Examining the Attributes Required to be a Successful Independent Representative

by Danny Collis, President, Collis Group, Inc.

As the result of the time I’ve spent in my career, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect upon the attributes one must possess in order to be a successful independent manufacturers’ representative.

I had many other things written down before I came to a realization just recently that perseverance and risk-taking were actually necessary attributes. I was a corporate representative who felt I should be making more money. I worked for a great company but was only making $36,000 managing a $5-million territory. Understandably, I felt underappreciated and overworked. As a result, I left without knowing the first thing about being in business on my own. Thankfully, I took the risk and persevered.

There were definitely hard times, but I always felt as if there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Along with the perseverance and willingness to take risks comes longevity. In order to possess longevity you have to be trusted in the industry. That’s why we can chalk up trustworthiness as another attribute. I feel I can say that after so many years in business, people can trust our company to give them the honest goods. We preach this to our team. We tell them to become a valuable asset for your customer. When this happens and they trust you, they will call on you for things that may not even involve you. They do that because they trust you to point them in the right direction. I have always told my team that we don’t just want the current sale, we want their future sale as well.

I am also a firm believer in what I’d call the “Old School” form of communication. That’s why I’d add the ability to communicate as an attribute. Watching my kids grow up in this technological era where they get into fights via texting, I’m convinced there is nothing more clear and concise as a verbal conversation between parties. It’s there that you get true emotion versus a text or an email that can leave your head moving back and forth wondering, “Did they really mean that?” They probably didn’t, but the true meaning probably got lost in translation. Don’t get me wrong, I feel I am prolific with email and texting but sometimes when things escalate, a phone call or a face-to-face meeting will cure any situation. I had a situation where we were going back and forth on email and you could see the tone was starting to change. I picked up the phone and called and my customer’s comment was, “Thank goodness!” We were both frustrated, but we left the phone conversation clearly, with no undertones.

Passion is something that we preach here also. I had an opportunity to get out of my industry at an earlier point of my career, but chose to stay because I was passionate about my job and my industry. I immersed myself in the industry in order to be recognized as a leader. That’s why I’d advise getting involved in your industry and getting to know as many people as you can. The endless circle of knowledge gained from knowing more people is invaluable.

In summary, some of these words of advice are for a younger generation coming in. Some of these things have transpired for our company after many years of being in business. But possessing the attributes — tossed in with some patience — will hopefully lead to a successful career as an independent manufacturers’ representative.

Danny Collis is president of Collis Group, Inc., a manufacturers’ rep group in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Collis Group represents the food service equipment industry. They work closely with consultants, end users and distributors in the selection of equipment used in kitchens all around the world. Collis is past president of MAFSI (Manufactures Agents for the Food Service Industry) and currently sits as a board member of MANA. For information on the Collis Group visit www.collisgroupinc.com.