Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reps with a rep

Photo credit: Denise Krebs

A friend of mine was shopping at a quilt store recently (one very, very far from me) which she said had a great selection. She happened to ask the proprietress about a certain line and was told they don't carry anything from that particular manufacturer. Being the curious type, my friend asked, "Oh? Is it a problem with the fabric?" To which the shop owner replied, "No, it's a problem with the rep."

I remember sales reps from my days as an optician. Depending on the size of the eyewear company in question, the reps' sales territories might cover a couple states or the entire eastern half of the United States plus Puerto Rico. They traveled around with samples of every pair of eyeglasses the company currently carried and would pull out trays of them from their bags to show us and extol the virtues of each. "Now, this frame is made of a special alloy of titanium and cannotpronouncium, which is mined by specially trained Mongolian yaks.  This puke green color was all the rage at Fashion Week this year, and this clunky square shape is trés moderne." This was how we generally stocked the store with new product, except for occasional re-orders of frames that sold well and ones that we ordered at Vision Expo, the eyewear industry equivalent of Quilt Market.

Because the reps wanted us to wear their product, we often got free frames—one of the few perks in an otherwise sucky job. They were also the gateway to POS, which is how we referred to the decorative stuff that you could use in displays. (It stood for Point Of Sale, not Piece Of Shit.) Generally, the more we bought, the more POS we could have, but some reps would pile it on for us, because they knew we'd be more likely to make a dedicated display if we had the POS to go with it.

It's been over 10 years now since I worked in that industry, and I have deliberately shoved large portions of the experience out of my mind in order to maintain a relatively happy life, but I can't really remember having any major problems with one of our sales reps. I didn't particularly love some of them. One guy was kinda smarmy and fake, and I wouldn't have wanted to catch a drink with him after, but we liked the product and he didn't have cooties or anything. Some reps we hugged when they walked in because we truly liked them. Some we wanted to hug because they were hotties, but we didn't because we were both taken and way too shy. One had been my boss once upon a time, and pretty much taught me everything I knew, so he was a favorite too.

Some sales reps we never saw except at Vision Expo. We carried Oliver Peoples when they first came out, and at the time it was trying to position itself as a high-end boutique brand. You couldn't price the pieces lower than their suggested retail, and they weren't supposed to place it in more than one shop within the same area (though they did.) I don't recall ever getting a visit from an Oliver Peoples rep, but we did have an appointment with them at Vision Expo, the year that I got to go. Most frame companies set up booths in the Jacob Javits convention center in NYC, but certain other companies set up in giant suites in swanky hotels. If I remember correctly, Oliver Peoples set up their operations in the Ritz Carlton at Central Park. We rode the shiny elevators to one of the top floors and walked into a giant suite, staffed by models disguised as frame sales reps. It was hard not to feel like Dumpy McHickerson around them, which did not endear me towards them particularly, but they did their jobs just fine. My point being that even though I didn't love all our reps—okay, I may have irrationally despised the models and wished them dermatological problems—I don't think there were any I actually refused to work with.

But I have heard more than one comment from various parts about quilt shop owners hating certain sales reps and refusing to buy from the company they work for. Apparently (and someone can correct me if I am wrong), even circumventing the rep and making a purchase directly with the manufacturer still puts a commission in the rep's pocket, and so some shop owners will avoid doing even that because they don't want the rep to get any of their money. THIS IS FASCINATING TO ME. I mean, what does it take to piss of your clients so much they refuse to carry your company's product at all, even if they love it and would sell the hell out of it? Showing up drunk? Insulting your mother? Sleeping with your spouse? Are they dismissive, rude, unhelpful? What services, besides showing up and letting you see fabric samples, do sales reps provide that perhaps these evil ones do not? I am being very serious here. If you own a quilt shop or work in one and have some insight into what makes a crappy rep, leave me a comment or (if you want to be sure to preserve anonymity) email me at dontdrinkandquilt (at) gmail (dot) com. And conversely, when you absolutely LOVE a rep, what is it that fuels your ardor?  And if, by some chance of fate, there is a fabric sales rep out there who wants to tell his or her side of the story, by all means contact me. What makes shops wonderful or awful to work with? What do you wish shop owners knew about your business that would help you do yours better? (And let me just say here that I am NOT suggesting that all fabric sales reps are awful. I just want to know what makes a bad one and what makes a good one within the quilt fabric industry, so please sheathe your daggers now. I am also NOT looking to out anyone you dislike, so no names or identifying details please.)

Let's dish!

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