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Trade Centers, Guide Help East Meet West


Question: For the last 10 years, I've owned two companies: a uniform manufacturing firm and an industrial safety products retailer. I am always adding new safety and hardware products, and I'd like to know how I can become an exclusive agent for American manufacturers wishing to reach the Malaysian and Singapore markets with their products. Is there anything I can do when I'm in Los Angeles for an exhibition in June?

--Tarmuzi Salleh,

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Answer: Regarding the establishing of contacts with American firms for foreign representation, I would suggest that you take a look at the Thomas Manufacturers Guide (, which is the most comprehensive list of U.S. domestic manufacturers available. Identify some of the manufacturers you might like to represent and begin contacting them with information about yourself, your companies and your contacts in Singapore and Malaysia.

I also suggest that, while you are visiting Los Angeles, you make appointments with the Export Small Business Development Center in El Segundo, (310) 606-0166, and the Center for International Trade Development (310) 381-0577. Both provide free advice and should be available to meet with you, provided you contact them in advance.

You may want to check with the convention centers in Greater Los Angeles and ask whether they will be hosting any trade shows that cater to the safety and hardware industries. They can advise you up to several years in advance of major trade show dates and details.

--Ken Keller,

Keller & Associates, small-business consultants, Valencia

Pros and Cons of Hiring Merchandise Broker

Q: Can you explain what a "merchandise broker" does? From a manufacturer's standpoint, what are the pros and cons of using a merchandise broker?

--A.J., Altadena


A: A merchandise broker, also called a "manufacturer's rep," is an independent sales agent who works strictly on commission selling your products to retailers and wholesalers in your industry.

If your company is quite small, say $1 million to $3 million in revenue, you might try using an independent rep for a set period as an experiment. The benefit is that the rep gets paid only if he or she makes a sale. Getting greater exposure for your product line through a representative may significantly expand your sales volume and customer list.

If your company is a bit larger, you might be better served hiring a salesperson to work on your staff. The benefit to you is that this person would concentrate on your product line, whereas an independent rep typically carries many product lines and his or her focus is divided. With an in-house salesperson, you'll have more control and more say over how your company comes across, and you're more likely to form and nurture long-term relationships with your customers. The downside of having an in-house salesperson, of course, is that you must pay a base salary, plus commission, and provide this person with benefits. If you're very small, the cost may be prohibitive.

If you do decide to work with a manufacturer's rep, make sure you choose someone who is very familiar with your industry and has established contacts with accounts that you would like to sell. Check to make sure that they don't carry any competing lines and ask for references from some of the other manufacturers that they represent.

An important thing to remember, if you do use an outside rep, is to devote time to bringing them into your operation and training them on how you want your product represented to your accounts. Some reps sell on a part-time basis while they also hold other jobs. This is probably not what you'd want, because often the dedication to your product will be lacking.

Another consideration is where they will be selling. If you want to expand your sales outside the state but cannot afford travel costs for a salesperson, an independent rep with a territory outside California may be helpful.

--Bob Gregg,

senior management consultant,

California Manufacturing

Technology Center, Los Angeles

Words of Advice for Public Speaker

Q: I am a naturopathic physician who has been in practice for 17 years. I am writing a book on women's memory loss, but my real forte is lecturing about health and natural medicine. Where do I find paid speaking engagements? When I call speakers bureaus, they want authors and well-recognized names.

--Elisa S. Lottor, Santa Barbara


A: Speakers bureaus find speakers for associations, corporations and colleges. Ask yourself whether your subject is one for which those three groups would be willing to pay. Many hospitals have free seminars on health-related topics to promote their services, so this subject can be a difficult "sell" for a bureau because their clients can easily find speakers who will address their meetings or seminars for free. If you are having trouble getting paid for this subject, so will a speakers bureau.

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