Feature Article - March/April 2010

Working With The Experts

A Closeup Look Inside IMRA

By Fred Jerant

IMRA, the Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance, has been around a long time—since 1963, in fact.

Originally called the National Premium Manufacturers Representatives (NPMR), the alliance was founded by a group of premium representatives who wanted to develop closer working relationships with manufacturers, and to develop "best practices" and other guidelines for working with representatives.

"The group also wanted to promote a sense of uniformity among manufacturers," recalled Joe Zanone, senior vice president of special markets for Movado Group Inc., and a past president/current conference chair of IMRA. "The goal was to encourage all of them to do business in the same way."

In 1977, NPMR became the Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance, and it's been the largest strategic industry group within the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) since 2002.

"Today, there are about 185 members in the group," said Tom Edgette, current IMRA president and vice president of Hoffman & Edgette Inc. in Ballston Spa, N.Y. "And its membership has stayed strong despite the rough economic times. I think it's because people really appreciate its value. Also, IMRA is kind of like an extended family. It can be a cutthroat business today, with everybody looking out for number one. But IMRA members are willing to help each other."

To illustrate, Edgette explained that if he were to find that he doesn't carry everything one of his customers needs, he'd have no problem with referring that customer to another rep in his own territory.

Over time, manufacturers and representatives alike realized that continuing to strengthen their relationships would help them serve their customers better. That was a key reason behind the development of the association's Annual Marketing Conference. And this year's meeting, in Scottsdale from March 7 to 10, 2010, marked the 40th anniversary of this national education and sales meeting event.

"It's always an outstanding conference," said Bill Martocci, IMRA board member and president of Carlisle Sales and Marketing in Oakdale, N.Y. "Factories and representatives get together and learn about new products, as well as what's slated to come out later. The conference also gives us an opportunity to discuss industry issues and other business issues. We often find out that situations affecting one of us are really affecting others, too."

"The Marketing Conference is a good educational experience," Zanone added. "The reps and manufacturers can attend sessions that are geared to each group's specific needs, but there are also presentations that are relevant to both. And that's a pretty unique situation."

But IMRA doesn't just benefit its members. Distributors and end users—in other words, you—can certainly profit from working with IMRA-affiliated reps and suppliers.

Even though it's a long-standing business axiom that you do better whenever you cut out the middleman, it makes a lot more sense—when you're searching for exactly the right incentive product—to deal with an IMRA manufacturer or representative.

Why? There are a lot of good reasons. Let's explore some of the best ones.