Feature Article - March/April 2014

The Golden Years

IMRA Celebrates More Than Half a Century of Service

By Rick Dandes

For more than 50 years, the Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance has played a key role in facilitating corporate access to global marketplaces, and that's never been more important than in today's recovering economic climate, where every purchase is scrutinized in the C-suite.

Launched in the early 1960s as the National Premium Manufacturers Representatives Association, the organization then, and now, has dedicated itself to strengthening the strategic relationship between manufacturers and their representatives, many of whom specialize in selling products to corporate customers. Not coincidentally, as today's use of merchandise as incentive rewards has increased, so too has IMRA's influence.

"IMRA, with 125 members, is stronger than ever, both financially and administratively," said IMRA President Kevin Dougherty, who is also director of special markets for the Seiko Corporation. "IMRA associates are the most knowledgeable extension of a manufacturer or supplier you can find. Every IMRA rep equips themselves with the tools and knowledge of brand-name merchandise, so that when they are communicating with customers they can speak intelligently, properly demonstrate product features and benefits, show their product in the best light, and correctly answer the toughest of questions proposed by those interested in buying merchandise.

"Every customer likes to speak directly with the manufacturer," Dougherty added, "but at Seiko, when I'm not available, I have the utmost confidence that my IMRA rep can properly solve the issues that arise day to day. If any problems occur, they know who to contact to resolve this immediately. Sometimes things get fixed that I had no idea were problems. And that's why their contributions are immeasurable."

This relationship allows executives like Dougherty time to focus on projects and opportunities that will help them sell even more merchandise. "All in all," Dougherty said, "manufacturers, suppliers and customers prefer to deal with IMRA reps because they know that all will get done right, making all our lives easier."

That's right, added Mike Landry, who serves on IMRA's executive committee and is also director of special markets for Tumi. "Our members know the ins and outs of this very nuanced, fairly complex channel. Reps in particular have day-to-day hands-on experience with their factories—some of the best brands on the American consumer landscape. Our customers' needs can be very quirky, and the reps' job is to know what can and cannot be done, how long it's going to take and find value deals for the customer."

The reps' value lies, at least partially, in knowing where the value plays are—many times they are the first to know about specials, discontinued items and overstock sales.