How to Work with Sales Reps to Grow Your Business

By Carolyn Edlund

Are you considering using a salesperson to represent your designs and product line to the marketplace?

 

How to Work with Sales Reps. Read about it at www.ArtsyShark.com

 

Hiring reps can be a great way to increase sales, as they usually have an established book of business, strong relationships with buyers, and the experience to show your line in the best possible light.

As a small company, you will work with “multi-line” reps, either as independents or working within a rep group. If a rep group accepts your line, you will get representation in a number of sales territories. The group manager will work with you on those parameters. Make sure the reps you want to work with have a group of complimentary product lines which will help them to “cross-sell” your work when they call on retailers.

A written agreement is very important, and will define the territory, policies involving samples, exclusivity, commissions, returns, and other factors. Providing your reps with samples, sales materials and excellent customer service is essential. Samples are often free to reps, however that will depend on your line. You should reasonably expect to receive samples back from reps if your relationship ends, unless they are lower-end products such as paper and greeting card lines which may get wear and tear or not be worth shipping back.

Reps normally work on “straight commission”, which is often 20% of the wholesale price of the orders. This will vary with the industry you are in, but it is very important that you know what the standard commissions are from your competitors. If you offer lower commissions, you risk getting inferior representation, or none at all.

Commissions can be payable either at the time that the order is shipped to the customer (“pay on ship”), or at the time the invoice is paid by the customer (“pay on pay”), and an agreement as to these terms should be agreed to and in writing at the time of hiring the rep.  Commissions normally are paid monthly. A commission statement including customer name, date shipped, amount of invoice (less shipping), and amount due is essential. Good reps keep their own records and know what commissions are due. It’s your job to be accurate and organized as well.

One of the best ways to lose a rep is to be late on paying their commissions. Reps have many out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel and office costs which can add up to be quite expensive. Because they usually make a living strictly on commissions, they will work hard for those companies who are fair and prompt with them. If a company runs late or underpays a rep, they will assuredly see orders drop as the rep has little incentive to show product when the manufacturer doesn’t seem trustworthy.

If you hire a rep to work in a territory, be very clear about any “house” accounts that you may have. For example, if you have a long-standing wholesale relationship with a museum gift shop, you can keep that house account for yourself and the rep should respect that. A list of house accounts should be given up front when the rep is hired. Any account which is opened (or dead account which is reactivated) by a rep should belong to them, and all commissions, whether submitted by the rep or called in by the customer, would be payable to the rep.

Sales reps know their accounts, and have a good feel for which ones should be given terms and which should prepay for orders. You have the right to set your own payment terms, but reps should be consulted for their knowledge about their customer’s behavior.

They can also give you great input about what customers want and what buyers are asking for. You must have new product releases – at least twice a year. Brochures, catalogs and samples are absolutely necessary to get orders on your product line. Some companies have abandoned paper catalogs, but many buyers do not like to use cd catalogs. Color sell sheets are great for introducing a new collection to add to your line.

Keeping clear lines of communication with your sales force is the best way to avoid problems and misunderstandings.  There are both very good sales reps out there and very bad ones as well. It can take some time to find the right people to represent your work. Good outside sales representation can take your business to the next level and help expose your products to new markets you would never reach otherwise.

 

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Comments

  1. great article!

  2. Dick Firestone says:

    Hi…Very well described. Did you own your own agency or were you associated with and Agency?

    There are too many “novice” consultants in the matket place giving improper information.

    Yours was well done.

    Dick Firestone
    [email protected]
    Los Angeles, Ca.

  3. Thank you both for your comments.

    Dick, I was an outside rep for eight years, for art publishers and paper lines such as cards, calendars, stationery, etc. I have learned that if you have the right combination of product line and sales rep, it can be a goldmine. Sounds like you are in the business as well.

  4. Dick Firestone says:

    Hi again,
    Yes, I was in the businesss for 35 years (1970-2005 ) retired in 2005.I had 4 different divisions of Reps…2 divisonsof gift/Stationery/Greeting Cards/Gift wrap etc.. A few of those lines were Andrews and McMeil Cards/Calendars…Stepen Lawrence GiftWrap when they were the top wrap line, Sandy Lion Stickers, , Westland Gifts, , Michael and Company. ( classic winnie the pooh products)
    My other 2 divions were Decorative Accessories
    Etc …at our peak I had approx 70 road Reps working for me ( Ind. Contractors)

    A lot of the above companies I represented for 20 yearsmany for 10 years etc.

    My Company name was Firestone Associates, Inc..We covered Northern and Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. Showrooms, Conv. Center Space

    Loved the business….still doing a bit of Consulting for various companies in our Industry.

    Where are you located??? are you primarily ” street sales” or showroom/conv. ctr. Would love to know a little bit about your organization.

    Again, your description is one of the best that I have seen….congradulation on your absorption of our industry needs .

    Dick Firestone,
    [email protected]

  5. Dick, your group carried lines which I competed with (my territory was Mid-Atlantic). I repped for Portal, New York Graphic Society, Jillson & Roberts, Northern Exposure, Persimmon, Brushdance, and many other alternative lines, for UltraSales (Al Froio from Atlanta runs it. He’s a total pro & great guy). It was lots of fun and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!

  6. nice post. thanks.

  7. How does someone find a rep to sell high end original sculptures, stone carvings

  8. Anyone with one-of-a-kind products would not be able to work with an outside rep, because they sell “production items”. If you make items which can be duplicated hundreds of times, and you do this already to do business, you could have reps. For example, jewelry artists quite frequently have reps.

  9. This is a good article. I came across it via the Linked In Creative Women group. (I always like to know how people who send me comments found me…) Anyway, do you know of any reps that specialize in custom development for speciality stores. Sites like Zazzle offer inventory free manufacturing and unlimited potential for completely customized products. As an artist I would like to develop exclusive products lines and set customers up so they order as they need to directly through my storefront onto Zazzle or Cafe Press. Problem is trying to connect with the store owners. I am especially interested in pet stores becuase I have lots of dog related intellectual property from a project I did last year.
    Any advice you can give me would be much appreciated. Thanks

    • Janice, Good question. I think Print on Demand sites like Zazzle do offer a lot of value for artists in certain situations. However, your costs are much higher than they would be by ordering production runs of your work on retail products that you would hold in inventory. Considering your rep’s commissions, cost of production, etc., you may find that you cannot offer products, have them made by Zazzle and keep a decent profit margin. Do the math yourself, but I think you may be eating up your profits in excessive costs elsewhere.

  10. I have started a line of greeting cards – I have 35 designs, how do I find a rep?

    • Jane,
      This is a great question, and there are numerous ways. If you attend a show such as The Stationery Show, you may be able to meet reps there. Visit Giftware News website classifieds, and look for reps wanting lines. Check out Kate Harper’s blog at http://www.kateharperblog.blogspot.com and also Merle Hooker’s blog (she is a rep) at http://roadrageblog.livejournal.com/
      for more tips. Visit stores which would be appropriate for your work, and ask the owners who calls on them for paper lines. You may be able to connect with some reps, or ask them about their connections in the business.

    • Dick Firestone says:

      You have a relatively “short” line. I would suggest first that you put in place what it is that your looking for….limited product placement,or national coverage, or special markets,etc..Do you have inventory, displays, funding,etc. ok…now to your question. I would suggest that you go to a Trade Show such as Atlanta, or New York. great place to see agencies and their booths. Does their “product mix” work well with the direction of your line???? If you would like to contact me I will be happy to discuss an approach that you may take to get your “line” kicked-off.. Good luck, Dick.. [email protected]

  11. DickFirestone says:

    In reference to finding reps that “understand”
    your product line, trade shows are always a great way to find reps…through either their own booths or meeting people in the same business\ and learn to network . I do not agree that that you ask a local Rep or local store for recommendation for Reps that cover area’s 1,000 miles away. Either they would have no knowledge or they will give you a “friends name”….beware of “friends names”. One of the quickest way to find ” “Qualified Rep.Agency’s” who call on accounts , ( also the most expensive way, is to travel to the main Trade show’s. ( N.Y, Atlanta, L.A. )…However, in the long run, the best way would be to find a QUALIFIED Consultant. They can be hired for specific purposes ( locating quality Agencies across the country) or they can be hired to work on a marketing plan specifically tailored to your company and everything in between.Their cost vary, but in the long run they are probably the fastest and least expensive way to get your company on the fast path to success.

  12. I have been speaking to various reps around the US who tell me that, for the most part, the “trend” card & gift business is virtually dead because so few independent stores are still in business, which leaves only mass & chain stores, which tend to avoid trendy items. Do you agree with this assessment?

    • Alan, I do agree that many independents have closed, and that’s unfortunate. The trend market (and my main experience with it has been trend posters) is risky because retailers do not want to get stuck with any product that doesn’t move. It’s my understanding that buyers are placing orders very close to time of need, are more conservative with the size of orders and are slower pay, which can delay getting product into the stores and reduce their profits from trend items. Chains do play an increasingly large part, particularly in the southwest and other parts of the US. However, you have the opportunity to bypass the brick and mortar with online sales – is that something that you do or have considered?

  13. Brilliant to have run across your blog!! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience!

  14. Great article. Could you give advice on how to find sales reps for high end sculptures.

    • Robin, I have an article coming up from the quintessential sales rep, Meryl Hooker, who has a recent book out about getting representation. Visit http://www.centeraislegroup.com for more information. This book is mainly for producers of paper lines, but Meryl has many contacts and may be able to help you.

  15. Great article, Thanks. I have a small stencil line that I launched last year. It has been doing very well locally but I would love to broaden the market. I am not sure how to locate reps that would be a good match any ideas.

  16. Jan, Thank for your comment. Try checking Giftware News for ads (you can list or look for reps wanting lines), check http://www.mrpusa.com (a manufacturers rep site), or http://www.greatreps.com. Also try speaking with reps at trade shows, even put out the word on social media. If you know of anyone who reps lines but wouldn’t be a perfect match for you, ask for referrals to other rep groups. You could just Google rep groups and see what you find, too!

  17. great lead thanks so much some times its hard to know where to start!

  18. Thanks for the information. Is there a discussion site for artists that reviews different reps? A place to share information like a consumer report of sorts?

    • Kathryn, There is no website that I know of where artists discuss and review different reps. I’m sure that exhibitors at trade shows exchange information about who they have used for representation, and whether or not it was effective for them.
      By the way, I have published another article about finding reps, and recommended the Book “Pushing the Envelope” by Rob Fortier and Meryl Hooker. You can get your own copy on their website at http://www.centeraislegroup.com.

  19. Hi Carolyn,

    Great article!! Loved it when you initial published it!

    As an add-on to your info, I have written a mini website on Finding Sales Reps that may be of help to your readers: http://www.squidoo.com/where-to-find-sales-representatives-for-your-gift-products

    As a semi-retired sales rep AND a gourmet food producer myself, I understand the ins and outs of selling wholesale as a rep and through reps.

    I also have other resources on the subject at http://www.squidoo.com/selling-to-retailers

  20. bob roberts says:

    looking for sale reps for metal spinning

  21. Thanks for the great article on reps.
    My question is, after a rep approaches a retailer and gets an order, what is next step in the process? Does the rep put the order in to the retailer’s wholesaler and then that wholesaler orders from the artist?

    • Hi Tim, Thanks for the question. The sales rep writes the order, and sends it to the vendor (who is wholesaling), who fulfills and ships the order as requested by the retailer. The vendor pays the sales rep commission on the order after it is shipped.

      You referred to the wholesaler ordering from the artist – but the artist IS the wholesaler. There are three parties: the artist who is selling at wholesale prices, the sales representative, and the retail store owner who is the customer.

  22. Tarini Bafna says:

    Hi,
    I make handmade jewelry for kids and women and already sell it on Amazon and have team of artists ready to work with me when I get large orders and looking for sale rep group for my products… how do I find and contact them?
    Thanks ,
    Tarini Bafna

  23. Love all the questions and answers. I have a question, I am about to launch a limited edition print line and thought that after reading your blog, that I cold engage sales reps to do the legwork so to speak. The pieces will be approximately $150 wholesale, should I offer 10% or 20% or somewhere inbetween? With my printing costs there won’t be a huge margin for me. If I am looking for this kind of rep, am I looking under the arts or homewares and do you have any links you can possibly share? I stumbled across this website and love it. Wish I had found it years ago 🙂 Many thanks

    • Sue, I’m not sure what the going rate is for rep commission on prints, but may be 20%. You must protect your margin, so look at your materials and costs before you commit to hiring a rep and taking all the profit out of it.

      Reps are hard to find, and I don’t have any recommendations for you. Search for independent reps or rep groups that handle other lines that would be compatible and cross-sell well with you work.

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  1. […] Sales Reps. This is a powerful way to multiply your presence and exposure to wholesale buyers. Working with reps (if you have a mass-produced production line of products) can add a huge dimension to your marketing […]

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