I have been trying to find an independent sales rep. to pick up my line, so I advertised (for a fee) to an on line company that posts needs for sales reps. I finally had a call from one guy (after months of posting). He is a road rep looking to pick up lines. I don’t think that he was ready for me. I had just purchased your book so I knew what kind of questions to ask him. A couple of the many questions that I asked were related to purchasing samples and signing a contract. He just emailed me today stating that he does not purchase samples, “he has no need for a bag” and that I would need to write up a contract. My question is this, is he just new to the business and may not understand the standards, or is he trying to take advantage of me? Are they not the ones who are supposed to provide a contract for my review? I almost wanted to try to work with him being desperate for a rep but thankfully I found this site just in time. Thanks.
The funny thing is that not every sales rep does pays for samples. As crazy as it sounds, it’s true. I know it’s a standard rule but the truth is I have seen exceptions. Some reps are just really really good, a known quantity. Also, reps that are employees should never have to buy them. New lines though, have a harder time getting a rep to pay for samples and part of the reason is that the rep wants to alleviate some of the risk of taking on an unproven line. I don’t think what he is asking for is unreasonable, and you can’t always point to a book and say “but these are the standards”, they are merely guidelines.
I truly believe relationships with sales reps should be somewhat like partnerships. They are there to sell, you are there to support the sale, you should have enough chemistry between you to foster a synergistic relationship. This is one situation where you really need to feel things out and rely on instincts. A great rep can do a poor job with your line because there’s not a good fit. If there is no chemistry in working together, they turn to focus on their other, proven lines. And an unproven rep can do a fantastic job with your line if they love it and believe in your line and your company. The only way to know (sadly) is to try it and see if it works.
Having said that, after viewing your line, you probably would be better off with someone who could wear your product or who at least has a passion for it. There is a tendency for some independent sales reps to approach apparel the same way they would approach selling vacuum cleaners, pharmaceuticals or office supplies. They believe there is a formula to selling, and that if they have mastered the formula, they can sell anything. They may have absolutely no passion for the product. And even if they made six figure commissions in their previous field, they tend to suck at apparel sales because a lot of buyer purchases are not driven by data (except large stores), but taste and style. And for that to happen, there has to be a connection between the buyer and the product, or the buyer’s customer and the product, because you’re only selling to the middle man, versus other industries where a sales rep is selling to the end user.
The reason I bring this up is because that type of rep usually is the type to read free (to them) classifieds of lines wanted. Popular apparel and accessory reps are constantly solicited and usually don’t have the need to scout for new lines because companies are always calling them. The reality is -I’m not saying classifieds don’t work- but I’ve never run into a rep who found a great line through the classifieds and I’ve never met a DE who found a great rep that way either. If you ask someone, they’ll say they found their rep in a showroom at market, or from a referral (referrals are everything in this business). Like Kathleen has said before, you’re better off getting a referral from one of your store accounts; what reps do they like? A good rep doesn’t have to cruise the classifieds. They’re hit up with lines all the time so they don’t have to look for them.
As far as the contract is concerned, I’ve seen it both ways. A rep will have their own contract or a designer has their own. In this case, I think the rep is feeling you out (I don’t think he works this business, I’ve never seen any man rep handbags except for an Italian importer) to see if the conditions of your contract would be favorable to what he’d normally ask for but like I said, he probably doesn’t know what is “standard” (if we could even agree on what is standard) in this business.
In summary, you’re in a quandary. You have realized that you can’t passively sell your product. You figured out that you need someone to actively sell the product but you are passively searching for someone to represent your line. Do you see the disconnect?