Reps and manufacturers looking for new insight into the roles they play with the industry's major buying/marketing groups or an education on how Harley-Davidson emerged from the brink of bankruptcy were not disappointed at NEMRA's annual conference on March 15 in Washington, D.C.

The presentations by the buying/marketing groups were sponsored by the NEMRA Manufacturers Group (NMG). Representatives from each of the buying/marketing groups focused on how reps can work together most effectively with electrical distributors to implement their various marketing programs.

The Sales Power program is offered by the 10-year old Electrical Distributors Network (EDN), Concord, Ohio. EDN's members have 793 locations throughout the United States and combined annual sales of $3.1 billion. Sales Power strengthens EDN-member relationships with reps by encouraging participation in a variety of marketing activities, said Ted Havel, EDN's director of marketing.

This program offers incentives for electrical distributors to get involved with direct mail, co-op advertising, counter days, employee training, end-user joint sales calls and vendor factory tours. Electrical distributors can earn $100 for participation in each activity. To be eligible for the $100, reps must sign off on the distributor's participation.

The IMARK Group, Oxon Hill, Md., prides itself on the relationships it has established with reps over the years and the active role its rep advisory board plays in developing marketing activities.

“Independent electrical representatives are crucial to the success of the electrical distribution channel,” says Steve Cunningham, IMARK president. “Likewise, reps are important ingredients to the success of IMARK programs. NEMRA reps are among the key beneficiaries of IMARK programs.”

IMARK's rep advisory council has 10 members, including Hank Bergson, NEMRA's president. “Regular agenda topics for the rep council are IMARK's mission update, supplier selection and evaluation matters, marketing programs and the effectiveness of field activities,” said Cunningham.

Steve Ruane, IMARK vice president of marketing, emphasized that any programs requiring rep involvement must have the rep's initials. He advised reps to “never sign a ‘blank check.’”

“Be sure that the activity has been completed and the distributor has participated, ” he said.

Cunningham said IMARK, a member-owned group made up of 180 electrical distributors with 1,000 locations had 2002 sales of $6.2 billion. “IMARK members outperformed the market, other groups and chains for the vast majority of IMARK suppliers for 2002.”

Chris Hartmann, president, Affiliated Distributor (A-D), King of Prussia, Pa., said a major mandate at A-D right now is to fine-tune its marketing efforts. The buying/marketing group now has an affiliate task force studying its various marketing programs.

Bob Snyder, executive director, Equity Electrical Associates, East Walpole, Mass., said his marketing/buying group, which has seen membership increase 45 percent to 260 members since 1999, relies heavily on independent manufacturers' reps to push its marketing programs.

“Without the reps' involvement, it's not going to happen, it's as simple as that, ” he said.

Snyder, who sold through independent manufacturers' reps during his 25-year career with Carol Cable, said independent manufacturers' reps are instrumental in supporting Equity's Market Power program, which offers electrical distributors opportunities to earn points toward customized marketing campaigns professionally developed by Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA), Princeton Junction, N.J.

CMA is a full-service advertising/public relations agency that custom publishes the Equity Advocate magazine and other publications and marketing materials for Equity.

Marketing also played a key role in the rebirth of Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee, which almost went Chapter 11 in the 1980s, but today has long lines of customers waiting for the opportunity to shell out $20,000 for one of its new V-Rod liquid-cooled motorcycles.

Ken Schmidt, former Harley-Davidson communications director, said Harley-Davidson's strategy of getting back in touch with customers is one any business can successfully employ. Two of the most successful elements in Harley-Davidson's rebirth were the implementation of “test rides” of Harley-Davidson motorcycles for potential customers at motorcycle rallies, the launch of riding clubs sponsored by its local dealerships, and the complete renovation of many dealerships with the slickest of retail merchandising and promotional display strategies.