Links to previous entries in this series appear at close.
I’d like to respond to some points Miracle and Kathleen made in their posts responding to my original post.
Miracle: 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.
Speaking only for myself, I don’t want a sales guy to be emotionally invested in my ideas. I want them to be invested in making money for the both of us. An idea guy will love you one season and not the next. A guy who’s into selling and making money is less fickle. I got a whole team of sales guys who love the product but are lazy about pushing it because they live in Florida and they’re making 40K a year on another label and that’s just fine by them. When I said, “I’d love to have at least one sales guy who has a great enthusiasm for the brand, leading him to work hard…”, I meant a guy who had enthusiasm for selling the brand. He’s a sales guy. He needs to sell. And help me create a better product by giving me educated feedback so I can help him sell more so we can both make money. I don’t need people who love and gush about my ideas. I got my fanclub for that. (Mainly my dad and the boy. Hee.)
I understand what Miracle means though. I meet and read about a lot of designer who are so wrapped in their dreams and concepts that they forget this is also about business. Of course, if you’re happy to sell just a few hundred pieces a year to only those people who “truly get” your concepts, these posts obviously are not for you.
Miracle: 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.
This is a serious issue that requires a lot of attention, and it’s certainly something that I’m currently dealing with. Yes, I can completely understand that if my line isn’t selling as well as another one my rep deals, it’s not going to get as much attention. On the other hand, it’s still about money, and so if I call my rep and ask them why we’re not performing as well as Brand X, I want an honest answer. I don’t want the same set of lies that the lazy resort to.
Case in point. Boss calls Rep and says “Call Store X. We haven’t sold to them in a while. Why is that? Give them a call, see what’s going on with them.” Rep responds, “Boss, it’s a dead horse.” Boss says, “When’s the last time you called them?” Rep responds, “Boss, I’m telling you, you’re beating a dead horse.” Boss turns to me, the Designer. Boss says “Designer, photograph about 10 styles for Store X. They like x, y, z styles/looks, so something along that vein. Email Store X and see if they bite.” Designer does as such and secures 100 pc. order in 2 emails within 2 days. This took about 1.5 hours out of Designer’s time.
My issue here is that Rep didn’t even call Store X, just kept waving Boss off. Add to that, Rep wanted the commission because it was his territory, even though he didn’t do anything. He had his chance, you know? And with our pricepoints, a 100pc order still is a very nice commission for an hour’s work.
Kathleen: It didn’t occur to me that a designer would be offended with input from the sales reps regarding style direction.
There’s this fine line between designing the line and giving sales input. I see the former along the lines of “Those are some ugly buttons.” The latter is more like, “You know, Zoe, lots of people are asking for 2-button blazers.” Some of you may think that they are one and the same, but they’re not. The former is gut reaction opinion. I don’t need it. I have my design team for that. Not to say that I’ll flagrantly ignore and shun any opinion coming from my sales guys, but I value actual data coming from the field much more. With my design team or anyone else, I want something to back up what they have to say. You want me to change the buttons? Give me a reason. “They look cheap.” “They look like old-man buttons.” “Snaps would make this jacket more hip, with the chunky zips and stuff.” Those work. Now if my sales guys tell me his customers want a particular thing, I will listen. Example: at the company I used to work at, one of the bestsellers of the debut collection was a particular print caftan. For some reason, they didn’t run the style for the two subsequent seasons. The first collection I worked on at this company, the rep called us and said, “People are hunting down those caftans you did the first season! We need to do those again!” And we did, in a different print, and they were once again very popular.
My point in writing the original post, my excitement in reading the thoughtful responses, and my point in writing a response is because I want to articulate and maybe figure out ways for sales and manufacturing to work better together. Whining gets you nowhere; articulating the problem and trying to figure out a resolution is better. (Actually resolving something would be best, but one step at a time, no?)
With the industry the way it is now, I don’t think using independant sales reps with multiple lines works anymore. Showrooms are great for people who are just starting out and want the exposure that a group showroom can bring. Having an inhouse sales team looks like the best method. I see my inhouse customer service and they’re great. Partially, they have the boss’s presence in the office to get them crackin’. Another aspect is they’ve developed a comraderie with the whole staff that makes them *want* to get more orders, get bigger orders, etc., for the whole team. It’s hard to be excited about and loyal to an office 4000 miles away from you, faces you see once a year. A lot of it has to do with finding the right incentive for people. Some people thrive on positive reinforcement in the form of verbal praise and monetary bonuses; with others, the only thing that works is the threat of being fired.
The point that I’m (somewhat awkwardly) trying to make is that I think there’s a schism between manufacturers and salespeople because they work for separate entities, working for separate goals. Sales guys work for themselves, for their own bottom line, and everyone at home base working for the company. Of course, I’m not saying every (or any) company is some weird extended family that’s super happy and singing “Kumbayah” around the water cooler, but there’s definitely more of a sense of team effort than what’s extended to non-inhouse sales reps. Common goals make for better working relationships, and in the end, isn’t that what we all want?