There’s a very old sales joke about two sales reps attending one of their fellow sales rep’s funeral. While discussing their friend, one rep says to the other “Wasn’t that terrible about Joe?” The other rep says “what did he have?” His friend answers “North and South Dakota”.
Yes, I have North and South Dakota as well as a few other more populous states. In those states along with several other “Flyover” states, there are many opportunities to pick up furniture lines. There are not enough retailers and definitely not enough reps to give service for every factory. Someone is always looking for a rep in non-populous states. Marginal factories are usually looking for a rep in populous and non-populous states.
That doesn’t mean a sales rep in those states or any other for that matter should try and represent everything that is thrown their way. This undermines a rep’s effectiveness in a couple of ways.
First, if you have product from high to low, you will have to call on every single customer in the territory. Talking to a designer is different than working with a dirty window store. I am not saying you can’t do both but it takes a special kind of rep to understand the nuances of each. There are different demands and expectations from both retailers. Even though they both are in the furniture industry, one store wants the furniture delivered in two weeks so he can make a “tax money” sale while another has no idea what tax money has to do with furniture and why anyone should expect furniture in less than 12 weeks special ordered.
Second, a retailer that buys your high end special order eight way hand tied sofa is not going to turn around and buy your $199 promotional bunkbed line. It just won’t happen unless they have massive showrooms with clearance centers, and those stores are few and far between.
Third, a retailer expects you to know your product, and why they should be interested. The more lines you carry the less you can know about each. I remember years ago when I was a retailer, a seasoned rep walked our showroom floor with me looking at various bedroom offerings. We got to one vignette and he commented on how nice the group was. I told him I’m glad he liked it since his company had sold it to me at market.
Here’s a few thoughts on deciding what’s in your bag:
1. Have a mix of product that is synergistic. Mrs. B is famous for saying “Sell to the masses and live with the classes.” My dad taught me that at an early age and we have always sold product on the low to medium price side of the spectrum. However, I know several excellent reps that have done a tremendous job with higher end lines selling to designers and design centers. I don’t know many that are successful selling both.
2. Another solution for some is to become a specialist on a type of product. For example, there are accent and accessory only salespeople. They can concentrate on just selling to one type of buyer. I have also seen this with a successful case goods sales rep who can’t or won’t sell upholstery (and vice versa).
3. Become a specialist on a certain type of customer. Reps have geographic territories so this begins to narrow the customer base. But you should narrow further to the type of retailer your product serves best. We concentrate on Top 100 customers. Our associates concentrate on mom and pop independents. My son concentrates on internet accounts. Sometimes the same lines but many times different lines for different customers.
4. Only put things in your bag that you can represent with enthusiasm. If you cannot get excited about the product how in the world are you going to get someone else excited about selling the product. If you are just selling a product because it comes with a dealer base, you will be disillusioned over time.
Furniture is an awesome product that makes people’s lives better. Don’t just put something in your bag because you can. Make sure it is right for your retail customer base, make sure it is synergistic with everything else you sell, and most importantly make sure you are excited about selling the product. If you can accomplish all of that you will be successful.
Going into market, make the decision to reexamine all the lines you represent. If the potential is not good, if things have changed for the worse, or if you aren’t interested in the products, make the personal decision to look at market on how you can change your package for the better going forward. As always feel free to leave your positive comments below.