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Starting a Business as a Manufacturer's Rep

If you're a top seller and have years of experience under your belt, going independent as a manufacturer's representative may be your ticket to sales success.

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If you like to sell and yearn to be out on your own, the life ofa manufacturer's representative, also known as an independentsales rep or just plain rep, may be for you. Experiencedsalespeople tell us being a manufacturer's representative isthe graduate level of selling, offering potentially higher earningsand freedom from company politics.

The typical sales agent represents eight to 10 complementaryproducts that don't compete with one another. Typically,someone coming into this field is in their early forties and hashad 20-plus years of experience in an industry, according to JoeMiller, president of the Manufacturers' Agents National Association(MANA).

As a rule, manufacturers both inside and outside the UnitedStates use outside sales forces instead of having in-house salespersonnel, because in this productivity-conscious era, using a repworkforce is a more efficient and cost-effective way to sellproducts. In fact, according to Miller, the practice has become socommon that corporations often call MANA complaining of a shortagein good sales reps.

Despite this demand, breaking into this field is not a cakewalk.It takes one to two years to develop a stock of enough products torepresent that will make you a good living. Also, a new rep mustoften take on startup companies who may or not have lasting power.While the entry costs are not high--an equipped home office and agood vehicle are all that's needed--you'll have to have away to cover your living expenses during the startup years. Butlike many salespeople, the potential earnings are good: Members ofMANA average more than $150,000 a year in pre-tax income.

One change from the past is that reps today are doing more thanselling, hence the importance of having experience. Some reps traincompany personnel in the use of the products they sell, offsettinga cost their customers would otherwise carry. Some reps who sell towholesalers make joint sales calls with the wholesaler'sin-house sales personnel, training them to sell the rep'sproducts.

Most manufacturer's reps sell industrial products tomanufacturers and end users such as processing plants, HMOs andgovernment agencies. While there are still some sales of consumerproducts, like food brokers who sell to grocery stores, forexample, for the most part, the "big box" retail storesbuy directly from manufacturers.

Finding products to represent can be done by working trade showsfor your industry where both manufacturers and customers can befound. In addition to good old-fashioned shoe leather, reps makewide use of the internet--to find products to represent, toidentify prospective customers and to get listed on sites, which offers online productinformation on thousands of companies products that'saccessible 24/7.

If you're interested in becoming a manufacturer's rep,start your research by contacting MANA or any of the tradeassociations for individual industries, ranging from food serviceto plumbing and heating. You can track down such associations bysearching the web.

Paul and Sarah Edwards are coaches and the authors of 16books, including Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century.You can contact them at

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