Working with sales representatives
When this writer has the opportunity to speak to a group of sales representatives, I always enjoy telling about the representatives who have become like extended family members to me and my family. I tell about Mr. O.C. North, who had called on my grandfather's store as well as my father's store. There were so many times that Mr. North went to great lengths to help the family businesses.
The bond between retailer and salesman was so strong that Mr. North almost left his job to defend his retailer. Back in the 1960's, a part of the store burnt down. The insurance company was rather slow to settle, and the credit manager for the company Mr. North represented was concerned about Grandpa's financial stability. At one point Mr. North sent in an order, and the credit manager said he was not going to approve the order for shipment.
Mr. North promptly told his boss that if the order was not approved, he might as well resign. "If you won't ship to Buster Brown, you probably won't ship to anyone. I might as well resign now." (The order was shipped.)
For somewhere in the 1960's, or in the 2000's, you and I both know this was a very unusual situation. But, for my family this was not the only example. Grandma has told me the story of how Grandpa would get up early each day and head to the store. She would stay at the house and fix a big breakfast. The breakfast was big because you could always count on one or two sales representatives coming home with Grandpa around 8:30am to join in the breakfast.
There were so many other sales representatives who were very special to us; Ronnie Evans, Dennis Chappel, Joe Perz, Pete Lutman. My dad used to say, "If any of these sales representatives walked into his office in July and said it was snowing outside, he would grab a coat and follow them outside."
When I have spoken to other dealers, I have frequently heard, "You were just lucky to find those reps." No, that is not the case. I was instead lucky to have a father and grandfather who knew they could profit greatly by developing a relationship with these people. And no, those are not the "old days". That experience can be the same for you today, if you will give these ideas a try.
Granted, we deal with more reps at a trade show, or through a telemarketing department, but we can create this same partnership in almost any set of circumstances. As for the rep who does still call on a store, we always made a point to say thanks for the visit. For in this day of mass merchants and chain stores, it is quite easy for a rep to pass by our store. By taking just a few minutes to talk with the rep, we can determine if we have an interest in any of the lines they represent.
With the walk-in rep, trade show rep, or telemarketing department rep, give them information about what you have stocked and sold in the past. After all, if most of the reps will never see your store, they need to know as much as possible as they help to guide you.
"My competition is (fill in the blank). What are they stocking? What are they getting for this item? Is there anything I am not ordering that I should? My order cannot exceed (amount of dollars). What should I leave out?"
The experienced rep knows how to answer these questions. Some of the best stores I have seen in preparing for a trade show have contacted the manufacturer and asked to speak with one of the reps who will be at the show. With a telemarketing rep, the retailer has simply made a request to have the same person call them, and at a predetermined date and time.
Grandfather and Dad both knew the sales representatives saw more stores in a week than my family would see in a couple of months. The rep had seen by actually visiting or participating in their company sales meetings, a large number of good displays, clean stores, well-run operations, as well as merchants who had developed great sales staffs.
Of course, be prepared to share your success stories with the rep; tell them how you have taken their suggestions and implemented them. Reps often report that retailers who are complaining about the problems of business, are the same ones who ask questions and then are not doing anything with the information.
One of the tricks of creating a partnership that Dad taught was to be sure to express your appreciation. When you have received even a little bit of help from the sales rep, Dad said a short thank you note to the rep would go a long way. And to go even further, send a note to his boss, the sales manager.
Within a few weeks, the rep will have heard from his boss and will be in touch with the retailer. The rep will be glad and anxious to extend the relationship to another level. And the retailer will be just as glad to work in the same direction.
Most retailers cannot afford to hire a consultant. If a business consultant were to volunteer their services to help you, you would probably accept. That person may be walking in your front door tomorrow, seeing you at a trade show, or calling you on the phone. They are called sales reps. Are you ready to cultivate a partnership?