What is a Manufacturer’s Sales Representative?

A Manufacturer’s Representative, also called manufacturer’s agent, manufacturer’s rep, sales representative, or sales rep – or more commonly, just “rep” – is a self-employed salesperson who contracts direct selling and marketing services to one or more related, but normally non-competitive, companies in a particular industry.

The job of a rep is basically to “represent” the manufacturer’s, distributor’s, or importer’s line of products to prospective buyers, who could be retailers, wholesalers, distributors, or service businesses, depending upon the industry and/or product line. As part of that service, they call on and present the client’s products in a positive light (as a way to solve the buyer’s needs), answer questions, offer materials and information, and ask for orders and re-orders in person, or by phone, fax, or email. Increasingly, web sites are a way to service wholesale buyers.

Sales reps sometimes just represent one company, where they might be paid a base plus commission. More often, however, independent reps serve multiple companies who share an interest in marketing to a category of buyers that the rep calls upon regularly. Reps are usually given a specific (and often exclusive) territory, so customers are not confused by multiple competing sales representatives, and to honor the hard work done by a good rep.

Sales reps exist that target virtually every size of gift retailer from small mom-and-pop stores to large “big box” retailers, including chains. All these reps want to show and sell the newest, most attractive or innovative products on the market (plus, of course, profitable standbys).  When hiring a rep, you save buyers significant time and expense by showing several lines during your visits, and always, they want to know “what is new”! (You WILL hear this question a lot!)

On the other side of the equation, sales reps probably qualify as the lowest cost option for manufacturers interesting in expanding sales regionally or nationally. Independent reps operate as a contract sales person, or in the case of rep “groups”, as a contract sales force, working on a strictly commission basis, minimizing overhead for a producer. Whereas an in-house sales force could cost a potential manufacturer $75,000 to $100,000 per person, with travel expenses – regardless of sales volume – an independent rep only gets a check when they produce sales for the manufacturer.  Since reps can be found in virtually every geographic area in the US, opportunities for a low cost national roll-out are endless, for those manufacturers who choose to grow in this fashion.

Sales reps purpose is to introduce, educate and take orders for product lines and receive a commission as compensation, rather than making your money on the price differential between buying and selling prices.

(For more information on opportunities and information on this industry, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, “Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing”, on the Internet)

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