Beware of the Entrepreneur?

by Tom Hayward, CPMR, United Sales Associates

Most MANA manufacturers’ representatives pride themselves on being entrepreneurs. We start our businesses from scratch and create something out of nothing. Ideally we work to create an entity that can be perpetuated long after we are gone. If not, we at least create a means to support ourselves financially and provide a necessary service to the industry we serve. We are fortunate to have a partner like MANA that is committed to help us as we move through our careers.

Typically, however, the entrepreneurial spirit peaks at the beginning of an agency’s life. We decide things such as taking on lines, getting an office, hiring people, determining our geographical territory, deciding on a company name, whether to stock product, the investment in computers, vehicles and equipment, and more. Each of these risks has an overlapping effect upon our overall return on investment. But as our businesses get more established it becomes more comfortable to stay with what is “working,” which influences us to shy away from pursuits that might be in the more “risky” category. This might be human nature, but at this point has the entrepreneur in us faded away? To keep ourselves focused we should continually ask ourselves, “If I started my business today, what would be the significant opportunities around which I should focus my business strategies?” If the answer is, “I’ve got it covered,” I would offer that either you are in a dying industry, or are likely just not thinking big enough.

One risk/opportunity that needs to be continually explored is the consideration of working with companies that are located outside of your domestic country. As we become more established it is certainly more comfortable dealing with domestically located companies. This comfort is for good reason as there are significant risks and concerns to consider before partnering with a foreign company. Today the world is “flatter” and more connected than ever, so the chance for success has never been better.

From a product side the United States produces roughly 22 percent of the world’s products. That means that 78 percent is produced elsewhere. Yes, there are logistical concerns in getting foreign products to domestic soil competitively, reliably, and repeatedly, but within this scale of production there is tremendous opportunity. Still waiting on that big line to become available? Just lost a big line with nowhere to turn? Maybe it’s time to look outside our borders.

From a marketing side, there is a world of foreign producers that have no idea on how to bring product to market in your domestic country. Could that be an opportunity for your business to partner with any in getting this done? If you don’t, will you regret when someone else capitalizes on this opportunity?

It has been said that opportunities are not lost — they are just taken by others. We are all vulnerable to the entrepreneur that sees an opportunity and is bold enough to take the risk to capitalize on it. Could that opportunity be something that is easy to see, but tough to pull the trigger on because your current business is too comfortable? In your industry, how many currently unmet significant product opportunities can you count right now? Or, if today someone started an agency in competition with yours, would they see an opportunity with foreign companies that would significantly affect your future?

Regarding the subject of connecting with foreign principals, your feedback, concerns, and overall input is needed for MANA to assess the amount of resources needed to advance our capabilities to assist MANA members. Please take a minute to e-mail your comments to

Tom Hayward is with United Sales Associates (Cincinnati, Ohio), a 15-person agency covering eight states and focused on the marketing and training of personal protective safety equipment and related products. Hayward has been with United Sales since 1989, and became a CPMR in 1997. USA has been a proud MANA member since the agency was founded in 1982.