Sales Rep Horror Story

Bethany sent this entry last week and it’s only now that I’m getting around to posting it. Bethany mentions this morning that

I have already had somebody contact me who used to have the same rep and noticed in my post about KIDShow that I was having trouble with the rep. She said the same rep pretty much put her out of business! So I really want to get the word out about this rep.

If you want the rep’s name, you’ll have to login to the forum; or join, if you’re not a member already. Here’s Bethany’s horror story on what can go wrong with an apparel sales representative.

Dear Kind Readers,
I have a story to tell that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck and you may run screaming from the computer and hide under the covers. I had an unbelievable experience with a sales rep and I want to let everyone know for two reasons:

  1. Even experienced designers can get taken.
  2. Heed my advice and not let it happen to you.

It all started last year when I was looking for a Dallas sales rep. Every so often I get emails from reps requesting my business and I file them away until I am ready. So I was going through my file and sure enough, there was an email from a Dallas sales rep. So I called her and she was amazing! She said she had been in the business forever, she had come from the manufacturing side, so she understood how difficult it was to build a brand, and she said that in a year I would be selling $100,000 a season! She told me of the brands she already repped and one in particular interested me because they had a similar look to my look, but wouldn’t compete. The two brands together would complement each other and I figured the stores that already bought the other brand would be happy to have my brand to help merchandise their stores. So I figured she had the type of buyer I was looking for. I even did my homework by calling said brand and one other of her designers and asked them how they liked her. Both gave glowing reviews. So I signed.


About two months later I got a call from the rep who was hysterical. She was crying (totally not like her) and said that there was a huge falling out with three of her brands and that one of her reps had manipulated and lied to the brands and stolen them from her! I asked her why the brands left and she said because they said she wrote orders that she never gave to them. I thought this was weird because why would a rep write an order and not pass it along? If the manufacturer didn’t ship, the rep wouldn’t get paid. I also heard rumors of the rep taking money for a show and then not going to the show and not refunding the money. So at this point I started to have reservations about the rep. But I had no money with her, I hadn’t paid her anything, but I also had no orders from her. I asked if the line I had liked was still with her and she said yes, so I decided to stay.

Things were going along okay and I had only gotten two orders from her, but it was the end of the year and things were slow everywhere. That’s when I got a weird phone call. A man called and said he was looking for my rep, but her phone messages were full and she wasn’t answering her phone. I asked what the problem was, and to make a long story short, my rep owed the man money for a booth at a show! So now I had proof that my rep wasn’t paying her bills and was in financial trouble. But again, because she had never asked me for any money, I discounted it a bit, figuring everyone gets into trouble every now and again.

I wasn’t totally convinced though, so at this point, I called one of the brands that left the rep in the big fallout the month prior. The woman was very nice and apologetic, but she said the rep had ‘borrowed’ money from her and never paid her back. The rep had told her that she had written tons of orders which the manufacturer never saw, and the rep’s Dallas showroom was closed for lack of payment!!! That’s when I freaked out. My whole reason for signing with this rep was to have my brand at the Dallas showroom and now I find out it is closed.

I would have left my rep at this point, but I had already paid for my portion of the booth at KIDShow. So I figured, I would go up and see what was going on, see how my rep was, and see how many orders I would get. My rep was not happy that I was coming along.

So I get to the show on Sunday. My rep had insisted I be there by noon, but I ended up arriving around 1:00. Sure enough, nothing had been set up in the booth. To make a really long story short, I left around 6:30 and the booth was barely together. I had to borrow a steamer from another booth, and my rep and another woman finished putting the booth together by 2:00am! Oh, did I mention everything smelled like kitty litter? I am totally serious. She had industrial sized Febreze bottles and was spraying everything ‘cause it smelled so bad! I about died.

The next morning my rep basically didn’t speak to me and that lasted for pretty much the entire show! It was incredibly uncomfortable in the booth, so I spent most of my time standing in the ‘hall’ and trying to get stores to check out my stuff. My rep insisted that all the displays were to be mixed up throughout the entire booth (It was 4 booths put together) so when the stores walked by, all they saw was a mess of clothing with no real direction. I did my best to contain my area, but it was quite small and most stores just walked on by.

As the show continued, I began to meet other manufacturers, and one of the designers I met had been in the fallout I spoke of previously. They confirmed that my rep had taken money for a show she never went to and they also confirmed the Dallas show room was closed and locked. I had already made my decision to leave my rep at that point, but it helped confirm the truth to me.

Now, the problem was, I had a plane at 4:00, which meant I had to pack up and be gone around 2:30. So I began to pack up my stuff and my rep about had a fit! She called security on me and said I wasn’t allowed to take my samples. I calmly explained the situation and the security guard couldn’t really do anything, so he walked away. Then my rep got the head of the show to come over and tell me there was a fine of $250 for leaving early. Again, I explained the situation and she let it go.

As I walked away, my rep was with other customers writing an order. I wasn’t going to say anything in front of them, because I felt it was disrespectful to the manufacturer they were writing, but my rep made a nasty comment so I let her have it. I told her the last few days had been the most unprofessional experience in my life, and she was a lying liar who lied. I said a few other choice words and left with my head held high.

I have not heard from my sales rep since the show, but I imagine I will soon.

So as you can see, there are crazies in every business. I did everything I could to try and get a feel for this rep before I signed with her, but it turns out she was a scam artist. This isn’t to say that all sales reps are bad. I think this is the exception to the rule. But just be warned that weird things do happen and to listen to your instincts and if you think you should leave a rep, LEAVE! Don’t try to reason with yourself, just follow your gut and I think everything will work out in the end.

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18 comments

  1. kim owen says:

    Wow, what a story. I am so sorry you had to waste you brain power dealing with such an incompetent (and insolvent) rep. I can’t imagine she will remain in business for very long. Her reputation has to be ruined, or close to it.

    Some crazy stories came out of MAGIC this time. I wonder what they are putting in the water here in Vegas???

    See you in NY in a couple weeks. Your luck should be better in the Big Apple.

  2. Hi to everyone!
    I see it is quite common for DE’s in US to hire a rep for a show. In Europe, most designers I know, exhibit at the show by themselves or just have their staff do it.
    I have been only to 1 show in Milan (a total waste of money, they started advertising and sending invitations only 1 week prior to the fashion week) but I have received good reviews from my designer-collegues about White and Touch/Cloud Nine/Neozone (in Milan) and Who’s Next, Tranoi (in Paris).
    I have a question and would be very grateful if anyone could be so kind answer: has anyone been to The Train show in New York and what were your general impression? I am planning to exhibit there in September but walking it first is a problem of time and money now. I would appreciate any info you could kindly share on it.

    Thank you!
    Mila

  3. Dr Rekha Sharma says:

    I am staggered that you can draw out a contract in the absence of a solictor and checking background history of your employee (rep in this case). You wouldn’t do that when buying a house, would you?

  4. Cdbehrle says:

    That last comment- Hello? It doesn’t sound like the Rep broke most if not all existing contract terms???? Please.
    Rep-ing yourself, as Mila does, I always found to be a better solution, but I did mostly European shows. Eventually a small DE will wind up hitting a wall – you just can’t do everything, Ideally I think a good in-house salesperson is the bet bet. I once had to get the cops involved when a sales rep refused to return samples they’d sat on for an entire season, another rep got broken into- goodbye samples… the whole rep situation is tricky.

  5. Vesta says:

    If I had to hire a lawyer every time I signed a new rep, I’d be out of business in three months. Even living in a relatively inexpensive part of the country, I can’t even talk to a decent lawyer with paying a $1400 retainer. It’s just not realistic.

  6. Eric H says:

    Actually, Dr. Sharma, buying a house without the aid of a solicitor (lawyer) is fairly common here. Hiring an employee without a background check is also common (perhaps too common). But, as you must have missed, she did check with two references, and “both gave glowing reviews.”

    The problem here is that someone apparently went off the rails. One of the benefits of the forum is the speed with which this information may be shared.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Even in the absence of a contract, there’s implication; iow, that one is hiring another to perform a function, receiving remuneration in exchange for reasonable and customary services (unless specifically stated otherwise but then, that requires a contract).

    I’m sure Bethany had a contract for several reasons, other than that she’s been around. 1) There’s one in the book, 2) Another one on the forum in electronic format which can be copied/pasted. 3) I’ve never known of a rep who didn’t insist on a contract, usually their own because if nothing else, in the event a manufacturer doesn’t pay, the contract stipulates court action to take place in the state of the rep’s residence. Besides, I can’t envision a contract that could have taken what happened into consideration.

    People use contracts without an attorney all the time. Perhaps a more appropriate example is a landlord who leases space to a tenant. The landlord would use a template contract originally approved or written by an attorney but one wouldn’t hire a lawyer for every transaction.

  8. bethany says:

    Just so you know, I did have my lawyer read the contract before I signed it. Frankly, the contract doesn’t mean anything except I will pay my sales rep her commission. It doesn’t guarantee they will make sales. Even if this rep wasn’t a liar and a cheat, I would have left her because I wasn’t getting any orders from her.

    MY problem with this rep is she said she was a Dallas rep and a road rep, but her store was closed in Dallas, and she wasn’t paying for the shows she had already taken money from me to pay. So what would a contract do for me? The only thing I lost was time.

    As an aside, the DE who called me and said this rep put her out of business was told by the rep that the rep had like ten thousand dollars worth of orders. The DE cut the season counting on those dollars, and the rep never sent her the so called orders! So the DE was sitting around with all that stock! That is basically what put that DE under. It is such a shame that one person could do that to another person and continue to do it because, until now, there was no way to warn new DE’s about rogue reps. I am going to let this post stand for a week and then I am thinking about going to the California Market Center and tell each sales rep to please warn any of their manufacturers about this rep. I dont want anyone else to hire this rep.

    Oh, and btw, I seem to be the only DE who left the rep with her samples. The rep sold the other DE’s samples on Ebay!! The nerve.

  9. Alan says:

    I’ve been at this business for 15 years and there are two things I do and one thing I never do before I hire any sales rep.

    Do:
    1. Call your existing reps and ask for their reference. The good reps meet each other at sales meetings all the time and they are more than happy to call a friendly rep in the new territory and get the scoop.
    2. Call your best customers with good credit ratings in the targeted territory and ask for a reference.

    After doing 1 & 2 your existing reps and good customers will help find you the best rep for your line.

    Don’t Do:
    Call a manufacturer for a reference. This is all prearranged BS between the rep and the manufacturer.

    Good luck.

  10. trish says:

    Bethany, I am so sorry you had to deal with all of this. The rep does sounds very inexperienced or just lazy. I do want to make one comment: In Dallas the showrooms are often closed when it is not market week. You would have to find out from the rep when they plan to keep the Dallas showroom open.

    I hope you find a great rep for your line.

  11. Bethany…
    I remember once visited said rep’s website and shaking my head…wondering what was up with the Disney font…LOL!

    I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. Hopefully it hasn’t hurt your line and reputation.

    You are much nicer than me. I probably would have beotch slapped her! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    With friendship,
    Lisa

  12. vicki says:

    I am so glad that you posted this! I am so sorry you went through this. I had this same person as my sales rep last fall.

    I had reserved a temp showroom last fall for the Dallas show to test the waters with my line to see if that market was better or different than Atlanta. I had a free air ticket there & a friend to stay with so it seemed like a pretty good way to not spend a lot of money except on my booth.

    In the mean time the same rep you are talking about called me and I ended up signing with her after several conversations. I canceled my booth. I was thrilled because as much as I like meeting the buyers, I really don’t want to be my own rep.

    She told me she was a road rep too, which I really like the idea. She told me that her showroom was ALWAYS open with someone there to take orders. Pretty much what Bethany wrote is my story too. Shortly after I signed with her she sent me a small order so I felt great about it!
    I had planned to go to Dallas anyways, check in on her showroom and see the market. But a family emergency came up at the last minute so I decided I could not go. During the show she said was calling me from the market to ask a couple of questions about my samples “buyers that were so excited to place orders”… I had no indication that anything was wrong at that point.

    After the show I kept emailing, calling and never getting a response. But I figured she was busy and I had heard that reps sometimes take time to get their orders out. I finally got a hold of her after 10 days and she said she had orders for me but that the market was VERY, VERY slow. She said people loved my line and that she would get my orders out to me. She was putting them together and just about to send them. I was starting to get nervous at that point because one of my immediate ship items was for Christmas. I did very well in Atlanta with this & wanted to be sure I got these to my customers asap.
    I never heard from her that week other than an email asking me for my share of the cost to do the show in Vegas. I had decided I wasn’t going to send her anymore money until I got these orders. (she charged me $100 a month for marketing in addition to commission)
    The way I found out was that someone called me about an order & we were talking about the Dallas show. She asked me where this person was, why her showroom wasn’t open. I told her that it was, that my things were in there, I had orders coming! After some investigations, I found out I had been duped. There would be no orders and she wasn’t even at the show. Immediately called her to get my samples back. I didn’t say anything to her, because I wanted all my samples back!! But I felt so stupid. I did get them back and never heard from her again.
    I’m glad I didn’t have to go through what you did Bethany and that you were able to leave with your things.
    As with everything, boy did I learn from this. But the tuition is high!
    I had an attorney read the contract but it really didn’t mean anything to protect from this happening. I would like to hire a rep in the future and will be much more diligent and cautious.
    Vicki

  13. oh no Vicki, you, too? I had heard you had a problem, but I didn’t know it was with this rep.

    Hopefully both you girls with have lots of success this coming season and never have to deal with this type of stuff again.

    With friendship,
    Lisa

  14. bethany says:

    I just wanted to throw it out there that this was a unusual event, and I have now hired four other sales reps, two of which I have never actually met- we have only spoken online or by phone. I wouldn’t do anything differently then I did, even in retrospect. I know as a DE I cant do it all, and one of the things I have to outsource is my selling. That is just a chance I am willing to take. The way I see it, finding a good sales rep is like finding a husband: you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. I have had a sales rep in Los Angeles that is super nice and I like her a lot, but I dont think it is the right place for me, so I am trying out a new rep. Maybe this new rep will work, maybe not- but at least I am going to try.

    In all honesty, the horrible sales rep I wrote about had three lines that she sold the hell out of! She was writing orders for those lines all day long! It just wasn’t the right fit for me- plus she is a scam artist. But she IS the right fit for those lines. I just don’t understand why she has to tell her manufacturers that she has written orders when she hasn’t and lie about going to shows. It is just weird. But I doubt this will ever happen to me again because this rep is such a strange case. So to anyone who got taken by this woman: dont beat yourself up about it and dont worry about the next sales rep you hire. Think about it: you experienced the worst, now the only way to go is up!

  15. J C Sprowls says:

    My supposition re: lying about orders in the pipeline?

    If she’s charging a monthly fee in addition to commission, she’s earning a cleverly concealed “draw” on commission. So, she needs to convince you to keep writing that check.

    Egging on the naive MFG is one way to protect a cash cow. I’ve seen sales reps do this time and time again in several industries (namely: food distributors and insurance sales). I always considered it a wasted effort because it metes itself out in the end (i.e. enough quotas missed, the draw is upside-down, and the reps are released).

    Maybe she thinks she will pull off a hat trick at the last minute that will cover all her promises? I can only speculate. Suffice it to say that each rep needs to be taken on their own merit.

  16. Maggie says:

    I’m a sales rep in NY and dear you should have left at the very first sign that something sounds fishy to you.

    Those are the ones who give our profession a bad name. I have one advice for you: Great lawyer with a great contract!!!!

  17. Vanessa says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    I’ve been on your website for a while I love reading your blog in my free time and I ordered your book as a graduation present to myself (just graduated from design school!) I feel like I have learned more from your book and blog than I did at school! And I now find myself in what I would describe as a precarious position at my first job. A line hired me to be their sales rep, and I took it because I eventually want to start my own line and I want to get the experience of selling to retailers, figure out more hands on how the business works, and, of course, build a network of retailers that would be beneficial to have down the road. The contract I signed gives me commission, but I have to pay all of my expenses. I wanted to give this a shot because the experience I feel is great, but as of right now I am losing money on repping this line…I have only been able to make one sale for them so far, I may be inexperienced, but I am trying, calling stores and trying to set up appointments, etc. But I am starting to not only question how good of a deal this position is for me, but the professionalism of the DE…I hope that you can advise.

    The DE gave me their samples about a month ago. A lookbook or photos of any kind were not included, this was the first thing that retailers were asking me about and when I inquired, they asked if I could take photos?!?! They did not provide me with any equipment (rack, steamer, etc), I had to buy it all myself, which I understand is the norm, but I also am not charging them any fees other than commission…which I now see is NOT the norm. Espescially when the DE is asking me to do marketing etc that goes above and beyond setting up and attending appointments directly in order to sell. They also started me off with selling the wrong season…the majority of the retailers do not want to even look at the collection because they have already bought their fall. Yet the DE is UP MY ASS trying to get me to make sales. Because this is a commission job, and their line has not been selling (they did not prepare it properly to sell imo…wrong season, no lookbook, very little marketing, delays with the manufacturer on the few orders I HAVE sold), I’ve had to put their line on the backburner. It’s basic business, your line isn’t profitable for me, in fact, I have LOST money on it, I now need to focus on another stream of income, because, guess what, my bills don’t stop because your line didn’t sell and this DE is not paying me anything to make phone calls and go to appointments that don’t result in sales. I hope I don’t sound too bitchy, but I feel a bit taken advantage of, and like I’m being treated like an intern. I’m done school and it’s far past time for me to get paid for the work I do. Because they know I went to design school they have also hired me to help with sewing, which at first I was happy about because YAY MONEY! But this is where another area of non professionalism popped up: they make their patterns on tissue paper! They want me to use tissue paper patterns for cutting tricky things like chiffon and fine knits! Correct me if I’m crazy but this sounds like a recipe for disaster for the accuracy and efficiency of their sample making process–obviously no manufacturer is going to use tissue patterns…so they’re paying for them twice, why I have no idea. Anyway, so there’s parts of their business model that confuse/worry me as well.

    I am already locked into this line until September because I agreed to do a trade show and I still want to get that experience too, but moving forward something has to give because this situation is not working for me. Hopefully their spring collection will sell at the trade show so the DE will get off my butt a bit. I don’t think she understands that she needs to manage her expectations of someone she isn’t paying a wage or a salary.

    How do I handle this?
    I don’t know how to address that without sounding whiney or rude. I don’t want to drop the line but this DE is driving me crazy and really needs to be better about boundaries… She is constantly emailing me and calls me and wakes me up a lot in the morning at 7/8am, which is also when she always wants to meet all the time–I have 2 other jobs to support myself so that I have the “luxury” of working for this DE to get the experience but she’s made me late to my other jobs a couple times, and her waking me up all the time is really not meshing well with my schedule.

  18. Kathleen says:

    I don’t think you’re whiny or rude -just fed up.

    I regret to have to tell you this but I don’t think there is a solution. Or, not an outcome you hope for. The DE isn’t going to slap her forehead, wonder what she was thinking to turn her operation around to do things the way they should be done.

    The value of this experience will be what you take from it. More than anything you may have learned in school or from a book (even mine), you’re suffering the consequences of poor execution coupled with unrealistic expectations. Again, the value of this situation is that you’ll always carry these experiences with you moving forward. To be sure you’ll make your own mistakes but at the very least, you won’t make these.

    I feel for you and hope you can get on track with more promising opportunities soon.

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