How to become a sales rep?

Talk about being out of my element, this from my email:

I would like to become a sales rep for eco-clothing lines and artisan-made jewelry. I have my associates in fashion design and was designing and making custom women’s jackets for a few years. I know I would be great in this career and am wondering if you have any advice on how to enter this industry? I am willing and flexible to do what it takes and thought I would start by asking you.

This isn’t something I know anything about but maybe somebody out there does. There’s one previous entry I wrote called Sales rep training but I doubt that’s the complete solution. Naturally, I recommend reading or in your case, rereading textbooks from your school days. You’ll have to brush up on your retail math.

I subscribe to a magazine called Agency Sales from MANA (Manufacturer’s Agents National Assoc.). It’s not free but you don’t have to be a member to subscribe. I think I pay $50-$70 a year for it. Alternatively you could join the organization ($229) and the sub comes with it. The organization is geared for sales reps of manufacturers but I think the magazine is nicely balanced in representing issues from the perspective of manufacturers too. Here’s an impressive index to past articles in the magazine. I’d think something like this would be required reading if you wanted to become a sales rep (or even if you wanted to improve your relationships with sales people). They’ll send a sample issue upon request.

As far as further reading material goes, I have tons of books here but since I don’t have a background in sales and marketing, I don’t know which are any good. I always like the English books (Blackwell Science and Batsford). I have one I favor (caveat noted), a textbook edited by Mike Easey called Fashion Marketing. Although the publishing date of my copy is 1995, I’m very impressed that the issue of eco-products is discussed at length. There’s a 2001 edition on Amazon US (8 used copies) and 23 copies on Amazon UK. I note a 2008 edition is slated for publication next July.

Other than my sketching reading referrals, the first idea off the top of my head is to get a job working with an existing sales rep or agency and learn it from the inside. Also, plenty of designers are hungry for reps, just try getting hired. Still, there are other issues to consider.

  • Do you have any relationships with stores or buyers?
  • Do you have a background in retail marketing?
  • How do you plan to sell?
  • Can you travel? If you can’t be a road rep (which is what most people want), do you envision leasing a showroom?

Do you all have any advice on becoming a sales rep? What qualifications do you look for in a candidate? Would you consider someone totally green and if so, under what conditions? Which marketing books do you like?

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  1. Jennifer E. says:

    my biggest advice would be what Kathleen said work with an established sale rep for a while. Even if it is not eco-fashions or artisan jewelery.

    What I like about my “good agents” is they are prepared. They have line sheet ready for me, not running around as I get there and I can take the copy with me. The follow up with me. They help with merchandising the line. They say you’ll need X to go with X etc…
    If I call to complain about a product problem they listen to me and note the issue. As apposed to one agent who brushed me off and told me to go to the distributor (why he was getting paid to be an agent was beyond me)

  2. Julie K says:

    I certainly would consider hiring someone ‘green’ and have been considering that as my next move: hiring someone with experience in sales (not necessarily as a clothing rep) to do the phone calls and show my line to potential customers, because apparently I’m ‘sales-phobic’ :( and the existing reps are all pretty well-stocked and want to see that you have established accounts before they’ll take you on. So, if I can’t sell myself, and I can’t get an establish rep without selling, what is the next best option?

    As far as advice for someone wanting to be a rep, I would talk to as many store owners (buyers) and other sales reps as would talk to me, and take their advice! There’s also been a lot of info on this site aimed at designers that would be important for a rep to be aware of.

    If you like making phone calls, meeting new people, and traveling; you’re organized, thorough, and a good listener, I would go ahead and try contacting small/new designers and get a couple accounts going!

  3. Angela says:

    I am launching my eco line and would totally consider hiring someone green (no pun intended:). I would have to know that they knew more than I do about the market such as which trade shows are ofering space specific to eco lines (such as Pool) and know about eco shows such as the global eco show.
    I guarantee you really have to know your stuff about fabric, sourcing, and end use in terms of eco product. I suggest reading Cradle to Cradle if you feel rusty about the whole picture of sustainability.
    Why don’t you check out each cities fashion week and note all the sustainable lines being showcased. I know Portland has quite a few. Create an agenda for presenting your line (trade shows, territory etc.) and take it to each line. Because this is a relatively new business I imagine there are quite a few lines in need of representation.
    Drop me a note when you get your agenda together.

  4. Vesta says:

    We’ve taken some fresh reps, but we start them at a lower commission rate. With performance, we’ll move them up to our standard rate. What we’ve seen so far is that the more seasoned reps come out of the gate very strongly, because they’re just plugging us into existing stores that they have relationships. So we’re sort of paying for the education of the new reps, with time and money.

    Oh, and we won’t work with showroom reps at this point. Road only. We need boots on the ground in the stores.

  5. Lindy says:

    Has anyone managed to find a good, eco-minded sales rep? I am starting a sustainable jewelry company and would like to find out if there are any sales reps out there that are interested in eco products and know about all the best trade shows to attend. We are based in Australia and it’s quite expensive to travel to the US for sales trips.

  6. Linda Driscoll says:

    I am an eco sales rep and I built my business from the ground up! I started as a Sup Rep for someone else in the industry…who was more of a supplements (vitamins) rep in health food stores.

    I have built my business to include health food stores, eco-boutiques, and upscale spas and resorts. The green industry is booming right now!

    The key is TONS of hard work, phone calls, phone calls, phone calls, and face time in stores….

    Best to you!!
    ~Linda Driscoll

  7. Ava says:

    Repping for yourself: It can be a little tough at first. First of all, having a showroom is very effecient unless you live in an area where there is no major trade mart. I am (luckily) in Dallas so my showroom is in the World Trade Center. If you live in an area where there are only trade shows, you’ll want to participate in those, however, choose your shows wisely. Don’t spend a ton of money on a booth if the audience of buyer are not your target market (based on price points and category). Attend as a buyer first before committing to exhibiting. The best way to rep your own line is to do it in the “ripple effect”. Start showing your line on the road to your local shops, get to know store owners and buyers on a personal level. Meet everyone you can, stay in touch (phone calls, emails, email blasts). After that, you slowly branch out to surrounding cities, counties and eventually, states. Once you have established yourself in your area, you will have that client base that you need to move forward to the rest of the country (either by yourself or with a Rep in another territory). Do some PR as well. Write and submit press releases, submit articles to magazines and local newspapers, host trunk shows, create an online presence (have a GREAT website), do Facebook and Twitter, perhaps even a blog (it’s very index-friendly!). Don’t forget, this business requires money outlay to start. You won’t be able to pay yourself for a few months. Gas and travel expenses add up. If you can co-op with another brand to cut travel costs, do it.

    Hang in there. The market is just now starting to pick up. And don’t be afraid to adjust to economic trends (i.e. pricing, lower minimums, etc.).

  8. Peter Coultas says:

    I’d have to agree with what the author Kathleen Fasanella said about working with an already established sales agency or distributor. You might not be able to work with the brands you’d ultimately like to right away, but it’s a good way to get your foot in the door and build contacts. If you’re not strapped for cash, it might be a good idea to get an internship with a brand, distributor or sales agency as they are much more likely to take on inexperienced people who are looking to learn the business.

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