Do sales reps do anything? pt.2

I understand Zoe’s frustrations with sales reps but I can see things that are a problem from the other side too. Being on the sales and marketing side, I often have to be the devil’s advocate. For example, this comment that was left after Zoe’s post bears discussion:

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 or /direction/etc

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?

The reason is, they already have their cash cow and it’s not your line. I think one thing people lose sight of is that sales reps, like retailers, like DEs, are business people. The difference between retailers/reps and designers is that we are (usually) not married to, or emotionally invested in your ideas. They are there to make money.


The difference between retailers/reps and designers is that we are (usually) not married to, or emotionally invested in your ideas. They are there to make money.

We want our inventory to sell. If it doesn’t sell, the story, history or direction is irrelevant. Honestly, these things are useful to magazines writing pieces on lines or designers. They are interesting to fashion enthusiasts. A woman walking into a store for a dress wants something that appeals to either her taste, budget or lifestyle, or a combination of the three. You can be on the mark with a crappy story, you can be off the mark with a fabulous story. As retailers, we care about what sells because we (honestly) don’t (usually) have the time to discuss your brand history and direction with the customer and if your line doesn’t sell it doesn’t matter. Those things are for branding and PR campaigns.

Where I will agree is that history and direction are important in regards to consistency and longevity. The retailer may be interested to know that you can perform or will continue to. But the school you went to and where you interned before you went out on your own– doesn’t matter. That you were inspired by your recent trip to the beaches of Bali, that’s for your publicist.

Part of the disconnect is that DEs get married to their ideas and concept and figure that other people should be emotionally invested. Honestly, this all comes down to transactions, dollars exchanging hands. And if you’re going to feel that your rep should give a **** about learning something, it needs to be something that will help them make transactions, not get touchy feely and friendly with your company. Otherwise, you could end up in the common situation of having a rep who absolutely adores, loves and admires your line, knows everything about it, but it’s not selling.

Now the problem is compounded by the harsh reality that every showroom has their cash cow(s). And a line that isn’t performing isn’t given the resources that the better selling lines are. I have never seen a well-selling line that was basically ignored by the rep, given little time or energy. This is why I often write that DEs need to be concerned about the entire sales channel, from retailer to consumer. Even though you can say it’s someone else’s job at the end of the day, it’s your company that is producing the goods and who is going to care more about the sale than you.

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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13 comments

  1. J C Sprowls says:

    LOL! Thank you for driving home your point, Miracle.

    And, thank you for elucidating on this subject. I guess it comes down to the fact that, regardless what the DE might think, it’s the market that dictates what sells. And, that regardless of “market research” it is still possible to miss the target.

  2. d says:

    I completely agree with each point, just want to add that I learned the hard way that nobody sells you product better than you–At least starting out. I don’t care if you have no sales experience, are too tired/busy, etc…
    Nobody will have the passion for the product like you do.

  3. anne says:

    sales reps–

    if it wans’t for our PROFESSIONAL SALES REPS–our products would NEVER get out there!!
    Sales REPS bring the products to the industry! they know fashion and what it takes to make a $$$$

  4. Alex says:

    Very nice post Miracle. In relation to my comment I strongly believe that the story/brand/essence/etc is inherently linked to the clothing and thus knowing and learning about it will assist in improving product sales. I don’t think a sales rep should care about it if it doesn’t have some relevance in assisting in the selling process but I feel ours does.

    I’m now in Perth and have been to four other cities selling my clothing and have pushed that point and it’s done wonders to set us apart from the rest of the crowd. At the end of the day the product has to stand on its own – and I feel a lot of it does – but the retailers are interested in why my label should replace another label when we both give them 65% margin.

    The answer to that is in the creation of aspirational value, in the experience that the end consumer can involve themselves into and in the story that the retailer can use to move the product.

  5. Elsa says:

    Simple economics! It must be so frustrating. But when they don’t have incentive ($$$ as you put it) to learn about your product then what can you do?

    Would it be a practical solution to work with your retailer/rep? Could you hire your rep, so that you were paying them? Or is this not plausible?

  6. Miracle says:

    The answer to that is in the creation of aspirational value, in the experience that the end consumer can involve themselves into and in the story that the retailer can use to move the product.

    That works in an environment in which the retailer has the chance to tell that story, but most clothing is sold without that interaction. What I find far more valuable than knowing your story is knowing your entire line as I have watched retailers let customers go out the door because they didn’t know enough about that line to offer the customer another product (from the line) that would meet their needs.

    I think designers tend to get caught up in the romanticism of the product, rather than focusing on helping facilitate transactions. If I were in a position to try and convince a retailer to take my 65% profit margin line over another 65% profit margin line, I’d rather hit them with hard facts about inventory turn, streamlined delivery, reorder ability for popular styles, a low return rate and merchandising support rather than a story that the consumer can involve themselves in.

    But that’s just me, I’m more numbers oriented.

  7. FashionCross says:

    Our line & company has had it share of TOTAL NIGHTMARE Reps but honestly NO REP/Sales Agent is a REAL REP/Sales Agent unless they ROAD YOUR LINE!! A high percentage of our Company’s fast & growning success is all because A) I the designer road it and B) We have an AWESOME Real Rep who Roads the hell out of our line!!! And Kicks Major A!!!!!!!!

    Frankly now we will and would never sign with a that doesn’t Road our line.

    THINK ABOUT THIS DESIGNERS:

    Most Reps are FAT! Sorry the truth. Why? they sit on their ass and guess what – you pay that showroom fee and everything is covered for them. What if Market is weak? Happens alot. What if they miss their main stores or buyers? Our old Rep just said “Oh, too bad. I’ll catch them on the next go round.” Uh, NO! Doesn’t work that way! Once you are out of the loop with a Buyer you are OUT and it’s almost impossible to get them back into the Showroom.

    Did you notice at the last couple Pool Trade Shows there were several older (to me age means nothing) but heavy set Reps going around passing out cards – saying Hey I like your line can I Rep you (All played out Fat Lazy Reps from the Old Mart in LA – stay away from that Dead $$$ Bldg.) Guess what? All you are doing is paying their Showroom fee and bills. Sorry for the shocking and “alarming” truth and say what you will about me being a man and saying “fat”. But I’m friggin’ saying it cause I paid those bills for several Reps and THEY DID NOTHING!!!!!!!! ZERO!!!!!!! I lost a lot of money and they constantly feed my Co. endless BS stories. That is the God’s Truth!!! If you want to save a lot of Cash and heartache – If you just bypass that one OMG.

    They have to get their ass out on the Road and take the line to them.

    And yes NO one will be as passionate as you are about you – afterall we work 7 days a week take NO holidays and work anywhere from 15 – 18 hour days 365 days 24/7.

    But NO REP is a REP this they don’t Road your line. That should be your mantra. Unless they have INSANE contacts and eat lunch and hang with Jennifer Croll, Ron Hermann Atrium and et al. Which is extremely rare. OK maybe there is a handful of them but if so the Showroom fee they will want will be soooooo high you could finance a new 500SL. Get my picture.

    Cheers!! Now Let’s get back to work haaaaaa

  8. Shannon D says:

    I have been an independent road rep for 6 years in the apparel/accessories and gift industries and have branched out into consulting. I have not turned this consulting idea into a full fledged business yet, although I have given tons of free advice over a period years at tradeshows to young designers(pool, magic, L.A. gift) and am wondering… in the beginning of your start up, would a sales consultant have been of value to …i.e. how to develope a strong sales dept.,how to hire a rep, what shows to pursue, how to increase your outside sales, what to expect from your sales rep and how to ask for it, ect… Also would any of you pay a higher commission to a rep for “breaking ” a new account? For example, you are a L.A. based clothing line, I come in an land new accounts in Chicago and N.Y. I would then turn the account over to your inside sales team or turn it into a house account. I will only “break” the account, you maintain it, without paying anymore commission. I Wanted to get feedback to see if my idea has any draw for lines tired of the traditional showroom strategy.

  9. Donna says:

    My ocean-inspired accessories company is four years old and has been profitable from the first year. In hindsight, I could have used that type of consulting at the time, very much so, but the fact is that I wouldn’t have KNOWN it was necessary or worth spending money on, so I, like most people, learned the hard way. I even gave up on reps and did it on my own for a long time.

    I am very interested in the idea of “breaking” new accounts and I think paying a higher commission is well worth it if the account is a potentially good one. I even like that idea better because following up and maintaining accounts is the easy part. The hard part is getting someone to look at it in the first place.

  10. lynne says:

    I am a new jewelry designer and am in need of direction…..how does one find a rep/consultant? The leg work is really impinging on the design and production time but I need to get out there. Any info is appreciated.

  11. Patricia says:

    Hello to Everyone

    I’m new to the fashion industry and I find this site fascinating. You people have so much information and are so generous with it. It really shows…
    I have an interesting line of printed leather handbags and espadrilles (not yute) that I want to market, just to start, in Southern California. A distributor for other products approached me to sell my line. Of course I have to cut a big chunk of my profit and because I’m just starting and I don’t have a large inventory I need the highest profit to reinvest. I started to be my own sales rep., but then I got very confused when I had that offer.
    I like Shannon’s idea since “breaking” the account is the hardest part especially if you’re new to this. I would like your feedback and some advise.

  12. Pauli says:

    A few comments. First of all, to the bigot who ragged on overweight & ‘OLDER’ REPS. You are narrowminded, and a fool.I happen to be mature in age, & a bit overweight & could run circles around YOU or most of the 25 year olds I see. I have met many reps at the NEW MART, who looked fashionista, adorable, slim—-and a big % of them had air for brains, didn’t know how to sell to ANYONE, didn’t engage in conversation about the new lines they carried, and didn’t DESERVE their jobs at all. Some on the other hand were terrific, friendly, & a pleasure. However, you cannot MASS STEREOTYPE-some young skinnies were fab, some were atrocious. Some overweight older women were blah & dull & some were livewires. THERE IS NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL.Your perpetuating garbage like you wrote is indicative of an uneducated, lame mind and is a disgrace for women—your comments take us back to the 50’s or earlier. Get with it–clear your aura & let positive thoughts in–learn to view people for their “individual merits” rather than steretype groups. You think Paula Deen, the chef, who is portly at best, gray haired & older is worried about your comments? What a laugh–you should be so successful! SO PEOPLE don’t listen to the blathering idiot who wrote that post-without knowing her, I can tell that she is a LOSER, big time. Make your own opinion of every rep you meet, based on their history, track, personality, charm, subtlety, humor–the whole picture. Fat is not a disease-but a FAT HEAD is a real problem, because anyone can lose weight, but no brains is no brains-and they can’t be purchased.

    Next, I need someone intelligent to respond to one of my questions for advice– I have wonderful client interested in lines I am repping ( i am a new rep–a former boutique owner..which is why I don’t have 99% of the answers yet and need advice…I have terrific designers listed with me-non/flakes,serious designers who have a passion for their work. I spend time wisely on people who are talented, passionate, hardworkers, and APPRECIATE my intelligenc & subtle persuasive skills. My question is does any rep charge for “breaking” an account–I think my “connections” are more valuable than the l5% fee I earn for repeat sales–but don’t know how to structure a contract to include the “breaking new accounts” point. Could anyone make suggestions or tell me how to find a contract like that without my having to pay exhorbitent fees to an attorney?
    Any suggestions appreciated—and BOO BOO BOO on stereotypers. p.s. Joan Rivers, & Suzanne Sommers-not young chickens, and VERY SUCCESSFUL lines. And I do agree that roadwork is important-but in 2007 there are other ways to contact buyers without spending dollars on gas–YOU, Ms. Bigot, also are behind the times in your marketing expertise-and you are the one criticizing others. I pray you read my email so you can get your head on straight and learn to be kinder, nicer, gentler, less narrow-minded. Keep recalling that You can lose fat, but you can’t buy brains, and OLDER often means seasoned with answers smarter than the monosyllabic blather and lack of expertise I often hear with ingenues…..Yes, I am irate, because you are entitled to your opinion but it is so degrading to ALL WOMEN, that you make me truly ill! YOU ARE superficial & SHALLOW—and I live in Beverly Hills so don’t think I don’t “get it”….

  13. danny says:

    for opening a new account charge a premium one time fee, perhaps 20-25%. for repeat orders continue on your 15% fee. that’s pretty high by the way, good for you to get that much. most reps charge between 6 and 13 pts. good luck.

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