Interview: Three French Manufacturers Agents

These interviews demonstrate the vital importance of having a good representative in France. It goes without saying that the definition of “good” is that they have the necessary experience and a portfolio of the target clients. But, are we doing enough to make the most of our agent?

To try to shed a little light on the question, we interviewed three French agents who have been working with Spanish companies for many years. We wanted to know what impressions they had formed from working with these firms and what, in their opinion are the keys to making a success of the French market.

What is your general opinion of Spanish goods?

Mr P.R Agent construction industry: Goods products at competitive prices.

Mr S.B. Agent in the fashion industry: the quality of Spanish products is generally acceptable and, above all, of very distinctive design.

Mr D.B. Agent for FMCG: Spanish goods will generally be competitive, but often don’t comply with French standards.

What do you look for when evaluating a new principal?

Mr P.R: The company must commit to regular follow-up, a well structured support team and be aware of conditions in the target market.

Mr S.B: The company must back the agent at all times: give him adequate support in advertising, marketing and communication.

Mr D.B: The principal must demonstrate confidence in the agent from the outset. Another important factor is the need for adequate funding for the project, well structured back office and to have a basic knowledge of the market before making the first approach.

What do you value most in your relations with a company?

Mr P.R: Quite simply, a real collaboration. In other words, on-going communication, knowledge of the production processes proper follow-up and confidence. In addition, the company should have a budget for promotional activities.

Mr S.B: The quality of service, especially logistics. It’s not enough to have an “attractive” product. Pre and after-sales service is essential nowadays.

Mr D.B: One of the keys to success is an understanding of the financial implications of opening overseas consumer markets. A firm commitment to international expansion and total confidence in the agent.

Do you have a contract? What is the key clause?

Mr P.R: Yes. The paramount point is respect for the agent’s independence.

Mr S.B: Yes. In case of conflict the principal clause is that covering clients. Agents’ rights are still not sufficiently protected. Nevertheless, personally I do not afford excessive importance to the contract. The key to success is mutual confidence between the agent and the company. The moral aspect and that of honesty are essential. Unfortunately, that only becomes apparent in the long term.

Mr D.B: I only work with framework contracts. Personally the clause covering product standards is all-important when trying to break into new markets.

Would you like to add anything?

Mr P.R: In my particular field, it is often advisable for the company to establish some sort of presence in the market. This may imply a joint-venture or association with a French firm to ease market penetration and is something that should be given serious consideration.

Mr S.B: The companies should have a well-structured back office for market penetration and sufficient funds to finance the venture.

Mr D.B: The French market is more competitive than the Spanish one. Spanish companies should do their homework with respect to the French market in general and standards in particular before they even start to approach the market.