PCB Reps Are Back!

After years of avoiding representing PCB shops, the reps are back looking for a good company, or two, to represent. There are a couple reasons for this. One is the onshoring of the market due to the pandemic and the tariffs. The other is that they feel – and several have told me this – that the fabricators are being better run and have become far less of a hassle to represent.

One long-time sales rep who had left the PCB business fifteen years ago told me, “Look, when China came along, we just could not compete, then there was always a problem with the service, the shops were always late, and the quality was not that good. We spent more time apologizing than we did selling, it was just too much of a challenge for us at that time.”

But now, that same person is talking to me, seeking my advice about which are the best PCB companies to represent. I use the word “companies”, because unlike years ago, PCB reps are looking for an entire portfolio of PCB fabricators: they want a quick-turn house, a production house, a flex and rigid flex house, a defense aerospace certified PCB provider and yes, they even want to cap that off with an  offshore vendor for mega-volumes.

My business associate Keith Robbins, and I are in the rep business, we find, sign, and manage reps as part of our business model. Full disclosure here, Keith is the real expert when it comes to the finding and managing the right reps for PCB  companies. He has a very successful track record of finding just the right reps for the companies we work for.

One of the tips Keith has for companies looking for reps, is to make sure the reps have what he calls “equity” in the accounts that the company wants to do business with. It’s an ingenious process actually, and the best part is that it works. It certainly takes much longer, and the process is more tedious, but in the end the companies he works for end up with the right reps calling on the right accounts.

When Keith signs up with a company, he spends a lot of time with them asking questions. This is an exercise he does not take lightly. He has told me that the better and more precise a company is about  the type of business they want to have, right down to the exact accounts they want to add to their customer list, the better the  job he will do.

As he often says, “if the principals have no idea what business they are in or what market they are in and even what companies they want to sell to, well then how can they possibly expect their reps, especially new ones to know that?”

Of course, he’s right. We have received many calls over the years, from frustrated PCB fabricators complaining that they have eight or ten reps and “none of them are any good”. They whine that their reps are not bringing in the right customers and  that the reps don’t even know what kind of business their company specializes in!

Well folks, what we have here in  those famous words spoken by Strother Martin, “is a failure to communicate.” It always means that the powers that be at the PCB fabricators have failed to communicate, they have failed to tell their reps what business they are truly in, and what their ideal customer should look like. How can you send somebody off hunting if you don’t tell them what they are hunting?

What Keith does is pretty straightforward. He finds out what the fabricators want for customers and then he finds reps who know those right customers; and can get them opportunities with those right customers.

It doesn’t seem that complicated does it? But for some reason no one does it this way. Most people just shotgun the way they look for  reps and then when they finally find one who will agree to work with them, they are so relieved that they think their problems are solved, at least in that territory, when in reality their work is just beginning.

Keith’s method of finding reps is not complicated, but at the same time it is not easy either. It is very hard work to find the right reps, for the right principals, who will bring them the right customers. It is painstaking work; it is time consuming and tedious work. The effort to find those right sales reps takes a lot of time and a lot of research, but in the end, it is an effort that always pays off. It is a classic case of the old adage, anything worth doing is worth doing right.

So, as we enter this new age of good reps looking for good PCB companies to represent, I would urge you to take some sound advice from my associate Keith and take your time to find the right reps, the ones who have equity with the companies you want to do business with. It’s only common sense.