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Death of a sales rep?

Counting the cost

By adding new lines, you can draw in new customers.
By adding new lines, you can draw in new customers.

Making the leap from retail to travelling was a frightful proposition. My wife was working part-time, we had two kids in elementary school, and I had to take out a car loan so I could have something secure and reliable to get me around. The two lines I began with were good lines, but any drop in sales or increase in expenses, and my finances were in jeopardy. Sales reps tend to get paid out a large portion of commissions in the new year for much of the work they do during the fall. For years, I carried a large balance of expenses on a credit card or credit line until my payout in the new year. Too much of my payouts went into debt servicing.

Even so, I had to make the rounds to service my best accounts, keep nurturing emerging ones, and prospect for new. Why? Because I represented companies
I felt could benefit numerous retailers, and I wanted to make as many beneficial connections as I could.
I committed those weeks to the road, just like retailers commit to their own business hours. Both retailers and wholesalers enjoy the immediate sale, but we also take every opportunity to build relationships between purchases. Retailers often had a hard time accepting I would still come even if they had no open-to-buy (OTB). A sales rep can be a source of staff training, industry news, troubleshooting, and often inventory management, and can help retailers get the most out of the companies they represent.

There are also other costs to travelling. Socially, being on the road means lying to neighbours and acquaintances about your vocation, lest you reveal to the wrong person that you routinely carry a trunk full of valuables. I always felt the pressure to isolate friends and clients from my security risks. Here’s a valuable tip: resist the urge to ask a sales rep where he or she is going next or staying. You do not want to be the only person who has that information if, heaven forbid, they should be robbed after leaving your store.

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It was never all bad. I have good friends, nice photos, and a lot of experience gained from the amazing retailers I worked with. I made a decent living, and I had some good spans of off-seasons to try to play catch-up with my family, friends, and the all-important ‘honey-do list.’ I loved travelling and I miss it a lot.

Getting back to the fortuitous meeting with the retailer in High River, they had a need, and would never have connected with the companies I represented unless I’d spent the time and expense to cold call them. It was an unexpected benefit for them to learn about what I had to offer. The point being: don’t dismiss hardworking sales reps who drop in unannounced. They might be able to fill a gap, they could have exactly what you’ve been trying to locate for a client, or they might be your golden ticket to the next big thing. If it turns into a valuable two-way relationship, you just might become one of the accounts they plan their schedules around.

When opportunity knocks, keep an open mind.

Todd Wasylyshyn stumbled into the jewellery world while completing an arts degree at the University of Alberta in 1987, and still possesses the very first loonie he made in the industry. Having worked retail and been an owner, traveller, gemmologist, and writer, Wasylyshyn has seen the vast jewellery business from many angles, and is always on the lookout for new trends. Currently, he is general manager of Keith Jack of North Vancouver. He can be reached via e-mail at toddwaz@gmail.com.

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