By Christen D'Alessandro
On the front lines working with retailers and suppliers, manufacturers reps have their finger on the pulse of what's happening in racing. Their expertise, insights, and personal connections are extraordinary resources, in addition to the products they represent.
"The retailer needs to realize that the rep is there to help him with the product line," noted John Julis, J&J Marketing, Riverside, California. "Maybe the rep can help the retailer get a better deal, some promo material for an open house, or samples to show his customers. The retailer needs to view the rep as another resource to help him make sales."
"For a racing retailer, most of these guys are busy racing day in and day out, and they run a store but they really don't keep a pulse on what's new, what's fresh, what's current, new products," mentioned Mike Zimmerman, Airheart Sales, Newport Beach, California. "They just don't have the time to research that, nor do they have the time to do their pricing updates. It's scary, sometimes I go into a speed shop and they're running off of price sheets from 1994.
"We need to go in and help these guys," Zimmerman continued. "They're pretty much hardcore race enthusiasts or race participants or race owners or race drivers, and they subsidize their racing with the speed shop, so it needs to be profitable, and they need to take an active part in that business and make it profitable."
A manufacturers rep is much more than a "middle man," said Michael Kunzman, of Michael A. Kunzman & Associates, Walled Lake, Michigan. "Nowadays, a manufacturers rep is hands on from the beginning with the vendors, assisting in development and advancements of products, advertising and marketing, negotiating the orders and sales to the WDs and jobbers, ensuring the POs are received and fulfilled, and even going through warranty items," he explained. "Regardless of what you call a rep, we're the guys who see the product from the beginning of development all the way through to a direct application on a consumers vehicle at any given car show."
Here's a look at working with a manufacturers rep and how both the retailer and manufacturer can benefit with the rep's help.
"What we do as manufacturers reps is, we're the go-between for the manufacturer and the warehouse distributor who sells to the consumers," explained Skeeter Jourdan, True High Performance Sales, Blue Ridge, Georgia. "So we have a contract signed with the manufacturers to represent their products and then go out and find somebody who is willing to live by their terms and policy sheets and then stock enough inventory to support the line. So we represent the manufacturer but then we also represent the warehouse distributor with any problems that he may have with the manufacturer. We straighten that out, we help them maintain their inventories and make sure they have the proper numbers.
"We're really an agent between the manufacturers and we represent that factory to the warehouse distributors and in some cases large retailers," Jourdan continued. "We have to keep both sides happy."
Some of the manufacturers rep's responsibilities are marketing, promoting, and educating the vendor's products at WD, jobber, and consumer levels, Kunzman said. They also handle credit, billing, shipping, and warranty issues, and suggest concepts for both wholesale and consumer ads as well as suggest new trends to vendors, keep vendors aware of the customer's viewpoints, and keep constant communication to and from consumers, jobbers and WDs.
"My philosophy is that manufacturers hire guys like us to take their parts and sell them in the industry, promote them, to the best of our ability," added Craig Atzenhoffer, Atzenhoffer Sales & Marketing (ASM), Houston, Texas.
"Manufacturers wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for the reps," Atzenhoffer continued. "The only way that the manufacturer can grow is if the rep finds customers and sells the product and then the manufacturer gives the customer or the retailer everything he needs to promote their product."
Julis also mentioned that manufacturers representatives "are on the front lines to maximize the manufacturer's sales, to help the customer sell more product and to keep information flowing both directions. The rep can also access the credit worthiness of a potential customer, 'put fires out,' hold product seminars, and generally make things go smoothly."
Neal Williamson of The Racing Rep in Carmichael, California, concluded that a manufacturer's rep brings in new business, services current business, and develops new products.
Williamson simply stated, "Reps are the biggest source of new ideas and products."
"The rep is 'out and about' and sees product trends before many of his customers," added Julis. "He knows what products are working in other areas and can suggest changes to the retailer's inventory. If the factory is on the ball, the rep will have advanced information on new products. The rep is the best source of product knowledge. He can do seminars, teach counter people, and help with customer complaints. He is the filter for both factory and customer information."
Bob Reid from B&M Marketing in New Richmond, Ohio, added, "With the racing retailers, it sometimes seems like they get very little news and we have to make sure they are always up to date on the products, catalogs, and stuff of that nature to make sure they don't slip by and possibly still use the old price sheets, and we make sure that they are always up to date in that way."
Kunzman agreed that the most obvious way manufacturers reps help retailers is by supplying them with point of sale items, like catalogs, banners, decals, etc. "With performance retailers, once we know who they are and what they do we can then direct consumers to them," he added. "Also, we have relationships with the manufacturers we represent and area WDs so we can quickly help find the part they are looking for or get the answers if there is a problem.
"Traveling a territory affords us a broad view of the performance market in our area and communication with the factories lets us give ideas of the coming trends we are seeing," Kunzman said.
Jourdan of True High Performance Sales agreed that reps can be beneficial to retailers by keeping them up to date on the latest and greatest products and also, since the reps go through so many shops and warehouses, if one of the retailer's customers needs a specific component, the reps will know exactly where to find it and can locate it for the retailer.
"We also do educational programs for them," Jourdan added. "The warehouse invites their jobber base to their warehouse where we then talk to them or supply them with educational products."
John Clark of Bob Cook Sales (which is celebrating its 30th year in business) in Collierville, Tennessee, concluded that manufacturers reps help retailers "by keeping them abreast of these new products, including them on manufacturer's email blasts, getting answers for them on questions they have regarding availability and problems as well as providing them with point-of-sale materials."
A manufacturers rep chooses which manufacturers to represent and which components they want to try to get retailers to sell. How do they determine which racing product lines to carry?
"I equate the mix of products to a gin rummy game," Julis explained. "You are always looking for something that complements what you currently have, like a deuce to go with your ace and three. From a cost of sales perspective, you want products that complement each other and have the maximum potential with those customers in your travels."
"We are normally approached by the manufacturer seeking to add reps or change their current representation," Clark added. "Also, our customers and present manufacturers recommend us. Their recommendations to prospective manufacturers are a tremendous help and greatly appreciated.
"We have a questionnaire we have developed that we send to the potential manufacturer to determine their needs and whether we feel that we can help them," Clark continued. "We put out our feelers to our field agents to inquire on potential competition, marketability, and issues. At that time we make a collective decision among the three principles of the company as to whether we have a match."
B&M Marketing tries to stick with what it calls medium/heavy and heavy performance products, according to Reid. "We need to be able to show our customer that we are the experts in the field for them, and we also try to pick up customers for them to work as a distributor," he said. "They need people out there trying to move their products for them, and we help them out in that way."
Kunzman stated that he determines his racing product lines by answering one simple question--"Would we be comfortable and confident to spend our own money to use it on our own cars?"
And Williamson of The Racing Rep mentioned that he determines his product lines based on the customers' needs.
Reps usually cover a certain area or territory because they're the most knowledgeable about that region and understand the trends and buying patterns of the businesses. Within that territory, their customers are businesses ranging anywhere from retailers to manufacturers to warehouse distributors and so on.
"A good manufacturers rep represents a factory in their given territory because they live there and they know the people, they know the businesses, they know the business climate, and they know their buying habits," explained Airheart's Zimmerman.
"My customers are mostly chassis shops, small OEMs, and specialty manufacturers," noted Julis. "Based in the most populous state (California), the customers are as varied as the people who live here. My products transcend all forms of racing, so the market potential is quite large."
"Our 12-state and Puerto Rico territory includes a broad cross section of wholesalers, retailers, mail order, and Internet accounts," added Clark. "We also sell to some manufacturers both in and out of this industry either existing products or custom products where we have factories with capacity available."
At True High Performance Sales, the reps go on jobber calls with the warehouses. "We travel with their sales people in the field, calling on retailers, and at that time we can usually have a one on one," noted Jourdan about his customers.
Although the economy may be difficult right now, Clark advises to continue to keep a sufficient inventory. "As the retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and even raw material suppliers have reduced their inventories, we are seeing demand not being filled," he explained. "We believe that those companies that can invest in the inventory will capitalize from the sales and they should be able to get their price."
Reid added, "I think right now everyone should be planning for the future. Things are starting to turn around and we need to get out there and find those new accounts and get them introduced to the product line."
Jourdan recommends that all racing businesses give the manufacturers reps a chance. "One of the problems we face with the large machine shops and engine builders is that they don't really care to have too many reps come around, but on the same token, the only thing a rep can do for them is help them," he said.
And finally, major keys to doing business, according to Atzenhoffer, are communication and relationships. "If the manufacturer and the rep have a great relationship, and then the rep has a fantastic relationship with their customers, it makes doing business very easy. You've got to communicate," he concluded.