Find a sales rep -circuitously

I think the top three questions I get from designers are
1) Where can I buy fabrics
2) How do I find a sales rep and
3) Are those trade directories worth the money.

In this post I can help you with the first two questions although I’ll be focusing mostly on the second question and I don’t have an answer for the last one. I’ll deal with the last question first. Personally, I don’t know if those trade directories (sold by Fashiondex for example) will generate the value you expect because your expectations are pivotal. This doesn’t mean their products and services don’t represent good value; these wouldn’t sell if they weren’t filling a need. Still, if you’re willing to invest the time searching, you can locate sales reps on your own without spending a lot of money.

The best way to start your search is not by googling apparel sales reps unless you’re prepared to sift through nearly 2 million search results. The best way to start is to search market center websites. To search market centers, you’ll have to know the names of them. If you don’t know the names, you can use an industry portal like Infomat although there are many other sites too (feel free to add your favorites in comments). Of course Infomat would like to sell you directories themselves but you can navigate their site to search on your own. Select Calender first. From there you can either search by your product type or you can search by “events by month” for monthly show listings (recommended, off in the right side bar). For example, click on the listings for October 2005. Be sure to hit “next page” because there are quite a few. Searching for events by month will ensure you find all of the selling venues and also the buying ones. That’s important if you’re looking for fabrics, equipment and inputs. To find the given market center, you’d have to select the particular show listed, load the page and follow the off-site link. I like searching with Infomat because each link automatically opens in it’s own window (that would normally irritate me). You can also search by city.

You’ll find that each market site is different. For example, I found the Fashion Industry Gallery in Dallas TX which is a new venue targeting mostly fashion forward apparel and accessories. Judging from the listings there, I’d think it’d be great resource for boutique and bridge lines. This site is very straightforward putting all the information up front. You’d select Collections to see whether the product lines currently exhibited there are compatible with yours -please note that none of the lines use the word “couture” or anything sewing related as part of their name- or select Agent Directory to find listings of all the reps that show there. Of course you’d need to peruse the sales rep listings for all the lines they currently represent to see whether your line would be a good mix. As I’ve mentioned before, you’re looking for a sales rep who sells product lines that are similar to yours. Many new designers still fail to understand that they need to hire sales reps of their competitor’s products. Sooner or later if you’re going to make it in this business, you’ll figure that out. Before I forget, don’t even dream of asking a sales rep to sign a confidentiality agreement; that’s the quickest route to professional suicide I could imagine. Anyway, FIG has a great website; you’ll find email addresses of reps as well as their off site links if they have a website.

As I said before, all market center sites vary in usability. At the Dallas Market Center, you’d select exhibitor’s list then refine that search by hitting product list (hitting product list from the main menu won’t get you to this page). From product list you’d select the product category that applies to your product line. You’ll find everything from gifts and home furnishings to footwear and furniture. Select a subcategory such as women’s dresses and you’ll find all of the exhibitors renting showroom space. To find a rep, you’ll have to hunt and peck through the listings. Selecting someone like Bobcat Apparel Sales or Brad Hughes & Assoc will bring up their respective pages listing all of their contact information and the names of lines they currently represent. Obviously, you’d need to do a bit more research to see if your product mix is compatible with lines they currently represent but you can find a rep on your own if you’re willing to do the leg work.

Now, the California Market Center is a tougher nut to crack. To find sales reps there, I had to select representatives from the drop down menu under “directory search”. Since you only get a search box on that page, I put a letter “a” under “last name” and got quite a few listings with names (few of which actually began with “a”). Now, while this site makes it tough to find reps this way, they make it much easier in another respect. Specifically they make it simple to order a show directory. For example:

LA Textile Show Guide: published twice per year, alphabetical listing of participating exhibitors, including company contact information (i.e. phone, fax, e-mail) and classified index of industry categories.
– Industry Affiliate: Please send payment of $30; $25 for guide’s cover price and $5 for postage.

Reps Looking For Lines: published listing of CMC multi-line reps actively looking to take on new lines; broken into product categories for easy selection.
-Manufacturers/Designers: Please send $5 for booklet’s price and postage.

If you’ve never seen a show directory, those are invaluable sources of information. On every market center site you should be looking for a show guide to purchase if you’re interested in that venue -the FIG site doesn’t list one but then, they don’t need to; all of their info is on their website. This is something you could be doing now if you’re just starting your company and haven’t yet launched a line. In addition, I’d strongly recommend attending a market before you ever show in one. In the show directories each booth will be listed along with lines represented, categories and what-not. You’d peruse the directory searching for product lines that are similar to your own and contact their reps. Every market center sells directories. To buy a directory you’ll have to visit the website of each given market center. The prices of the directories vary but $25 seems to be the average price. Happy shopping!

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  1. MW says:

    Kathleen, I own one book from Fashiondex, the The Small Design Company’s Guide To Wholesale Fabrics. I found it to be marginally useful. “Low minimums” to them meant less than 500 yards per fabric. Overall, attending an industry textile show, for me that’s the TALA (Textile Association of Los Angeles) show, provided more resources than the FashionDex directory. There are other industry trade shows, the IFFE (International Fashion Fabric Exhibition) in New York, Fabric @ Magic, and other shows. I just want to differentiate industry shows from shows that are “sewing” shows open to home sewers and professional home sewers, because while they had lots of suppliers, they also had an abundance of fabric jobbers, which can be easy to work with as a DE, but problematic (because many don’t have consistent inventory it’s difficult to sample and be sure the fabric will be there when you have to order for production).

    For the price, I would not buy it again, though.

  2. Find a sales rep pt.2

    I want to piggyback on Kathleen’s post on finding a sales rep. I haven’t been posting much lately but you may remember that I am a buyer and retailer. My perspective is as a buyer who works with sales reps…

  3. Jason says:

    This is fascinating info. Thank you for this. Is there a listing of all fashion market centers so that I can then see which ones I want to buy directories from?

  4. The best way to start is to search market center websites. To search market centers, you’ll have to know the names of them. If you don’t know the names, you can use an industry portal like Infomat although there are many other sites too

  5. I am developing a new line of sleepwear and have your book and could not have gotten anywhere without it. I have physical samples now, and an apparel consultant in Los Angeles told me to visit the market weeks, for example in Dallas and Atlanta, a few days before the market opens, and look for reps. Do you agree with this? Sounds like bad timing to me. Also, must I leave samples with every rep or just the one I choose? silly question


  6. Kathleen says:

    Since you have the book and qualify, I recommend joining the forum where you’ll get more targeted advice. I don’t put as much out here anymore since so many enterprising individuals have taken to paraphrasing the content on this site for their own consultancies.

    I recommend (have recommended) that you attend a market if your budget permits. See the tradeshow category.

    As to leaving samples with every rep?… see Do not ship samples to anyone who wants them! for some ground rules. But the quick answer is no.

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