Guest Column: It’s Time
Several years ago, as high-end home theater was hitting its first major stride, Sam Runco related to us representatives that a key reason for high-end home theater's success was due to "what we learned from our parents" in that, "our parents worked tirelessly (often more than one job), sacrificed for us and thought of nothing but us; and, what we learned from this is that we too should think about nothing but us."
About four years ago, while attending an Editorial Advisory Board meeting for CustomRetailer, I commented that the next few years would be unique because ours would be the first generation in history sharing the same workspace with our children. In generations before, sharing the same home together with parents and grandparents was not all that uncommon, but never was it together in the same workspace.
We're now seeing the terms "old school" and "new school" gaining ground with trade press, and while we know the concept of "wisdom" does not carry the same weight it did many years ago, what seems more descriptive—and optimistic—is coining this thought as "experienced" vs. "new ideas" schools. Some members of the experienced school have had less than admirable views of how the new-ideas school doesn't see things the same. That is both true and deserving of collaborative discussion. While the experienced school can say they've created a new industry, they can't suggest they're handing a perfect "baby" to the new-ideas school, without need of any improvement or nurturing.
The IPRO Philosphy
About 22 years ago Ray Wright became the first president of IPRO (Independent Professional Representatives Organization); and, about 11 years ago, many of us sought to re-format IPRO into a home for ideas and solutions for our industry. Part of those new efforts sought to provide:
1. Tangible evidence of the eternal need for demand creation—vs. merely fulfillment—for new products, and
2. Empirical evidence debunking the idea that representatives are too expensive.
Part of this effort was spawned because most of the former leadership left IPRO to create AVAD, thus causing the market to wonder what was going on. Despite all of this, many today have forgotten that the idea and implementation of this just-in-time distribution for the custom market—and, other key ideas—came from members of the representative community.
In the last five years IPRO has grown significantly, creating a separate charter (with its own bylaws and leadership) for manufacturers with the IPRO-MG. In the last two years, the new Commercial Division for reps from the commercial and Pro AV community was added, with Ron DeVoe as the Associate Director. Our conferences continually provide new avenues for discussing the challenges and goals for our industry; including press and associations—such as CEDIA, CEA and ERA—in attendance.
IPRO has talked about (and mailed scores of) a book with empirical research from the INSEAD, Wharton Alliance, showing that when CFO's properly attribute administrative and other costs with direct sales expenses, a rep firm is never—regardless of manufacturer size—more expensive than a direct sales force. We will always agree that it is entirely within a manufacturer's prerogative to utilize outsourced vs. direct sales (or anything else) as a go-to-market strategy. However, when we see it reported without contention or further comment that a manufacturer has cut a rep force "because of costs," clearly, our work is not done.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
This message is a request for everyone to join the discussion; even a call to arms. There needs to be frank dialogue regarding the challenges our market faces. The new-ideas school does have new perspectives that can utilize the trial-by-fire vetting the experienced school can offer. It is time to caution any who discount the ideas from the rep community, or anyone else. Too much evidence exists of the rep community and many others' valuable contribution in the past. As Wright so aptly put it: "Everyone has heard that there is a difficult economy out there, and it's not all the sales representatives' fault."
Discounting market partners, differences of opinion on this will continue. However, rational optimism exists. David Keller, SVP of Panamax, EVP of Furman and IPRO-MG Co-Chair), through his company, is encouraging his representative firms by implementing a sales bonus program that is contributing to their attendance at the IPRO Conference. And Wright just reported from Washington D.C. that the new CEA Retailers Council was met with more manufacturers asking him about joining the IPRO-MG and others relating how they are implementing ideas received at last year's IPRO Conference. Wright and Ron DeVoe attended InfoComm together and provided a meeting place for commercial reps that met with huge success. So, not only are any rumors of representatives' death greatly exaggerated; so too are they misinformed.
In my company, we are embarking upon a campaign of mending fences with relationships where there were disagreements in recent years, attempting to begin a new day and build business opportunities together. While the economy and the demise of the housing boom created its own challenges, it is evident that whatever was once dominant is not necessarily permanent. All parties deserve equal voice; and, discounting any voice puts us all at risk by potentially missing an important point. Also, it isn't wise for long-term success. New ideas, formats and technologies present the constant reminder that the time to pool our collective intelligence is today…and not a day longer. CR
Andrew Ard is an industry veteran with over 20 years’ experience serving in marketing roles for key CEDIA manufacturers and service organizations. He is also a member of the CEDIA Advisory Board, former CEDIA and IPRO Board Member. Andrew is currently serving as director of marketing and outreach for Dallas Sight and Sound, a founding design-build system integration company and member of CEDIA, specializing in high-performance, easy-to-use systems that have been delighting clients for over 30 years.