Spring 2007
Working the Retailer-Rep Relationship By Jacqueline Harlow

Retailers Have Their Say

GIFT SHOP talked to retailers Eileen Anatro, owner of Frick & Frack Gifts in Wayne, NJ; and Sonia Mott of Motif Home Decor in Hubertus, WI, to see how they work with their reps.

Definition of a Good Rep
Anatro: They know when I say "no" I mean "no." If I am making a mistake in ordering too much, I trust they will tell me, and if I am ordering the wrong items.

Mott: The good ones will know what products to introduce to you and what products aren't necessarily good [fits]. I try to get reps to come to my staff meetings—that way they know our vision and our plan for the future—that saves everyone time. The good ones share as much as possible with good customers—we all want to stay fresh and always need an edge.

It might sound simple, but it is true: Retailers, vendor representatives and manufacturers benefit from working together as a team. In the last 10 years, as business has become more competitive, a relationship that has always been beneficial has become essential for success.

A rep has an important responsibility to bring value to a business relationship. New retailers can take advantage of a wealth of experience and knowledge by partnering with their reps. Experienced retailers, who feel there isn’t much they don’t already have under their belts, might be surprised by the insights they can gain. Whether you are a retail rookie or an old pro, here are some ideas for building a successful relationship with your vendor rep or territory manager.

What to expect

The first things you should expect from your rep are honesty and integrity. Expect your rep to maintain strong relationships with your vendors. When an important task (like getting immediate shipment) needs to happen, your rep’s personal business relationship with the vendor counts for a lot.

Do you need to know what you ordered last time? Or how much you’ve ordered year-to-date as compared to the same period last year? Expect to get this information from your rep as well.

What to ask

It’s reasonable to expect basic product knowledge and information about company business policies—terms, freight policies, damage policies—from your rep.

But there is another kind of knowledge that only your local rep will have: What sells, and who sells it, in your territory. Your rep is in stores every day and gathers this valuable business intelligence as a key part of her job. That product you saw at market may be new to you but not to the marketplace, and it might not be selling as well as you expect it to. Your rep may also know if an item is so new or hot that the manufacturer can’t keep up with demand, and that it will take six months to ship. Also, what if a product only looks great in a catalog and turns out not to be? No one knows that better than your rep.

A rep can help you buy for special events so merchandise arrives at the appropriate time.

As for time management, it is sometimes easier to find ways to make things run more smoothly when looking from the outside in. Ask someone you trust for their observations the next time they make a call.

Frequent turnover makes it difficult to keep qualified staff on the sales floor. Schedule frequent in-store training sessions with your staff and ask your reps to do regular product training for their lines. Selling greeting cards might be easy enough, but what if you are selling an espresso maker? Do you have time to do product training over and over again as staff come and go? Recruit your rep to do it for you.

Most reps attend many tradeshows during the year and receive ideas about what’s hot in color, display and other industry trends. Reps know about the new product that might spice up your presentations—all you need to do is ask.

What to honor

Both retailers and reps can benefit from a healthy partnership. You may be wary about the relationship but don’t let it prevent you from gaining some vital tips for your business. For example, reps can inform you about possible deep discounts and other buying strategies.

Many retailers have something to teach their reps in return. You know fabulous ways of merchandising or marketing product. Share your ideas. Maybe that will help your rep teach another retailer how to sell a different product in another town. “Turnabout is fair play,” as the saying goes. It will come back to you in the form of someone else’s good, freely shared idea.

As you know, the money you take in at the sales counter does not equal the money you put in your pocket at the end of the month. It’s the same with reps. Territory managers and vendor reps travel many hours and many miles to cover their territory at their own expense. You can honor this relationship by honoring the time your rep sets aside to spend with you. Partners work together to build a business beneficial to both. It doesn’t matter what the product is—between them the partners can increase both sales volume and the bottom line.

Get to know your reps; let them get to know you. Ask questions, come up with ideas, and get to work. Vendor reps and you, the retailer, are both in the business to succeed!

Jacqueline Harlow

Jacqueline Harlow is a territory manager for OneCoast Home in New Mexico, El Paso, TX, and southwest Colorado. She can be reached at jacqueline.harlow@onecoast.com.




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