Farmers' Market

Time-Tested Tips

Think your product might have what it takes to catch the attention of a manufacturers' rep? Try these ideas for getting off to the right start:

  • Maintain product quality. Greene and McKittrick started out making the products in their garage, but they switched over to a local manufacturer once they signed with a rep firm. That way, they could ensure the product would be durable and also look like it was made by a large company.
  • Be honest. Provide upfront information about your business' situation without holding anything back. Reps don't like to be surprised by bad news you "forgot" to mention. Reps will quickly stop working for an inventor who doesn't communicate honestly.
  • Develop a personal relationship. Visit your reps, support them at major trade shows and keep in constant contact with them. Greene happened to know her rep from church, and the regular face-to-face contact helped nurture the business relationship.
  • Provide all the support you can. Although Greene and McKittrick can't afford an expensive advertising campaign, they have hired a public relations firm to send out press releases to the local papers whenever Marshall Associates lands a new store. "We also try to provide whatever the rep needs for trade shows or retailer presentations," says Greene.
  • Play an active role. Help your reps get off to a strong start with retailers. In addition to helping with PR, like Greene and McKittrick, special promotions, product displays, extra discounts and in-store demonstrations are other low-cost tactics sure to help the rep sell your product to customers.
  • Sign an agreement that offers mutual long-term benefits. A rep's greatest fear is that he or she will pioneer a product line, only to have the manufacturer take it away once it becomes successful. Reps who take on a new line typically invest in that line for at least two years before earning any significant commissions, so they want to be assured the line will still be theirs once sales start to skyrocket.

Experienced marketers know that strong relationships with their reps are vital to success. As Greene and McKittrick have found, appreciating reps and focusing on a marketing program based on their needs really pays off. If you want to someday enlist the help and expertise of reps, follow Greene and McKittrick's lead and treat them like your most important customers. The result will be big profits for you and high commissions for your reps. That's a win-win situation sure to help your business grow.

If you've never worked with manufacturers' sales representatives, look for a copy of the MANA Directory from the Manufacturers' Agents National Association, available at most larger libraries and online at The directory includes articles on figuring out what reps are looking for, signing agreements and choosing the best reps for you.

Are you a first-time inventor or trying to license your product for the first time? Check out The Inventor's Bible by Ronald Louis Docie (Ten Speed Press). The book offers an easy-to-understand process for licensing an invention and covers all the necessary steps, from patenting to negotiating a licensing agreement.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas.

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This article was originally published in the February 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Farmers' Market.

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