Hi guys! Please excuse the slightly belated nature of this post; it's been the busiest couple of weeks yet around here. We've just released our first 5 temporary tattoos and tea towels, and I'm working on some licensing deadlines and holiday orders are coming in and and and. Bottom line: it's a lot. Anyway! I was really happy to hear that the first post in this series was so helpful to so many of you. I actually had a dream last week that I wrote an e-book about launching a card line and made it available as a digital download for like $10, which is basically the most coherent dream I've ever had. Let me know if that's something you'd be interested in! I could definitely explain things in greater detail in that context. Okay! Without further ado, here's Part 2, which covers some basic information about working with sales reps.
What’s the deal with sales reps? How do they work?
Sales reps show samples of your line to the retailers in their territory multiple times a year, take orders for your line, and act as the liaison between you and store buyers. One of the reasons this is great is that your reps have relationships with store buyers that you don’t have; they will also show seasonal releases and new products, so you don’t have to personally connect with every store every time you add to your line. Some larger rep groups also have a permanent showroom where they take appointments with buyers and host events a few times a year. I took these photos at the Lynn Mitchell Group showroom in LA; the showroom is set up like a store, with each line merchandised in its own section, so it's easy for buyers to see all the products in a line.
Some larger rep groups have their own booth at wholesale shows like the National Stationery Show and NYIGF, which means that they can take your line to the show for you. This is awesome if you can't afford or don't want to deal with having your own booth at the show, which can be very expensive and labor-intensive.
How do reps get paid?
Reps take between 15-20% of your wholesale price as a commission on all orders that ship into their territory, even if they are not directly involved with taking the order (i.e, the retailer comes directly to you with their order, or you take an order directly from a retailer who visits your booth at a trade show).
Do I need to have sales reps to get my stuff into stores?
Nope. They are helpful as you grow, but a lot of people don’t work with reps and do just fine, especially just starting out. You can always send PDFs of your cards and a line sheet with prices directly to store buyers. Physical samples are always good to send, too.
Is there any reason I wouldn't want to work with a rep?
It's really an individual decision. The biggest factor in choosing to work with sales reps is that you'll need to factor their commission into your profits. You'll also need to do the work of constantly keeping your reps updated with all your latest products, and sending out commission checks monthly.
How do you find a good rep?
In order to find my first rep, Lynn Mitchell Group, I looked up who Rifle Paper’s rep was in Los Angeles and cold emailed them. I sent Lynn Mitchell some info about myself and my line, and attached some of my favorite card images. (Most lines who work with reps list their rep information on their website.) Based on that email, I landed an appointment to meet with LMG in their showroom, and I ended up signing with them for representation in Southern CA and AZ (their territories). I didn't know anything about different rep groups when I started, but I did know that my goal was to work with reps who carried other lines I wanted my work to be associated with. I still think that’s a good place to start. Look at lines you admire, and see who their reps are. There's no real google-able database of stationery reps that I know of. (If anyone knows of one, please let me know!) Some parts of the country have several different stationery reps or rep groups, and other parts of the country don't have much going on. As I started to grow and talk with different reps about the possibility of working together, I reached out to some of the designers of the lines they carried, in order to hear what their experience had been like.
What does a rep look for in picking up a line? Is it hard to land representation?
Top reps get approached by a lot of lines wanting to work with them, so in order to be considered for representation, your line will first need to be different from the other lines they carry. I’ll talk about this more in a future post, but one major thing to know is that reps are very careful about not taking business away from their other vendors (and themselves) by picking up new lines that look or feel too similar to something already on their roster. The other thing to keep in mind is that most reps will want to see at least 40 or so cards in your line before considering you as a candidate for representation, so if you're just starting out, you may not have enough product yet. Next week, I'll talk about the National Stationery Show. If you've got questions about sales reps that I didn't cover, please feel free to comment -- I'll answer as best I can!
Off to watch the Breaking Bad finale,