SEMA Member News - January/February 2010

MRC Moves Forward

Long-Range Planning Meeting

Bryan Shirley (center), president and CEO of MANA, shown here with members of the MRC Select Committee, was the guest speaker at the SEMA/MRC Rep Conference Town Hall at PWA. Shirley talked about the challenges facing the industry and then provided advice about what reps need in order to overcome the obstacles.   

The Manufacturer’s Rep Council (MRC) conducted its 2009/2010 Long-Range Planning (LRP) meeting on September 12, 2009, in conjunction with the Performance Warehouse Association (PWA) Conference held at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix, Arizona. The meeting was held earlier than in past years because of the high volume of reps who attend the PWA event. (The 2010/2011 LRP will also be held during the PWA Conference, scheduled for September 26–29.) Mark Toebben and Rob Eberhart from DCi, a leader in business-to-business communications solutions, opened the meeting with a presentation focused on rep education and access to information that will help rep businesses. The pair discussed topics that included load sheets (Product Information Exchange Standards—PIES—information), application data/content, understanding eCommerce opportunities and eCommerce solutions.

The LRP format was completely overhauled for 2009. Instead of utilizing the traditional brainstorming format, the MRC Select Committee opted to have the meeting participants perform a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis on the rep segment as well as the effectiveness of the MRC. The outcome was substantial.

After an overview of the SWOT analysis and process, the attendees held a brainstorming session of the issues and challenges within the rep industry. Among the list of strengths that they identified within the MRC and their individual businesses were strength in numbers, benefits shared with others, networking and communication, cost savings from manufacturers and support from SEMA. The attendees also formulated a list of weaknesses, which included confusion over what reps do, the lack of a united front, lack of benefits specific to the rep industry, lack of young people in the segment and industry, and confusion about who the customer is. On the opportunity list developed next, the attendees identified items that included the expansion of member benefits, using the Young Executives Network (YEN) as a resource for membership growth, the opportunity to pick up lines in a down economy and the ability to lead technology changes for the industry. The threats listed included government intervention, online sales, industry consolidation, increasing operational costs and apathy in the marketplace.


The format for the LRP was completely overhauled for 2009. Instead of utilizing the traditional brainstorming format, the MRC Select Committee opted to perform a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis on the rep segment as well as the effectiveness of the MRC.   


At the end of the brainstorming session, the facilitator reviewed the results of the SWOT analysis and outlined goals and objectives, from which the attendees decided to focus their efforts on improving the value and perception of manufacturer’s reps to the overall industry by developing three programs that enhance professionalism of the trade. The group also determined that the MRC should research, identify and/or produce three new member cost-saving benefits by the end of fiscal-year 2010.

Other items covered at the LRP included a review of the task force structure and assignments, with the following outcome: Irv Cohen will continue to chair the Awards Task Force; Chris Fairless will continue to chair the Rep Conference Task Force; and Les Rudd will continue to chair the LRP Subcommittee. In addition, Chairman Joel Rosenthal reviewed the current contract agreement between MRC and Steven Sack, the group’s legal counsel. The attendees concluded that Sack’s services are a valuable member benefit and that MRC will continue its partnership with him.

8th Annual MRC Rep Conference Town Hall

The 8th Annual SEMA/MRC Rep Conference Town Hall at PWA was conducted on Tuesday, September 15, 2009, also in conjunction with the PWA Conference. The major topic of discussion was, “In these turbulent times, don’t just survive…thrive!” This theme attracted better-than-expected attendance.

The guest speaker was Bryan Shirley, president and CEO of Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA), an association of manufactures’ rep organizations. MANA is the largest rep association in North America with more than 5,000 member companies. During his presentation, Shirley touched on the 10 biggest challenges facing the rep industry, including the economy and uncertainty, finding new manufacturers to represent, decreased commission rates and offshore sourcing and/or customers moving out of a rep’s territory. To combat those challenges, Shirley said that reps need mission and vision ethics and philosophy; realistic planning with real follow-up; technology tools that are up-to-date; operational systems; great sales management; marketing and branding; and, above all, productive fun.

“We need to communicate and get the word out,” Shirley said. “Manufacturers’ reps and outsourced professional field sales are still the best way to go to market. We need to promote and protect the function together. Invest in your future, network with reps and remember that you are not in this alone.”