With its goal of offering manufacturers a national sales and marketing organization through an alliance of 30 independent manufacturers' reps, the Market System Solutions (MSS) group has raised concerns from competing rep firms.

“MSS offers manufacturers a fully structured sales organization that covers every state and major location in the United States, as well as all of Canada, and also offers regional and national sales management,” said Dennis Tulimieri Sr., MSS chairman and principal of Tulimieri Associates Inc., Glastonbury, Conn. “A manufacturer looking to find reps no longer has to search for years, adding one at a time until they find the right mix.”

Over the past month, MSS has begun aggressively marketing itself as a national or regional solution to manufacturers who either already sell through independent reps, currently have a factory sales force or are new to the electrical industry. The group recently had Landisi Electrical Consultants, Celebration, Fla., develop a Web site at www.mssgroup.org and produce a brochure that outlines the group's goals and capabilities.MSS has also contracted with Lynda Healy, former publisher of TED magazine, to help direct its business development.

Tulimieri said if an MSS member already represents a product line that would conflict with the line of a manufacturer MSS is courting, the group will rely on “tiers” of other reps in each of its markets to take on that particular product line.

The concept of a group of reps banding together independent of any national trade organization to present a national front isn't new. Dick Noel, founder of the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Tarrytown, N.Y., discussed the concept with some reps in the late-1940s, but the talks did not get past the idea stage. Others have considered this concept since then.

Today, some reps who compete with MSS members are concerned that MSS will have an unusual amount of clout in securing new product lines because many of the MSS members are large well-known rep firms, and because several MSS members are past NEMRA chairmen. Other reps believe the group's plans to offer manufacturers a distinct national marketing organization conflicts with NEMRA's role in convincing more manufacturers to use independent manufacturers reps.

MSS members first got together through the merger of two networking groups that had been meeting over the past few years to share best practices and establish business benchmarks. Many NEMRA reps are members of at least seven different networking groups. Although these groups differ in the marketing style and end-user focus of the members, Hank Bergson, NEMRA's president, said these groups all share a desire to give noncompeting reps the opportunity to share best practices.

What makes the MSS group so different from the other networking groups, said Bergson, is its desire to attract new manufacturers' lines for its members, and the specific criteria that it asks its members to meet. For instance, MSS members must all be NEMRA members, attain Certified Professional Manufacturers Rep (CPMR) certification, pursue ISO certification and have a sales and marketing system in place. The group also offers manufacturers a network of national warehouses and e-business capabilities.

Bergson said MSS and NEMRA both have the common goal of getting more manufacturers to use independent manufacturers' reps, and to “create positive rep experiences.”

“While you are trying to convert a manufacturer from direct to rep, we need to make sure that we do it right,” he said. “You don't want confused manufacturers. We don't have any problem with a group that wants to differentiate themselves and wave their flag higher. We want to make sure that it doesn't set up a scenario that's counterproductive or runs into a negative series of experiences.”

Bergson added that the relationship between NEMRA and MSS may turn out to be similar in some ways to how the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), St. Louis, coexists with buying/marketing groups, in that NAED members look to the association for some services and to the buying/marketing groups for others.

Tulimieri sees MSS and NEMRA having distinctly different roles. “NEMRA certainly has the role to promote the function of a manufacturers' rep, and it does an expert job at that. When we run into manufacturers that want to learn more about representation, such as the function of a rep or what a good contract looks like, part of our process is to bring in NEMRA. As an association, that's an appropriate thing for NEMRA to work on. All our members will do everything they can do to promote and support NEMRA.”