Online sales, communications between manufacturers reps and their vendors and the number of lines that a rep should handle were among the topics covered Sept. 30 during a lively panel discussion at AIM/R’s 42nd Annual Conference, held at the site of the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif.

Speaking on behalf of manufacturers were: Brent Noonan, vice president of sales for Uponor; Ed Moran, vice president, residential markets for OmegaFlex; Matthew Hurley, vice president of sales for Chicago Faucet; Richard Berry, director of sales and marketing for Nomaco; and Matt Kozak, director of sales for Bradford White. Facilitating questions from the audience of manufacturers reps were Alan Guidish, AIM/R chairman, and Rick Root, AIM/R vice president of public relations.

While some of the manufacturers sell their products online and others do not, the consensus of the panelists was: “Products are being sold online through our distributors or others whether we have an online sales policy or not. It’s the way of the world; it’s not going away.”

A bigger concern of the manufacturers was the level of communications with their reps, with one panelist naming it his “No. 1 pet peeve.”

“We’re always the one reaching out to them,” he said. “We cannot be in business without you. You need to be honest with us and communicate. Be blunt, be direct. It’s the best way to grow our businesses. We need to be strategic as well as reactive in our thinking and action.”

Another panelist said his biggest pet peeve was reps who do not proactively ask for help when they need it. “This failure to ask often makes it too late for us to help,” he said.

One rep in the audience asked the manufacturers about the need to file detailed call reports, which takes time away from selling.

“As long as we’re communicating, we don’t need detailed call reports,” one of panelists replied. Another said a balance is required between the time devoted to call reports and the time for selling.

“The ones I ask for detailed called reports are the ones I don’t hear from,” a manufacturer said.

A rep agency that handles too many product lines – or too few – can worry manufacturers as well.

The panelists agreed that no magic number of lines exists, but the number of lines is a factor when they consider bringing on a new rep agency.

“We look for complementary lines,” one of the manufacturers said. “We look at quality vs. quantity of lines. We do look at quantity with some concern.”

Another panelist said a rep agency’s focus determines how many lines it can handle, regardless of whether the agency is small, medium or large.

“Sometimes too few lines can be a concern,” a panelist said. “If you have a few lines that are constantly changing, that raises questions, too.”

Almost 300 manufacturers reps, vendors and guests attended AIM/R’sconference. The gathering included 180 reps and 60 manufacturers and vendors who participated in educational sessions, panel discussions and networking events.

 Chicago Faucet’s Hurley received AIM/R’s Golden Eagle Award during a banquet on Sept. 30. AIM/R presents the award annually to a senior-level manufacturer who has a track record of using manufacturers reps as being the most efficient method of going to market.

 Next year’s AIM/R conference will take place Oct. 14-17 in New Orleans.