Manufacturers' agents are independent contractors who work on commission for more than one company. Most manufacturers who have turned to agents in recent years have done so after first working with a salaried sales force of their own. Companies switch for a variety of reasons, but often because they want to trim sales costs and fixed overhead. Start-up companies with little knowledge of what to expect from different territories, and with no sales benchmarks, also use agents rather than establish their own sales force. Ideally, the manufacturer's agent will represent other manufacturers' products which are compatible, but not competitive, with the company's own products. Experienced agents will be able to provide information on what to expect in various territories, when and how to advertise, and what a competitor's efforts are likely to be. Sales agencies are paid commissions only when they make a sale.

The source of first resort for manufacturers in search of a sales agent or independent contractor is the Directory of Manufacturers' Sales Agencies, the membership directory of the Manufacturers' Agents National Association. This reference of 9,000 member agents and agencies is organized in three sections: alphabetically by agency name, by state, and by product classification. Profiles of the agencies include the kinds of products sold, sales territories, names of key officials, warehousing facilities, size of sales staff, and location of branch offices.

For further information, contact the Manufacturers' Agents National Association at P.O. Box 3467, Laguna Hills, CA 92654. Telephone (714) 859-4040. The association publishes the monthly Agency Sales Magazine, along with numerous special reports on making the agency decision, finding the right agent, negotiating the agreement and more.