Do sales reps do anything?

I don’t know everything. Faaaaaaaaaaaaar from it. My purpose as a blogger is not really to educate anyone, but to show people the life of a not-famous designer, and bring up topics that designers think about.

I touched on the topic of the role of salespeople for an apparel manufacturer earlier on my own blog and some expressed interest in reading more about what I had to say on the matter, and I do try to live up to my promises to you readers, one at a time. Here the deal: the more I thought about it, the angrier I got at my own salesguys. Wow, they really don’t do much of anything.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ve been spoiled. At the previous company I worked for, we showed in a very large showroom, filled with much bigger labels than ours. Our sales team also repped Diane von Furstenberg, Joie, Theory, and Robert Rodriguez, among others. We sent them a line of samples, printed out lookbooks and linesheets and sent them a bunch of copies. When I say “sent”, I mean I walked them over across the street. We had to put up with a sales rep who was always calling with her two cents about how the next collection should look, but all in all, it was pretty painless.


Question: do all sales reps think they should design? All the sales guys I’ve ever worked with are constantly telling us to design this and do this color and whatnot. This is not to be confused with letting us know the pieces that are garnering the most attention and dollars. If I hear one of my sales guys harping on doing red leather jackets one more time, I’m gonna lose it. He keeps telling me that he sees it everywhere, but I don’t. I try to be polite, saying the labels he’s citing is not in line with our customer base and brand. He apparently doesn’t want to hear it.

In my own (perhaps naive) mind, the sales guys do the selling and customer service. They set up meetings, collect orders, explain to them the terms of sale, do the necessary follow-up. The apparel manufacturer creates and supplies the necessary tools to sell-samples, lookbooks, linesheets, order forms, organization of tradeshows. We get copies of the orders, we fulfill them. Next round. Right? No?

I’m honestly wondering if this is how it’s supposed to be, or if my opinion on this matter is skewed because in one case, I was “spoiled” and in the other, I’m the one hoofin’ it to make the sale.

I’d love to have at least one sales guy who has a great enthusiasm for the brand, leading him to work hard at securing meetings at good stores, someone who understands our customer, understands who our true competitors are, and doesn’t find traveling a huge chore he can’t be bothered with half the time I ask him to.

This is an odd, meandering post. Basically, it’s just a bunch of my ideas on the matter tossed onto one post. I’d really like to hear what everyone has to say about this.

Entries in this series:
Do Sales Reps Do Anything? (Zoe)
Do Sales Reps Do Anything? pt.2 (Kathleen)
Do Sales Reps Do Anything? pt.3 (Miracle)
Do Sales Reps Do Anything? pt.4 (Zoe)

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14 comments

  1. Alex says:

    Well I’m actually on my sales trip right now. I’m selling my F/W 2007 range (I’m in Australia hence the opposing seasons).

    I left yesterday and had my first showing in a regional centre today. Got 3 more tomorrow then plenty more for the next two weeks or so.

    Basically I think the majority of agents are a complete joke. I haven’t heard of more than one or two sales agents that actually give a shit about the product and putting in the hours required to really learn about and connect with the history/brand/direction/etc

    After this sales trip I’d like to do another and then hand it off to someone because my energies can be better spent managing the business and designing the next range rather than taking the time out to sell it. However I’m looking at working with an existing retail store owner who is interested in getting into sales and distribution, rather than relying on someone out there at the moment.

    Oh and in relation to your question as to whether sales reps think that they should design – let me tell you – EVERYONE thinks they should design. It’s just natural to have someone tell you “oh you know what *I* think would work well?” because people want to be acknowledged and appreciated for their contribution or idea or input, no matter how impractical or unnecessary.

    Another question is why are 99% of sales agents so useless and unwilling to put more than the minimum amount of time and energy into selling your collection?

  2. Beverly says:

    Once upon a time, I was a retailer. There are sales reps and there are . The ones that did show up always just showed up, God forbid, they should make an appointment! You would never see them if the weather was bad. But we considered those guys “good reps” because they at least did show up once a year. But most reps we never saw. In fact, on more than one occasion I was surprised to find out that suppliers even had reps for our area (eastern Canada). We certainly never saw them.

    I was at a trade show one time, and one of my major suppliers said off-handedly “of course, you’ve met your rep, D**” and I said, “you have a REP now?” Apparently, the guy had been the rep for 7 years! He never once visited us in seven years. And we were a major customer in a major city. So he made his % and never did anything to earn it.

    Very sad, and a waste of company resourses.

  3. Sherry says:

    I have sometimes thought of going into the sales side of things. Where do the really good sales reps come from (i.e. particular types of companies that consistently churn out good reps)? Places where the really great sales reps seem to come from, go, or congregate? Or is it just the luck of the draw? Do you see the really good ones at the trade shows or do you find them where you find them? Do the good ones that you have met belong to some kind of industry association? I’m curious about the experiences of DE’s, small manufacturers and smaller retailers.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I’m honestly wondering if this is how it’s supposed to be, or if my opinion on this matter is skewed because in one case, I was “spoiled” and in the other, I’m the one hoofin’ it to make the sale.

    Yes Zoe, this is how it is supposed to be but it seems that lately, everything is changing. Everybody wants to be a “rockstar”. Retailers, reps, they all want to borrow some of the prestige of the lines they sell or rep. I really think this is a pervasive outgrowth of the influence of shows like project runway. Everybody wants a piece of the glamour. Not that things weren’t bad before. There’s always been prima donna reps (as mentioned in my book based on interviews with other designers) who don’t want to work for it and just want to pick up commissions based on all the sales in their territories which is why I think designers should cast a more critical eye towards analyzing their sales to discern which accounts generate their own orders and make those into house accounts (iow, no commissions are paid on those sales). If designers paid more attention to that and told the reps they’d convert those into house accounts unless they serviced those accounts, maybe that would get their attention.

  5. Sherry says:

    I have sometimes thought of going into the sales side of things. Where do the really good sales reps come from (i.e. particular types of companies that consistently churn out good reps)? Places where the really great sales reps seem to come from, go, or congregate? Or is it just the luck of the draw? Do you see the really good ones at the trade shows or do you find them where you find them? Do the good ones that you have met belong to some kind of industry association? I’m curious about the experiences of DE’s, small manufacturers and smaller retailers.

  6. J C Sprowls says:

    What I really like about Kathleen’s suggestion re: taking the self-service accounts “direct” is that there is some negotiation strength, here.

    If you find the sales rep is delinquent (and, this is easy to learn – call your retailers), then you can progressively discipline the rep (e.g. 3-strike policy), eventually fire him/her from the account, take the account direct, and then (if you business model allows) extend a discount – not to exceed the commissions you’re saving – to those retailers. This increases the retailer’s profit margin and makes your product more appealing.

    Now, some would argue that you have simply transferred the responsibility of salesmanship onto your shoulders and you should be remunerated for that. And, I agree… that’s why I said “if your business model allows”. If you need to hire an account manager, their salary needs to be subsidized by the commission savings, which is part of indirect costs, and needs to be passed on to the buyer.

    RE: Beverly’s comments of ‘reps showing up’ [unannounced]. In a previous life, I ran a medium-sized catering company and frequently dealt with staffing crises and last-minute changes. Each event was unique, which meant that every staff member needed to be retrained for each engagement. 90-hr work weeks were not unusual for me, so my time was heavily managed.

    While I dearly loved one of my food reps, the other 4 were frequently told where to get off. The rep I loved working with (and, consequently gave the most business to) earned my respect because she took the time to recongnize my business needs, set up a standing appointment, and always showed up on time. The others would call when they felt like it (usually in the middle of an event) or drop by while I was producing an event at a client site. They rarely got orders from me because I did not mind spending a premium with my favorite rep – she was great at her job.

    I view professional services folks (e.g. accountants, lawyers, contractors, sales reps, etc) as employees. I might be paying them via 1099; but, they still work for me and they are subject to being managed by me, as well. I highly recommend that an entrepreneur assert themself as a manager. You cannot do it all on your own. You need to delegate tasks to qualified (or, trainable) individuals and have confidence that it can be done accurately and on time. The trade off for delegating is that you need to manage.

  7. graham says:

    VC: it sounds like you’re talking about merchandisers and sales reps as one and the same…is that standard? I know that merchandisers will give input about color et al, especially for licensed brands…

  8. Thomas Cunningham says:

    i’ve had trouble with reps also. but on the other side of the coin, it is simply impossible to design, sell, buy fabric, manage manufacturing/importing/shipping/delivery/marketing, meanwhile design the next season and don’t forget to collect your money — from the same guys you’re trying to sell the next season to.

    sales reps at least can take up some of the slack.

    and if sales reps are SO bad, why do designers keep using them? If we’ve all been burned so often, shouldn’t we be smarter than to go back for more? I believe sales reps exist because they serve a purpose — but for all those who can go around them and make their business work, kudos from me — let me know the secret.

  9. Alison Cummins says:

    When talking to / complaining about sales reps, remeber that sales reps WHINE. (Whether they really do or not, or whether their whining is justified, it’s still a culturally accepted idea in the business world and among sales reps themselves.) So next time you’re asking a rep to do something they don’t want to have to bother with – like dealing with the customer – and they’re objecting that it’s not their job or they don’t have time, ask them sweetly if that’s the famous sales rep whine and see what happens.

    In my world – telecom – very few privileged people apart from sales reps or customer service personnel are *allowed* to work with customers directly. The customer is too important to be left to the devices of just any schmoe with technical expertise who thinks they can answer questions. So play up to the reps’ professional pride, too. Do they want to run the risk of some design assistant ruining their carefully built-up relationship with their customer?

  10. jewelrygal says:

    The rep thing is SO hard. My rep actually told me once “designers are a dime a dozen its HIM that makes the sale”

    He ONLY gets orders during market week & meanwhile your stuck paying rent the other 7-8 months of the year for not a single order!

    However approaching stores alone was next to impossible for me & I got no response! So if the showroom has its own established clients thats where your sales are coming from…however it really sucks mine is not on the road has no road rep he lets us pay his rent & sits there for market essentially

    However trying to get into a showroom IS so hard because the market quite frankly is over saturated with girls that think because their friends like their stuff & they go to gem shows they are now designers …So competition is stiff because rent is rent however getting accepted is good its just a tough industry.

    I would love to know who the good reps & showrooms are?

    Ive been asked to join a big NYC showroom but I will have to do a big tradeshow pay thousands & be there to sell & then I still pay them the commission OUCH! I know now why jewelry is so overprices there are SO many hands taking a piece of your pie

    PR companies thats another thing…man you can get burned quick & be out a ton of money…

    Does anyone know good sources?

  11. paris Mitchel says:

    what is the first step to get the science about starting a career in being a fashion sales rep? my partner has started aline I’ve been chosen to be sales rep, and I have no idea of what to do.what’s the fisrt step?

  12. Charmain says:

    I need a fit male fit model. What are some of the things to look for in a good male fit model. Fit is critical and I want to do it correctly.

    Also can someone help with tips to assigning good style numbers, so we don’t look like amateurs?

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