Finding a rep in the classifieds

Julia writes:

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?

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Thomas Cuningham says:

    road reps — I had a guy approach me at a trade show — he wanted to carry the line on the road in a certain region. he asked for a couple of samples ‘in season’ to take right away. I let him have the samples — I figured even if he only opened a couple of doors it would help me out. Of course, he sold nothing — not one piece.

    The next season, he said he really, really, wanted the line — i told him fine, you have to purchase a sample set. I never heard from him again.

    just a little story of my experience.

  2. J C Sprowls says:

    So, your experience is leading you to require the rep has some “skin” in the game? Would you consider waiving that rule if a mfg you respected referred a rep to you (presumably a “really really good” rep)?

  3. julia says:

    This sales rep. told me that his previous place of employment wanted him to relocate , which he did not want to do, so he struck out on his own and wantes to pick up his new lines in which he would sell to hospital gift shops.(He was previously selling to gift shops). He is asking 15% commission for a year. He did seems very nice and recently emailed me his previously employers email stating that Maybe I should contact them,( I think because I had asked him for so much info.)Perhaps I will contact them and see how they handle things.

  4. Pat Lundin says:

    I have a question regarding the sample. Years ago I used to shop a boutique in Seattle that sold sample clothing and they were marked with a black marking pen “SAMPLE” over the label. Is that how samples are marked now? What would be a “hig end” way to mark samples, if there is a difference? Thanks!

  5. Kathleen says:

    Would you consider waiving that rule if a mfg you respected referred a rep to you

    A minor correction; another mfg is unlikely to refer a rep to you- but a store owner could. But yes, if a rep was known to be really really good and I was an unknown quantity, never having made delivery yet and I needed to up the ante to get a hot rep, I’d seriously consider it. The other thing is, I don’t know what people think they should be charging the rep for samples but it should be less than wholesale. Me? I’d charge direct cost, no overhead.

  6. J C Sprowls says:

    Haha! Okay… so I probably should have said “contractor” or “retailer” instead of “mfg”.

    Direct cost sets well with me; and, it’s just enough ‘skin in the game’ to not feel like I’m getting ripped.

  7. Miracle says:

    Years ago I used to shop a boutique in Seattle that sold sample clothing and they were marked with a black marking pen “SAMPLE” over the label. Is that how samples are marked now?

    If you have your rep buy their samples, you should not mark the samples you sell to them because part of the way the rep recoups the cost is to sell the samples when they’re done with them. If the rep chooses to mark the sample, that’s their business.

    The more expensive an item is, the less likely it is to be defaced. In terms of handbags, I don’t know why you would mark them.

    I have seen samples sent to large department stores marked, cut, slashed, defaced in every which way possible. It is common for large department stores to receive free samples from the lines they carry and even though they are defaced, they do sell them in their job-out loads even if they are not really technically supposed to.

  8. Miracle says:

    so he struck out on his own and wantes to pick up his new lines in which he would sell to hospital gift shops.(He was previously selling to gift shops)

    That doesn’t surprise me. I told Kathleen that you would probably be better off in the gift market, not the apparel market. Honestly, I don’t know if hospital gift shops would get you the inventory turn you would like. But I can really see why he thought that was a good fit.

    The reason I say that your line would probably be better placed in the gift market is that accessories usually accessorize something. There are a few purse designers on this board and usually (usually) apparel stores that carry handbags usually carry handbags in basic solids, in fine construction, design and quality fabrics, but in basic solids that coordinate with the clothing they carry for the season.

    Your bags (and the bags of some other members) have bold prints and colors and honestly, I don’t know how an apparel buyer would merchandise a line like that with their apparel. They would have to merchandise it with very plain apparel where the bag is the focal point of the outfit. And usually, that’s not what apparel stores do.

    When a line is like that, I tend to feel that it’s better off in the gift market, where cross merchandising with an outfit/wardrobe is not a concern. So in that regard, I think that guy is on the money with his ideas about your line.

    And I don’t believe that all gift reps buy their samples. I would have to ask around to be sure, but my understanding is that many are given a sample line by the manufacturer.

  9. Beverly says:

    One of my clients and their line was recently picked up by a sales rep, who saw an article about my clients in Kids Creation magazine (a trade mag put out by Canadian Apparel). She loved their garments based on the nice colour photo. She goes through trade magazines looking for the new and unusual things she thinks she can sell. She told them she did not pay for samples bceause in the course of having buyers handle the merchandise over and over, they get fairly “shop-worn”, not de-faced or torn (usually) but generally tired looking. She gave them the choice of taking the samples back at the end of the season or their lifespan, or she would turn them over to Goodwill or some other charity. I thought that was reasonable. By the way, she charges 12% commission and has a showroom. Just for your collection of information about apparel in Canada.

  10. We are a new line and after much searching for a rep, via the internet, asking wholesalers, anyone we coulld think of, we just hit the streets of NY and knocked on everyones door. We showed our line to everyone who sold lines similar to ours and got a great response. So, we got a rep in 3 days, but that was our mistake.We were so excited we had signed with someone, we didn’t take the time to make a real conection with our new rep. and just saw it as stictly business. Turns out he saw the business in a totally different way than us, and it ended up being a very hard relationship to deal with. We have since left him and have found a really great rep through references. We took the time to talk to the new rep, see how he feels about the business, about our line, there is much more comunication between us, something we have learned is incredibly important. You have to have great comunication with your rep, or it doesn’t work right. My point is, you do need to be proactive about selling, and that includes finding the right rep for your line and your business, and if you find the right rep on the first try, you are very lucky!
    I do have a question. With our old rep. we had an order he had sent us months before we went our seperate ways. This order was to be shipped in January, and the merchandise is ready to be shipped, just waiting on the ship date. Today, after all is said and done, he sends us a fax canceling the future order, and gives us no explanation. He won’t even pick up the phone to give us an explanation. Can we just accept it as a loss? Should we call the store directly and talk to them instead of going through our “ex-rep”?

  11. Farida says:

    I am finishing my first handbags/purses line made of persian lamb and snake skin. Any suggestions on how to find a sales rep or even how to go about selling it, besides the internet.

  12. Hi Farida,

    I would love to see your line. I have a handbag business called KuraDesign. I am also looking for a rep but have managed to open up several accounts in the DC metro area on my own.

    We should talk!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.