Forty-Five Years as an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep: A Fun, Rewarding Career
This blog is a summary of Scott Lau’s experiences as president of Marcor Associates, Inc. It is shared so that aspiring reps as well as others in the independent manufacturers’ rep business can gain knowledge that will make them more successful.
With a desire to be an independent manufacturers’ representative for architectural construction materials, I founded Marcor Associates, Inc. in 1975. We have served three distinct customer groups: architects and engineers; general contractors, construction managers and subcontractors; and the manufacturers’ sales and marketing teams that support us. Our primary territory is the State of Virginia, excluding northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. For a few years, we also worked in North Carolina. For a key period of eight years, we worked in northern Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, and Delaware.
Before starting Marcor Associates, I worked for ten years for two large manufacturing companies. This experience, including learning from two important mentors, gave me a well-rounded business background that gave me the confidence to start my own business.
Marcor Associates’ history can be captured in five different time periods.
- 1975-1991 – We experienced rapid growth in sales volume and personnel, based primarily on the volume of one large roofing membrane manufacturer with complimentary sales volumes from numerous other manufacturers of roofing and exterior building products. We grew from a one-man shop to a staff of four sales reps and two sales support people. However, by the end of 1991, because of the demise of the one large roofing membrane manufacturer, we downsized our organization back to a part time sales rep, a support person, and myself.
- 1992-1997 – We experimented with diversifying into industrial products, representing manufacturers from other countries and providing marketing and sales services for a construction team made up of a general contractor and subcontractors. Although we had some success, the construction team broke up, and one of our major industrial manufacturers decided to change to a direct-hire sales force. Marcor downsized once more, back to a single-employee shop, but this one-person organization became possible because of the new technology developing at the time. Cell phones and the Internet began to impact all industries.
- 1997-2005 – A friend of mine, with whom I had worked with years earlier, became the sales manager for a new division of another major manufacturing company in the roofing industry. He asked me to join a team of other leading rep organizations throughout the country to launch and build this new division. This presented an exciting opportunity to rebuild Marcor, and we experienced growth for a number of years. However, in 2003, this division was dissolved. Marcor Associates flirted with bankruptcy!
- 2005-2013 – In 2005, Marcor Associates was awarded a sales territory for the largest insulated metal manufacture in the world that included our home Virginia market, northern Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, and Delaware. These were the first years that our sales territory included high population cities. High population cities in a any rep’s territory is a key component needed to build large sales volumes. Sales and commissions exploded, and all of the lessons learned during earlier years enabled Marcor to seize these opportunities with integrity, a determined work-ethic, and the sincere personal touch that have always been our driving force. Our reputation grew, and financial success followed.
- 2013-2020 – These have been my “slow down years.” I transitioned out of all my manufacturers’ agreements except for three. Two of these manufacturers are ones I represented from the early years of my career.
The success of any business begins with the culture at the top and the principles that guide decisions and growth. For Marcor Associates, these principles were:
- Maintain a positive mental attitude. In any business, there are always bumps on the road to success. No matter how bleak the future looks, never doubt your leadership ability and the capability of your people and the business to weather any storm. Some of the best opportunities arise in down markets.
- To borrow from Winston Churchill, Never, Never, Never, give up. Particularly in a small business, problems of all types often seem insurmountable. There is no problem that does not have a solution. A leader must encourage his organization to employ all the energy and manpower necessary to find the solution.
- Never Compromise Your Personal Integrity, which I learned from my father. There are never-ending opportunities to take advantage of customers and co-workers by taking shortcuts to move a business forward. Once anyone questions your integrity, you can never regain that person’s full confidence. It will slow or stop your success in its tracks.
- Respect Everyone. Treat customers, co-workers, and friends like you expect to be treated by them. Your business will grow and prosper.
- Maintain a Balanced Life. What is most important in life? God, country, family, and one’s personal life in that order. Earning a living to support your family is important but should not become all consuming. Living your faith, supporting your country, and building a strong, healthy family are more important than business accomplishments and require greater focus and time.
How Marcor Associates Became Successful
Marcor Associates began operations in Richmond, Virginia (where I had never lived previously). Because of good fortune, my father’s construction subcontracting company in Cleveland, Ohio decided to establish a division in Virginia.
To launch an independent manufacturers’ rep firm, at least one of three resources or a combination of these resources is required.
- Savings or another source of capital to cover salaries and expenses for at least one year
- A rep contract and relationships with at least one manufacture with existing volume in your territory
- A base of customers who will buy from you
Marcor Associates had a combination of capital and manufacturer relationships.
Prior to 1975, Virginia—specifically the geography south of the northern Virginia and Washington DC suburbs—was considered a relatively minor territory for construction material sales. Major manufacturers used reps headquartered in either Washington, D.C. or North Carolina to cover what would be Marcor’s territory. These manufacturers were anxious to finally have local representation within the territory. We attracted leading manufacturers in the construction industry. In the early years, most of them used only independent manufacturers’ reps. This was crucial to our long-term success.
To build sales quickly, we focused on building strong, long-lasting personal relationships with architects and engineers who specified products and with the roofing contractors, glass houses, and general contractors who were our end customers. We gained a reputation for honesty, technical capability, and timely responses to questions and service that most of these customers never had previously. We built customer loyalty, which we then used to attract more manufactures to expand the business.
During the last twenty-five years, Marcor Associates has been a one-man rep agency. Computer programs, Internet technology, and cell phone communications provided a platform to be successful in serving both my customers and manufacturers.
The “Slow Down Years”
In 2013, I was seventy-one years old. I still enjoyed my work, which I had been doing for almost forty years, but it was time to work at a slower pace to spend more time with family, volunteering, and hobbies. My customers still valued my service. My manufacturers wanted me to continue representing them as long as I wanted. I made arrangements with all but three of my manufacturers to help them transition to new reps, while at the same time earning commissions on the jobs that were in the order pipeline as well as those that were still in design.
Scott Lau Consulting, a division of Marcor Associates, Inc., was born during these years out of a desire to help new manufacturers’ rep organizations and to help manufacturers understand the advantages of working with independent reps. Additionally I wanted to share my marketing and sales expertise with manufacturers and rep organizations to help them grow their sales volumes.
A retirement plan is different for each individual and to a degree is governed by a person’s work environment, health, and financial well-being. I preferred to look at the latter part of my life as “slow-down” years instead of “retirement.” Continued socialization with a wide group business colleagues and customers was important to my long-term health. Since I could work at a pace that was appropriate and at the same time properly service my customers and manufacturers, continuing to work was the best plan for me. How much longer will I continue to work? There is no definite answer.
It has been a wonderful career. I could not have enjoyed these forty-five years without the help and support of my wife, Lois, who worked as an inside sales support administrator for many years and serves on the Board of Directors, as well as the associates that worked with me. I will always cherish the friendships I made with my customers, my manufacturers, and outstanding reps from around the country.
I have had the good fortune of being in control of my own destiny. I continue working well beyond normal retirement age, because I enjoy being with and serving my customers and manufacturers. It is still fun, and if you love something that you do and you’re helping others in some way by doing it, why shouldn’t you continue?