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Halt! Who Goes There? Friend or foe?

Dealing with a problematic sales representative

This is not a plan of action that I recommend, but I remember the sales representative that called on our store many years ago. While we needed to carry his line of products, it seemed that with every order we received there was some type of problem. Sometimes the order was not shipped complete, some orders had substitutions we had not approved or been asked about, others did not get the dating, or the credit for defective merchandise that was destroyed in the field. We even had an occasion where we had ordered several of an item which was individually boxed. The four we had ordered were shipped bundled together, but in transit the bundling broke and only one of the item - the one with the shipping label was delivered.

It was probably not their fault that the strapping broke, but the company and the sales representative were less than helpful in getting the problem resolved with the freight carrier.

Of course there was also the occasion where the merchandise arrived damaged. "We didn't ship it damaged. Call the freight company to complain. It is not our problem." Heard any or all of these situations before? Our measure of revenge was to write an order in which we had very complicated shipping instructions. We also wrote our own special dating for the order: Net 30X, ROG-EOM. The salesman paid no attention to the order as we signed it, but when the credit department from the manufacturer called looking for their check, we explained how it was not yet due because of their failure to ship complete and in part to the special terms we had created. "Those aren't our terms", was the response.

"Then your representative should have known better than to accept that order", was our follow up. The essence of this discussion was that as a buyer I wanted to make life as miserable for that sales representative and his company, as they had done for me. I do not remember how the issue was finally resolved, or if we ever got the manufacturer to "shape up".

It is however, a concern that every retailer has surely had to experience at one time or another. In deciding to become more demanding of the manufacturer, there is always the concern that they might just find another store to replace you if they are a line in high demand. Of course, with you having an established business, there is the reverse concern they should have of finding a suitable replacement to do business with.

The key concern is that any problem with an order you have placed creates a situation where your valuable time is taken up speaking with vendors and freight carriers. There are several ways of solving these potential problems. The first step is using a purchase order form which you have created or purchased from an office supply company.

The first criteria in making a section of a form is having "fine print" which is retailer, as compared to vendor, friendly. If you are going to a show or seeing a vendor in your store, and allowing the vendor to write up the order on their form, you are asking for trouble. Not only does the "fine print" favor the vendor, but too often the retailer does not even bother to get a copy of the order.

When a problem does occur, you have no documentation on which to base your concerns. Make sure the order form allows you to express your order in units (each, dozen, etc.) as well as provides the necessary space for you to extend the order at cost and retail so there can be no discrepancy. Make sure there is space to give the complete model number and description of each item you are ordering. If color or finish are a part of the description, make sure this is a part of your order.

If you have experienced problems with orders that are being partially shipped, shipped too early or late, or other similar concerns, consider having your local printer create for you a rubber stamp which allows you to repeat important information which may already be stated in the fine print.

From this writer's experience, our rubber stamp indicated a "do not ship before ____" and a "do not ship after ____ date". In areas where it took several components to make a completed sale, our rubber stamp indicated, "Do not partial ship". And all orders had a rubber stamp which had the necessary spaces to repeat the freight and payment terms. The rubber stamp was placed on all copies of the order. If the sales representative wanted to use his own form, that was permitted. However, the form that we signed was our order form, and only our order form.

When there is a discrepancy or goods damaged in transit, it is important to document this in writing, (sometimes also with a photo), and notify the vendor and your sales representative immediately. Your sales representative, who is likely receiving a commission from writing an order, should rally to assist you in getting any situation resolved to your satisfaction. If not, do not be afraid to ask the sales manager to make you a "house account", and ask to receive the sales representative's commission as a discount for taking care of your own orders. You will not necessarily get it, but you should at least ask.

All of these concerns are not designed to attempt to "reign in" a vendor, or show them who is boss. Instead it is so that you get the merchandise you have ordered with the same terms and delivery as you have anticipated. Most sales representatives this writer dealt with in his business were some of the nicest people in the business. We considered many of them to be personal friends, and a great source of information as we worked to select the merchandise we carried in our business. We are confident that a lot of our success came from the idea that we went into each relationship with a sales representative expecting that we were developing a great friendship and partnership. After all, what do each of us need - friend or foe?

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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