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View from the Top: Bob Brennan, Reflex Marketing

Bob Brennan, founder of Reflex Marketing, reflects on the long-running rep firm’s history; why the dealer, manufacturer and rep firm have to be equals; and the value of training.

Independent rep firms tend to come and go. Some stick around for a while longer and develop good reputations, and then there’s the relative handful that become cornerstones of the industry in their territories. Reflex Marketing, founded more than 35 years ago by Bob Brennan, is one of the latter companies. Reflex reps a variety of musical instrument and professional audio brands throughout the greater New York metro, New Jersey and Pennsylvania territories.

“I had a background working in management positions with different companies in our industry and I decided to start my own company,” said Brennan. “Reflex has survived for 35 years as a rep company where many others haven’t, and we believe one of the main reasons for this is that we are good at conflict resolution—we don’t take sides with either the dealer or the manufacturer. Instead, we work on logical solutions for a win-win scenario for all. We partner with our customers instead of being people who just try to get orders.”

Knowing what is needed by all the entities involved—the dealer, the manufacturer and his own company—may have served Brennan well over the years, but that insight is informed by his own early years as an MI retailer: “I started my career in the early 1970s, owning a retail music store, which gave me a good understanding as an independent rep of all aspects of the relationships in the industry—from the independent rep, to the person on the retail floor, to sales management—over the course of my career. I know all the parts of the puzzle, and a guiding principle at Reflex Marketing is that everyone involved is just as important as everyone else. We don’t just meet with the buyers; we go into the stores and into the territories and reach out to everyone.”

That extra effort in building relationships hasn’t just resulted in sales—it has demonstrably extended the life of Reflex Marketing because it led to Doug Nestler becoming the rep firm’s new owner. “Doug says that he remembers in the early days that I was the only rep he knew who always talked to everyone in the store, everyone involved in the organization,” Brennan recalled. “Now Doug has become the owner of Reflex Marketing. He has an extensive background in our industry and has held positions including vice president at Korg and vice president of marketing at American Musical Supply. He has a deep knowledge of the changing technologies in our industry, as well as deep relationships. We have known each other for many years, and I will continue to work with him as sales manager for Reflex.”

Other members of the Reflex Marketing team include Angelo Arimborgo, who joined the company about four years ago to handle the MI side of the business; Jon Coccaro, recently brought on to head up the company’s contract marketing division; Alena Nestler, who is joining Reflex as full-time office manager; and various personnel who do on-site training at dealers.

If the addition of new personnel sounds like Reflex is expanding, that’s because it is. “Our business has grown over the last 35 years and we have really seen a large increase, especially in the last five years, in both the MI and pro audio sides of the business,” said Brennan. “Today our biggest markets are commercial sound, installations, pro audio-type stores, DJs and internet-based businesses.”

Related: View from the Top, Dom Harter, Managing Director, Martin Audio, by Clive Young, Aug. 28, 2018

Brennan notes that “the MI brick-and-mortar stores are a big part of who we are,” but also readily admits that working with internet retailers comes part and parcel with the modern economy: “In our business today, it is very important to be able to adapt to the world we live in based on the volume of business generated by the internet.”

Anyone can start a business relationship, but for Brennan, the key to maintaining and building that connection over sometimes decades has been to ensure that “the manufacturer, dealer and rep are treated equally in all situations. We are deeply committed to the relationships we have with our vendors and dealers, and we believe in mutual respect for everyone. I believe in the triangle concept in business, which is that all parts have to be equal.” It’s such a tenet of Reflex Marketing, in fact, that the company’s logo is based on a triangle for that reason.

Another aspect of maintaining a business relationship is being there—not merely being reliable, but being an active part of the other’s business. “At Reflex, we believe in A to Z marketing,” said Brennan. “When you win business from a client, it is very important to be involved in every aspect of the business—and I am. While I’m involved, I don’t micromanage; instead, I employ people for various positions who are smarter than me in their given specialties. We get the right commitment for everyone to make sure that the business runs smoothly.”

Much of that commitment comes from proving you have others’ best interests at heart. “Today, many feel the strength of a rep firm is its ability to sell,” said Brennan. “We also spend time educating our clients so they are comfortable [with what we are proposing]. We engage our accounts as partners and we are committed to supporting our customers. We always think of them as strategic partners and we never want to favor only the dealer; we want to favor everyone.

“For instance, there have been many times in my career when I’ve told a client not to buy something because I believe in honesty, and that is how we have become partners with our customers. You must be involved. Manufacturers also have to see that their rep firms are involved deeply.”

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That ideology will continue to be a part of Reflex as it heads forward under Doug Nestler’s leadership. Ever-changing with the time, Brennan sees new approaches he’ll explore as sales manager: “As we move into the future, we will continue to concentrate much more on social media, as well as internal and external organization, resource management techniques, and on-site training and support for dealers. We’ve spent a great deal of time educating dealers about the products that we represent, and we strive to keep everyone informed. We put a lot of emphasis on that part of the relationship.”

Just as Reflex aims for clients and partners to believe in it, Reflex likewise believes in the manufacturers it reps, said Brennan, and given his company’s longevity, that’s been an interesting ride all its own. “We have big lines and small lines, and some of our biggest lines are companies that started as small businesses and we believed they would grow. Reflex has been very successful at doing that.”

Reflex Marketing •