MANA Helps Smooth the Road for Agencies

by Lisa Wilson, L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc.

Recently I was going through some older business records to see what I could discard. There were copies of commission checks from two principals that I no longer represent.

Principal One terminated me and I terminated with Principal Two. Principal One informed me that I was not bringing in enough new business. This was when the market crashed in 2008. Prior to the market crash everything appeared to be fine. I was never told that I was not performing and there was concern on the principal’s behalf regarding the need to develop new customers. On the contrary, I was actually told I was one of the best sales representatives this principal had. I brought in several potential new customers, but the owner declined to quote due to lack of capacity. I suggested overtime or new machines as this was solid business and I had worked for this customer prior to starting my own sales agency.

Principal Two did not pay his suppliers on a timely basis and in some instances not at all. I found this out after my customer was not receiving production parts on time. Principal Two was destroying my credibility with a brand-new customer that I had recently developed.

L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., has been in business since 1998. In 23 years of business I have been terminated by principals six times and I terminated four times. The reasons for termination varied from:

  1. Not bringing in enough new business.
  2. New owners did not want to work with contractors/sales representatives.
  3. They no longer saw the benefits or need of my services.

Each time it happened I was upset and did not agree with the reasons I was given. I knew that in all these situations I brought in a substantial amount of business, but they did not want to pay the commissions any longer. I terminated with four principals because the trust was broken and the passion was gone after they cut my commissions, took away my customers and made them house accounts, not to mention I could not continue selling for a principal that
did not pay his suppliers as I did not want my reputation damaged any further.

I had contracts with all of these principals. The earlier contracts were not well written — and as a result the principals were able to get rid me and I had very little recourse. In some instances, I was able to negotiate for additional payments over one, two or three years.

I waited 10 years before I decided to join MANA. I remember speaking to a sales agency that called on me as a purchasing manager. I told the owner I wanted to have my own rep agency. He advised me to join MANA and told me to make sure I had a contract with each principal I sell for. I did not listen. I guess I had to be beat up pretty good before I got the picture.

Currently I am semi-retired. The last two principals I took on have turned out to be the two best principals I ever had. Unfortunately, one of the two sold their business to a private-equity company that has been an absolute nightmare. I chose not to renew my contract with the private equity company that bought out one of my best principals because they tried to take away my higher-volume customers and they can’t seem to get the commissions right or pay on time.

The other principal has been a dream to work for. They continue to pay me for business I brought to the table even though I am semi-retired and only solicit new business when I want to.

In reflecting back over the last 23 years, the first 10 years were rocky. Upon joining MANA, the road has smoothed out. Working with the MANA attorneys on getting a good contract and reading the articles in Agency Sales magazine have been beneficial. I’ve also used the MANA website by watching videos and reading articles that include information on “How to Start a Rep Business,” which contains information on writing a business plan, whether you are qualified, locating and maintaining profitable accounts, strategies for succeeding, how to market yourself to principals, represent synergistic lines, and the list goes on with so much more valuable information.

Lisa Wilson is president & owner of L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., a manufacturers’ representative firm based in Bristol, Wisconsin that has been in business since 1998. Before opening her rep firm, Wilson spent 23 years in manufacturing positions that included purchasing management, production scheduling and planning, and customer service. Wilson also is on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Rail Mechanical Association.