Family Rep Agencies: It’s all about the Evolution

Marc Laplante


Marc Laplante

By Marc Laplante

I didn’t wake up one day and go, “I want to work for my dad!” Actually, it was just the opposite. It was more like, “Are you kidding me? No way, aint gonna happen,” but it did. And so it goes with a lot of people in the rep agency business.

I didn’t have a lot to go by when I started digging into the proportion of rep agencies in Canada that were family businesses, other than personal knowledge, but I knew one guy that would know about it in the U.S. Ken Hopper. The president of NEMRA down in the US. He would know for sure. Well… he didn’t.

They never did a survey, he said, but out of the three states that he looked at, 50% of them were family businesses that still had a family member involved.

Just by going through the CEMRA membership list I found about a half dozen or so that are, and I’m sure there are others. That being said, I come back to my starting sentence: I didn’t wake up one day saying, “I want to work for my dad,” but like my brother before me, my dad suckered me into it. I still hold a grudge against my brother for not warning me. I seriously think it’s genetic. Or if not genetic, it’s “evolutionary.”

A lot of family agencies were started by men at their kitchen table with the rotary phone jammed between their shrugged shoulder and one ear, a pen in one hand, and in my dad’s case a cigarette in the other. As a boy growing up, that’s what I remember and It wasn’t until my dad got a business partner that they finally got an office. So I call it evolutionary because as we grew up in it we “evolved” into the business, by osmosis, by being around it constantly, by hearing conversations and customers’ names, and company product numbers. It just becomes part of what you know, without ever knowing you know.

I was finishing up my BSc in Biology at Bishops University when I told my father, “I’m going to do what I like in life, Dad.” To which my father shot back, without ever looking back or breaking stride, “Oh yeah? Well son, I’ll tell you one thing, you’re going to learn to like what you do in life,” and so it was.

That summer my father had an employee leave, and he needed someone in customer service at the office and he asked me if I could help out… temporarily, of course. He knew that I was familiar with all the customers, the companies, and most of the products. With some training and amazing help from the other people in the office, it just felt natural. Same as it did for my brother, and I would suspect that it is the same with most of the other people who are in family agencies. You don’t grow up thinking that you will go work in the family agency, but when you do, you know it’s where you belong.

The roots run deep. They need to, because working with family members isn’t like working with anyone else. Family businesses are rarely a 9 to 5 job. You don’t turn off the switch or punch out. Work comes back with you. Work comes up at family diners, birthdays and, yes, even funerals. The switch rarely goes off. I guess that not all family businesses are the same, but my colleagues who own and run other family agencies describe very similar scenarios at their offices.

My nephew is now in the business and doing very well for us and himself. You cant fight evolution.

Marc Laplante is Chair of CEMRA and Principal at Laplante and Associates. Based in Longueuil, PQ, The company represents product lines in Quebec and the Ottawa Valley for the electrical, mechanical, commercial, industrial and original equipment manufacturing markets. Find out more:

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