Platinum is the traditional 20th anniversary gift. Sure it's expensive, but when you look back over two decades, what better way to acknowledge the value of time spent together than affixing something of great value to it? That's why the 20th anniversary celebration last month of the landmark CPMR certification program offered by the Manufacturers' Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF), Arvada, Colo. is so important — and so valuable — to independent manufacturer' reps in different industries.

The Certified Professional Manufacturers Representative (CPMR) program is available for anyone providing outsourced sales functions to manufacturers, regardless of industry. It's a professional designation earned by an individual, not a firm. The program provides in-depth executive education for firm owners and managers. Participants invest one week annually for three years on campus at Arizona State University. Attendees gain knowledge and insight into operating a business more effectively and profitably. Included among the many subjects in the program's curriculum are:

  • Understanding the legal concerns of your firm

  • Line profitability analysis

  • Succession planning

During their three years in the CPMR program, reps create an international network of colleagues with a common body of knowledge and mutual ethical standards. Reaching beyond a single industry and across the profession, the CPMR designation identifies individuals committed to being on the leading edge of their profession.

The sheer number of reps who have participated in the program only tells part of the story of the program's success. Since its inception 20 years ago, 2,015 reps have graduated from the CPMR program. Of that number, 268 are members the of National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Tarrytown, N.Y. Currently, there are 205 reps enrolled in the program and another 100 are expected to begin in January. The real measure of the program's success, however, becomes clear after weighing the words of successful graduates.

Jim Amey, principal, Robert A. Amey, Inc., Portland, Oregon, achieved his CPMR designation in 1996 and currently has two more people enrolled in the third year of the program. Says Amey, “I see the benefits of the program everyday whether it comes to evaluating principals, time management, line profitability or just understanding the rep business better.”

One important lesson Amey learned during the three-year program is that “not everything is as beautiful as it looks.” “After you perform a business evaluation you may see an entirely different picture,” he says. “As a result, there are times when you have to change the way you approach your business. CPMR helps you do that, while providing you with an edge over the competition.”

Byron Brewer Jr., principal, Northeast Marketing Group, LLC, Wallingford, Conn., was a member of one of the early NEMRA groups to attend the CPMR program. Brewer often reviews the CPMR lessons he learned in profitability analysis and values the networking opportunities the courses provided. “I wouldn't hesitate to do it again,” he says, “Anytime you can obtain information relative to running your business that has some academic, real-world and networking benefits attached, definitely do it.”

Greg Reynolds, principal, Flynn & Reynolds Agency Inc., Tewksbury, Mass., learned about the program while attending a NEMRA Annual Conference. He says CPMR brought the performance level of his organization to a much higher level. “Once I heard about it, I gathered the information and was on my way,” he says. “What really piqued my interest was its emphasis on the need to constantly ‘sharpen our saws’ and stay on top of our businesses.

“The week you spend at the program is almost like going away for a business retreat. You put your business aside and look at it from a level of 5,000 feet. You consider business problems objectively and learn how to solve them. In the face of a challenging economy such as we have today, there is no better way to survive and thrive than by using the tools CPMR provides.”

Bill Devereaux, principal, R/B Sales Corp., Marion, Iowa, said CPMR is probably the best learning experience he has had and that he learned more in CPMR courses about running a business than while pursuing two four-year college degrees. “I was just entering the business and starting my own ownership of the agency,” he says. “CPMR taught me how to look at the agency world from a profitability vantage point more than from just the sales function. CPMR also provided me with a network of people to call upon whenever I had a business decision to make. I've kept in touch with the reps I met at CPMR and I seek out others who have the CPMR letters after their names.”

Steve Gallagher, principal, Synergy Electrical Sales, Fairless Hills, Pa., was another NEMRA rep who graduated in one of the early CPMR classes. He loved every minute of the CPMR experience and still consults the information he learned in the course. “I still carry around the business card of one of the speakers who taught us how to listen effectively,” he says.

Susannah Hart, MRERF's executive director, says the CPMR program is evaluated annually and revised in response to marketplace changes. “The CPMR Education Committee observes sessions and considers student evaluations when updating the curriculum and teaching staff, she says. “During the course of the last 20 years, there have been many improvements in all of the subjects taught in CPMR. Recent changes to the curriculum brought classes in managing multiple generations, compensation packages, and services marketing to the program. Core sessions are continually improved to meet the changing needs of our participants.”

For more information on the CPMR program — and its 20th anniversary celebration, visit www.mrerf.org.