NEMRA Powers Forward at 2018 Meeting


NEMRA 2018 MeetingLast week’s NEMRA meeting proved once again that much gets accomplished when almost 2000 people from manufacturers and their sales organizations get together as NEMRA seemingly took over San Diego’s Marriott Marquis.  Between a general session that unveiled new programs designed to support NEMRA’s PowerPact initiative, recognized agencies and manufacturers with the inaugural NEMMY awards, and the launching of two scholarships to manufacturers conducting over a hundred group meetings (essentially mini-sales meetings) and thousands of one-on-one sessions while including three seminar tracts target to reps that were well attended and culminating in an inspirational keynote address on Friday from Robert O’Neill, the Seal Team 6 Operator who killed Osama Bin Laden, the meeting was another rousing success.  Bottom line … NEMRA is continues to provide ways to help its members power forward.

With lots going on it is difficult to discern a single theme, however, here are a number of things we heard, and most from multiple sources:

  • Many manufacturers were projecting growth in the 5+% range for 2018.  This growth rate is similar to what was projected back in October / November. No one seems to be increasing projections based upon the recent tax cut but all feel there should be some benefit but more likely the second half of the year.
  • Commodity manufacturers mentioned sales increases of 3-8%, many effective March 1.  The size of the increase is dependent upon the metal and amount of metal in the product.
    • These price increases may be able to help distributors off-set some of the expected continued price erosion in the lighting space.
  • Noticed a good amount of “diversity” in attendees, more so than at an NAED regional or national meeting. This may be due to more support staff attending and/or companies bringing all of their regionals to the meeting.  Also saw many “younger” attendees, hence either generational succession or reps hiring based upon skill set and training their staffs on the product side of the business.
  • 3M was talked about by many given their recent changes.  As many know, they are no longer in IMARK.  Part of the 3M conversation also involved Plymouth Rubber attempting to come back into the marketplace either via hiring reps or private labeling to others. Shurtape being in attendance and joining AD and IMARK, STI joining IMARK, Rectorseal joining AD and … as you can see, much going on to pursuing 3M’s tape and connector business.  Oh, and Selecta Products, an IMARK supplier, was announced as a master distributor for 3M to pursue / service certain size distributors.  Confused? All to pursue tape business from a company that must have 98% market share, strong end-user brand preference and which must represent .15% of distributor sales.  Lot’s of effort by the groups to get members to convert to preserve rebate revenue streams.
  • NEMRA introduced the NEMRA Conceptual Selling training program which is designed by Miller Heiman Group.  The booth had traffic all 3 days indicating reps’ commitment to ongoing training and improvement.
  • Noticed that a member of AD was at the meeting. Role was participating in manufacturer sales programs to highlight AD’s marketing programs, especially its Counter Sales Reward Program.  Also met with manufacturers.  The goal is gaining rep support for AD marketing programs.
  • Lot’s of LED companies.  Some had product booths and were seeking to acquire reps to sell for them.
  • Heard of some manufacturers adjusting their commission programs to make them more variable. Increasing / decreasing depending upon product groups that are “of focus” for the year.
  • Smaller / tier 2 and 3 manufacturers are launching more contractor-related programs / rebate initiatives to get their products “speced”/requested by the contractor to drive sales through distributors and/or getting distributors to order (for direct shipment) or to stock.  This is in reaction to not being able to join marketing groups and/or larger companies trying to minimize the number of lines that they stock.  The points in the distribution channel that these companies can pursue are distributor inside salespeople and customers.
  • Heard a number of reps talk about how they consider the ROI of a supplier … time commitment vs commission dollars generated.  Some are making decisions based upon this … pruning low return lines, discussing streamlining and expectations with high maintenance important lines.
  • As distributors know, the price erosion in lighting is leading to a migration to unbranded lines. Reps have seen this and more are taking on a lighting line (or two or three or four).  A challenge mentioned by many is “what is a good line?”, “what makes the different”?  Essentially an issue is “what is their value proposition”?  Why should a rep carry them? Why should a distributor sell them?
    • Few of the lighting lines are in the marketing groups due to the packaged lighting lines. A number inquired about how to be come part of a group. One commented, “with price erosion due to materials and competitiveness, I don’t know if I could afford the rebate a group imposes.”
  • Heard a number of reps who discussed their pre-meeting preparation for their one-on-one meetings. While this is an area that can continually get better, they all commented that a challenge is holding people accountable … and this is on both sides.
  • Some reps starting to develop marketing initiatives to support their distributors and manufacturers. Promoting products to end-users and distributors, running shows, being more application and/or vertically-oriented.
  • NEMRA’s Technology Services group is now part of TradeTech Solutions.  For the most part the transition seemed to be well accepted with reps waiting for “what’s next.”
  • Heard some “line changes” … some dropping of lines, some picking up lines.  Didn’t hear of any firings, but … wouldn’t be surprised.
  • And NEMRA’s POS initiative which focuses on streamlining data reporting now has almost 40 endorsing manufacturers with supporting distributors including Graybar, IAC Supply Solutions, Rexel / Gexpro, Sonepar and Scott Electric.  More manufacturers expressed interest during the meeting.
And from the NEMRA General Session:
  • Per Brian Gardner, outgoing chair, “the state of NEMRA is strong”
  • Increased number of members and manufacturers in 2017
  • Association invested in new programs
  • 5 areas of focus for the association and, ideally, for members
    • Develop agency plans with 2-3 year horizons
    • Use technology to streamline business / improve productivity and improve selling
    • Market the rep’s brand
    • Grow and development talent
    • Build demand and brand preference at the customer level
  • NEMRA developed a program at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. 39 reps / manufacturers attended and the session will be repeated in 2018. (and here’s a link to the 2017 program if you’d like to see the agenda)
  • Launched the “Empowering Tomorrow Learning Center” powered by Blue Volt.  Offers over 100 programs and professional content.
  • Launched a Manufacturer’s Best Practices program with a manufacturer rep association
  • Announced 2 new college scholarships … The Past Chairman’s Scholarship and The Christopher J Gardner Memorial Scholarship for students.
  • Ken Hooper discussed:
    • Speed of change is accelerating.  Much due to electronics / digitalization
    • Highlighted actions needed to make the PowerPact thrive:
      • Change perspectives
      • Change behaviors
      • Work together

With key elements being sales enablement (ease of doing business), contracts and compensation and C-suite engagement as elements to power success.  The goal is to focus on the sales process and sales operations while identifying measurable goals and actions.  He also mentioned that they have seen that manufacturers who have C-suite engagement generate a 50% increase in growth over 3 years.

  • Introduced a PowerIndex to rate a manufacturer / rep relationship to help the parties understand each others’ needs.

The first annual award recipients were announced:

  • PowerPact Partnership of the Year Award which recognized strategic planning and mutual investment went to Synergy Electrical Sales and Lutron.
  • Manufacturer Choice Award recognized an agency for customer service, technology, marketing resources, training and performance. This award went to United Electrical Sales.
  • The Rep Choice Award recognized the manufacturer who best epitomizes attributes in the PowerPact. This went to Arlington Industries.

A very productive meeting as NEMRA powers forward to support its members.

If you attended, what did you think / hear?



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