around.

At this annual event, a great deal of networking is done around a breakfast table. Valuable time is shared between reps and manufacturers promoting each other’s businesses and presenting each other’s goals –all the while enjoying a hearty breakfast.
Even more impactful is the after-breakfast setting, where manufacturers use tabletops to display their products and literature, and reps spend the rest of the event moving from table to table reviewing products, territories that are available and needs. This is the place to discover if there is really that right fit. Even when there’s not an instant match, it proves to be a great opportunity for both manufacturers and reps to collect names to put in their files for the future when the need and match may occur.

Last year at K/BIS, the SHARK! BREAKFAST pulled together the largest group of manufacturers and manufacturers’ reps ever. Some 190 reps registered and more than 60 manufacturers displayed. The breakfast’s site had to be expanded several times, eventually overflowing the entire section of connected rooms. Ultimately it exceeded capacity, and the event’s coordinator was faced with the unhappy task of having to turn many more manufacturers away.

That was the fifth annual event. The event scheduled for K/BIS 2008 this April in Chicago should be even bigger.

Thinking back on the comments in my talk with my associates, I was contemplating what an important event the SHARK! BREAKFAST actually is.

“They don’t make you anymore” is a true statement. How many salespeople today are willing to take on a line with no guarantees of income; to be wiling to be paid solely on performance? How many are willing to cover their own expenses?

How many are willing to be responsible for their own health insurance, retirement savings, or whether they can take a vacation or not?
It is a limited and distinctly unique group.

The sea of independent reps truly is not very deep, and I can certainly see how difficult it must be for a manufacturer to find them – or, even more so, find the highest-quality reps.

This annual event not only puts people with the same needs in the same room, but it does so en masse. There is not another opportunity like this in the industry. It is the largest gathering of reps and manufacturers in the business.

It may be accurate to say independent reps are in limited supply, but if you are a manufacturer fishing for one, I can tell you where to best drop your line: The SHARK! BREAKFAST at K/BIS is swimming with them.


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This article originally appeared in Kitchen and Bath Design News 2/2008

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