Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More Business Wisdom (And Being Right) From Chef Gordon Ramsay

Somewhere in my past blogs or articles I’ve sung the praises of a TV show both on Fox and BBC America called Kitchen Nightmares with Chef Gordon Ramsay. Well he’s come through again, this time focusing on the rather questionable business practice of suing your way to wealth and riches, or attempting to. Kitchen Nightmares (KN for short) is a reality show that presents the viewers with dysfunctional restaurants where the owners have asked Chef Ramsay to come in for several days to help turn the situation around. As I’ve said before, it could teach many other business owners a thing or two. Complicated menus, poorly managed kitchens, lousy service and marketing skills can translate into trying to do too much (and badly), improper inventory control, and lousy service and marketing in other businesses too. Ramsay’s solutions are often very transferrable to any other business. The other night featured a restaurant in Baltimore called Café Hon. “Hon” is apparently a local expression used by and for middle aged Maryland women as a term of pseudo-endearment I guess…something similar to “darlin’” in Texas or “love” in the UK. Somewhere along the line it seems the owner got to talking to a legal firm about copywriting the term “hon” and the effects were disastrous for her restaurant. One might wonder how the sleazy legal firm profited on this, but that issue wasn’t covered. Other businesses using the expression in their ad campaigns or marketing were sent “cease and desist” letters. Their outrage over being told not to use a word that certainly pre-dated the restaurant itself spilled over to their customers. In effect, a boycott of sorts was on. Remember Donald Trump’s attempt to commandeer the phrase “You’re Fired” a few years ago? Just because it was a catch-phrase of his TV show The Apprentice, does anyone other than himself think he had any right to it? And that he’s entitled to compensation for it? Wonder if this has anything to do with his somewhat spotty public image in recent years… America has a lawyer for every 50 citizens or something like that. Whatever the figure, it far outpaces the rest of the world…and I do hope this is something the rest of the world avoids copying. The nature of our litigious society has been one of the many major reasons it has become more difficult to do business in what was once the largest, freest market in the world. Having a Congress and Government Bureaucracy made up overwhelmingly of lawyers and legal grads doesn’t help. How does this affect the independent sales rep? Well, it’s something you have to be aware of at all times. When you pick up a new line ask the vendor if all his/her legal “I”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed. Form an LLC for yourself so that you don’t become the subject of a lawsuit targeting you personally. On the other hand, what to do about protecting your own interests? We can’t go into too much detail here because situations will change in each case. But if it could be boiled down to the essence, I’d say here is the rule of thumb: If you genuinely created a product or intellectually unique ‘thing’, get it protected. If you are working with a lawyer to try to find something you can take over the “rights” to and just sit back and make money by suing people or settling out of court, then you are not a businessman. You are a slug who’s not worthy of the name and title of being a businessman. Making money selling your goods or services, is the right thing to do. And come Judgment Day something tells me “right” will be favored over “legal”. It’ll be seen below that Café Hon learned that “right” wound up being better for their business than “legal”. In one of the industries I serve, there is a major manufacturer who’s taken the “lawsuits to riches” route. This company tried to sue half their respective industry a few years ago, claiming copyright infringement pertaining to the appearance of other products in the industry. The decision came down that since the founder of the company did not take the time to copyright this aspect some decades ago, they had no case. The rest of the industry breathed a sigh of relief. But there is still one part of the products this company makes that ARE protected. And that enables their legal team to work full time looking for things like art, t-shirts, posters, figurines, etc. where they can threaten and bully those companies or individuals trying to use such art or design. The art need not even have the familiar company logo anywhere to be found—the product can be identified and claimed as theirs if one small part of the item in question matches their design. Think of the familiar Coke bottle logo shape and you get the idea. One result of this is the discontinuation of several products in a line that I sold into a chain of 100 stores. My vendor could have altered their design a little bit to comply. I offered to get them in touch with the attorney that successfully defended the industry-at-large against this corporation, but they just did not want the hassle. This decision meant less work for workers, fewer products for consumers, fewer profits for the retailer…and less sales for the sales force, me included. Hopefully with a generation raised on the internet, the whole idea of open source design will be more conducive for future competition and economic growth. The monster that they must counter is the trend toward companies, and more scary, legal firms, buying up patent rights just so they can quash anyone who comes along with a better idea—even if the products don’t look or act anything like each other! In most of these situations, the company or legal firm had nothing to do with building or creating the product to which they have legal title…indeed, they usually have no intention of ever doing so! This development is perfectly legal—it’s something the legal profession thought up after all. But that doesn’t make it right. Back to Café Hon and their story on KN: The owner, alongside Gordon Ramsay, appeared on local radio in Baltimore to apologize, to drop all suits, and to promise not to pursue any other suits by relinquishing her claim to the word/phrase “Hon”. The restaurant started to rebound and hopefully all will end happily ever after. It’s only lawyers who get work issuing “cease and desist” letters to manufacturers and budding entrepreneurs. Their work, while sometimes just and worthy, is instead becoming increasingly a barrier to an economy that cannot take much more blows. And, it takes work wealth away from others who can build on it. Lawyers don’t build or create wealth. They confiscate and retard it. I’m sure Café Hon would now rather have their customers go home on full stomachs while their cash registers are full, than be proud of a claim to some phrase legally all their own. There’s something right about full stomachs and full cash registers, don’t you think?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Eight Things You Need To Know & Do To Sell To Web Retailers

Sales for the future will depend largely on how you as a rep, or your vendors as companies, are able to comply with the demands of the online retailer. Whether it’s an account that is strictly online, without brick and mortar stores (like or if it is an older brick and mortar/mail order institution that has a healthy online presence (L.L.Bean or Wal-Mart), there are certain things that you have to be prepared to do in order to get their business.

Think of your own experiences in shopping at the local mall, strip center, downtown, or mass market discount store. How many times have you been looking for something specific like a battery for a slightly aged digital device only to be told by the sales clerk “You have to buy that online, either our own website or the manufacturer’s”?

This fact ought to drive the point home to you as a sales rep, and by extension, your vendors. More and more of what we buy is only available online. If it is difficult to put your stuff into a retailer’s online system, you are not going to make the sale. Add that all up, and you are going to go out of business.

Personal experience recently has me amazed that when I have asked for some of these things we’re about to share, some vendors claim, “None of our existing accounts ask for this kind of data”. The point is, if this kind of vendor wants to grow in the future, they had best prepare for doing business with new accounts because the odds of their existing contacts lasting long without any sort of web-savvy techniques is pretty grim. Many new accounts will be online retailers that are going to demand all or at least some of this kind of data. Accounts that want to move forward will surely be demanding this data as well.

So, here are eight things you should have ready to provide any sort of online retailer:

· UPC codes. This is gone over in detail in my book, The Independent Sales Rep. And it is still amazing there are whole industries out there that haven’t jumped on board (apparel is one of them). Each time you come up with a new sku, a new line of goods, whatever…assign UPC codes to them! Find me a brick and mortar store that does not have a UPC-scanning cash register, and I’ll show you a store that will likely close in a few years if not sooner.

Likewise, there are many online retailers that simply have to have this identifying code and while it may be possible for the account to assign one of their own codes to your product, it’s better if you show you’re playing ball by having your own already assigned. While it may not be a requirement for every web retailer, bigger accounts will want EDI capability too, and that’s heavily reliant on UPC codes. To learn more about EDI see my book…

You can go on about how sterile & commercial the UPC makes the product, but they probably said the same thing about price tags centuries ago. Get with the program. UPCs do far more than identify an item. They enable tracking of sales results without fudging data, can locate the item in a warehouse, tell you the pricing, and more. Prepare for QR codes too—those square looking barcodes that you scan with your smartphone. Think of the QR as a UPC code on steroids. The QR can include pictures, testimonials, all kinds of extra data on a product that used to go on a paper brochure—maybe. But now with the QR code, “brochuring” any product for the consumer is possible.

· Web-Friendly Images. An online retailer will want to show your product on his or her own website. Don’t expect them to order first, take a picture of the item in their showroom, and post it on their site. They want to be able to show the item in the best possible image, and if you or your vendor can’t do that, I have to wonder what kind of pride, if any, you have in your own product. Besides, don’t you want that kind of control over your product as much as possible?

Make individual images available on your site to be easily “copy>paste-able”. If you have a PDF catalog as the sole means of showing product images on your site and the best one can do is right click and “copy” a whole page…with that page containing images of 15 skus, it’s impossible for the online retailer to segregate that one sku they want. Besides, the online retailer may not be carrying some of the other images on that page.

If your vendor has an image FTP site or is able to pop a CDRom or thumbdrive with individual images in snail mail, that is a workable solution too. Keep in mind; many online retailers may want to post some of your product on their site first before they actually order it. They get the orders from their customers, then they will order from you. This leads to the next thing you need to be able to do:

· Fast(er) Turn Time. The web retailer is going to want to receive your goods and turn them around fast. True, with the best sellers from your company, he/she will likely keep some stock on hand…but those items that do not fall into the “80/20” rule (80% of sales come from the top 20% of skus) are going to be ordered and reshipped in rapid fashion.

If you and your vendor can’t get the product to the account within whatever your industry standard is, or better, this web retailer will not bother ordering from you. In my particular industries, average turn time used to be 2-3 weeks. It has now become 10 days to 2 weeks, or less! Guess which vendors I seem to be getting more orders from, especially when it comes to online retailers?

· E-invoices and Tracking Data. When that order ships, hopefully in the time window just described, the smart vendor is now providing all accounts, especially web retailers, an email invoice and tracking information so that the account will know the whereabouts of their goods.

This was something only large accounts demanded a few years ago (EDI does it automatically with ASNs-advanced shipping notices). The web retailer wants the comfort of knowing he/she will be able to satisfy their customers with your goods in a timely fashion.

Vendors that need to be reminded of this, by by being called and asked for the info, are fast falling out of favor. This is a process that should be automatic with all vendors. There are numerous systems a vendor can use for this purpose, but one line I sell uses simple text documents with the tracking on the invoice—a program that looks to have been created in house. Insist that your vendors comply with automatic e-invoices and tracking.

· A Web Description. Even though you’ve provided a really good photo image, it helps to have a good verbal description of the item for the web retailer to post. Things like weight and dimensions, texture, color, what materials the product is made of and so on, help the ultimate customer get a better idea of what it is they are about to buy, or not buy. When assigning UPC codes to a product, an official web descriptive text—one or two short sentences, is a really good idea. Think of it as the “30 second elevator pitch” for the item.

· Weight and dimensions. If not included in the web description, knowing these is still a good idea. Some web retailers need to know these and have separate columns on a product setup form just for this type of information. It also helps the web retailer determine how much shipping this item will cost them, so they can make a decision as to what costs will occur and how profitable the item will be for them should they pitch it on their site.

· Legal, Ethical and Safety Issues. Is the product you are trying to sell the web retailer made in a sweatshop in Samoa? You may have to provide country of origin in every step of your manufacturing process and those countries better have a good reputation. Can you provide a certificate of liability insurance for your vendor that removes any risk to the web retailer should anything go wrong whether some consumer files a lawsuit, frivolous or not?

It’s not a good idea to try to slip something over on your web customer, because if word gets out, he or she will be the one who takes the flak from advocacy groups, the press and eventually the public at large. Don’t make your customer look bad. Be prepared with this info.

· Can You Drop-Ship? What if the web retailer gets an order for your product and asks you to ship it to the consumer direct? Can/will your vendor comply? This has been a contentious issue with some of my own vendors in the past. They reason “Why should we be doing this when we have our own retail site, and now we’re basically supplying our competition?” Well, if that "competition" (ie, prospective web retailing customer) gets more hits than your site does or gets a few more hits yours doesn't, that’s reason enough to take up the drop shipping option. Increasing possibility of hits online is not a bad idea!

I would compare this drop-ship scenario more to a cross promotion in brick and mortar retail, where one retailer puts some goods on consignment with another retailer across town, who has a market Retailer A would like to crack but can’t because of his location or clientele type. Your vendor may not be used to selling B2C (business to consumer), but if they take up this challenge, and thoroughly research how much it will cost per item (smaller boxes, labor costs, paperwork, etc.) it could be a winning situation.

Most web retailers will have the vendors use the retailers shipping account (UPS, Fed Ex, whatever) and ask that the packing slip be not priced (so consumer is unaware of costs). Consumer often pays the web retailer before retailer pays the vendor for the goods since they may have Net payment terms with the vendor.

In conclusion, if you as a rep are prepared for these eight things and can find vendors who are willing and able to do all, or most of them, you will find more and more business in the future…simply because: more and more future business will be on the web.

NOTE: Because of recent feedback from some followers of this blog, I got motivated enough to add 10 pages to my book that concern agreement letters and contracts—some of the same material you see in the two prior blog posts. Many thanks. The new edition of The Independent Sales Rep containing this info should be ready by mid Feb ’12…and expect a Kindle version of the new edition shortly after that.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rep Agreements And Contracts Part Two

In the last post we saw what a typical “Rep-Vendor Agreement Letter” looks like. It was an informal looking document outlaying what the vendor expected out of a rep, and allowed the rep to add anything he or she saw fit that would establish what was expected out of the vendor if it weren’t already stated. But, an Agreement Letter can be perfectly legal.

There are also instances where a vendor writes a more formal looking legal contract. What this post will contain is an example of one of those documents. As in the last post, I’ve added notes in bold italics for explanatory purposes.
(Notes will be made in Bold Italics)
This agreement, made this ___ day of __________, 20___, by and between ______________________ of ____________________, hereinafter called the Company, and ___________________ of ________________________, hereinafter called the Salesperson. WITNESSETH:
1. The Company engages the Salesperson, and the Salesperson agrees to act as Salesperson for the Company, starting from the date hereof, and this agreement shall be automatically renewed from year to year with the same terms and provisions, unless this agreement shall be terminated sooner in the manner hereinafter provided.
2. (a) The Company agrees to pay the Salesperson as compensation for his services a commission of ___ per cent (___%) on the gross/net (scratch one) amount of sales made, shipped and/or distributed into the Salesperson's territory, consisting of the following states, in which Salesperson shall have exclusive territorial rights (accounts that are exceptions listed below): ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
(b) The Salesperson shall not be charged with or be liable for any advertising allowance granted by the Company, nor shall there be any decrease or reduction of commission on nationally advertised merchandise, close-outs, promotional goods or for any other cause, unless same shall first be consented to in writing by the Salesperson.
(c) The Salesperson will not make any representations, warranties or commitments binding the Company without the prior written consent of the Company.
(d) The Company agrees to refer to the Salesperson for attention all inquiries concerning its products received by the Company from any source or by any means whatsoever from the above described territory.(This is not always a condition with many Company/Rep relationships.)
(e) The Company agrees to give Salesperson credit for all goods shipped to or in Salesperson's territory, or sales made to customers therein, whether the orders for such sales are sent by Salesperson, received by the Company through the mails, or via facsimile, or via electronic mail, or taken at the Company's place of business, or placed by national buying offices, or otherwise. (Not always a condition either.)
3. (a) The Company shall have the option of accepting or rejecting any order or orders taken by the Salesperson, and no commissions shall be payable hereunder except on goods actually shipped by the Company and received and accepted by the Purchaser, provided, however, that the Company guarantees to pay the Salesperson commissions on a minimum of eighty-five per cent (85%) of accepted orders, whether shipped or not. An order will be considered accepted unless the Company notifies the Salesperson in writing of any order or orders rejected within ___ days of the mailing of such order or orders by the Salesperson. The Company guarantees to ship a minimum of 85% of accepted order or orders prior to the end of the delivery date specified on said order or orders.(Not always a condition, but any company that can claim such service is one any rep would want to work with.)
(b) In the event written notice of rejection is not given the Salesperson within the time above provided, the Salesperson shall become entitled to commissions on said eighty-five per cent (85%) of all non-rejected orders, which commissions shall be paid on the 15th day of the month following the day of the season for which said order or orders were received by the Company. (See note following (a)--same condition applies.)
(c) The Company reserves the exclusive right to grant credit and establish credit terms. If for any reason an account shall fail to fulfill those terms, whether by reason of late payment, non-payment, bankruptcy, insolvency, or otherwise, the Company shall remain fully liable to pay the commissions due the Salesperson in accordance with Paragraph 2(a) above.(Very rare in this writer’s experience. Reps usually paid based on what their accounts pay their vendors.)
4. (a) The Salesperson agrees to diligently work the territory assigned to him in an endeavor to secure business for the Company.
(b) The Company shall furnish the Salesperson with all sample bags, hangers, cases and other paraphernalia necessary for the Salesperson to perform his duties, all of which the Salesperson agrees to return to the Company and to be liable for any failure to return any portion thereof at the request of the Company, provided that the Salesperson shall not be liable to the Company for any loss of the foregoing equipment in the event the same shall be stolen, destroyed or damaged under circumstances which do not result from the negligence of the Salesperson or his failure to exercise ordinary care to safeguard such property.
(c) In the event the Salesperson shall for any reason, except as set forth in (b) above, not return samples, the Salesperson shall be billed for such samples at a sum equivalent to fifty per cent (50%) of the wholesale cost for same.(Cost of samples vary…many vendors provide for free.)
5. (a) Either party shall have the right to terminate this agreement prior to the expiration of the term, provided written notice of intention to terminate is given to the other party at least 60 days before termination effective date.
(b) In the absence of a 60-day written notice prior to the expiration of the term, this agreement shall be automatically renewed from year to year subject to the same terms and provisions as contained herein.(Notice term can vary…many companies ask for 30 day notice…some can terminate at will.)
6. (a) The company agrees to furnish Salesperson with a copy of all invoices and orders covering any goods shipped into the above described territory or sold to customers therein, and to furnish Salesperson with a statement on or before the fifteenth (15th) of each month covering the amount of sales for the previous month, and the amount of commissions due Salesperson. The amount due the Salesperson shall be payable at the time the statement is rendered.(Important for the rep to have company adhere to this point.)
(b) In the event of termination of services, the Salesperson shall receive commissions on all orders and sales as provided in Section 2 and on all reorders on such sales or orders up until termination date.
(c) At the conclusion of any twelve (12) month period, as well as upon termination of this agreement, the Salesperson or the Salesperson's designee, upon ten (10) days written notice to the Company, shall have the right, during normal business hours, to inspect and copy, at the Company's principal place of business, all pertinent books of entry, accounts and records which pertain to the Salesperson's orders, commissions and deductions there from. (Rare to see this kind of provision in a contract or rep agreement, but it is a good one. May be hard for rep to travel across the country in order to accomplish, though.)
7. The Salesperson shall not carry additional competing lines without the full knowledge and consent of the Company.
8. The Salesperson will serve as an independent contractor and be responsible to pay all applicable Social Security, withholding, and other taxes. The Salesperson will bear all expenses incurred in his sales endeavors except for those for which the Company agrees in writing to pay.
9. The parties hereto agree that failure by either party to strictly enforce any provision of this agreement shall not constitute a waiver, nor preclude either party from subsequent strict enforcement of any or all provisions hereof.
10. In any action, litigated or arbitrated, declaratory or otherwise arising out of this agreement, the successful party shall be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees to be paid by the losing party.
11. The Company agrees to indemnify and save Salesperson harmless from any and all liability, loss, or damage, including reasonable attorney's fees, which Salesperson may suffer as a result of claims, demands, costs, or judgments against Salesperson arising out of or resulting from Company's acts or omissions, violation of any law or governmental regulation, infringement of any patent, trade mark or trade name, product liability, law suits, or failure to ship acceptable goods timely.
12. The parties hereto agree that this agreement constitutes and expresses the whole agreement of the parties with reference to the representation, and compensation for or in respect to the Salesperson’s efforts on behalf of the Company, and all promises, undertakings, representations, agreements, and understandings and arrangements entered into between the parties herein. No alterations or variations of the terms of this agreement shall be valid unless made in writing, dated, and signed by both parties. It cancels and supersedes all prior agreements and understandings.
13. If any provision of this agreement shall be found invalid or unenforceable to any extent, the remainder of this agreement, or the application thereof to other situations, shall not be affected thereby. This agreement shall be binding and inure to the benefit of the parties and their personal representatives, successors and assigns.



IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the parties hereto have executed this contract and agreement in duplicate at ___________, State of ___ , the day and year first above written.


Signature Title


Main difference between this contract and the agreement letter is the tone—the “legalese” language if you will…and it is a bit more complete. It covers things that may never become an issue, as you can see from some of my notes.

In either case, familiarize yourself with both. If you feel you have to hire an attorney to decipher or help you with any of this, by all means do so. These two documents are pretty easy to understand. If you’re presented with such a document that runs more than 3-4 pages, I’d say the relationship you’re about to enter may be more complicated than a simple independent sales rep arrangement.

Again, in my own personal history, I’ve rarely had to use contracts. Consider: one time I was able to get money owed me by a company that went bankrupt and it did not involve a contract. A politician or district attorney in another state investigated the bankrupt firm’s claim. He found some discrepancies, and obtained the list of creditors, which included independent sales reps.

He mailed a letter to all creditors asking them to list the outstanding invoices (or in our case, orders unpaid) and approximate the dollar amount owed. I spent about 30minutes doing this…and I was fortunate I had saved many invoice copies for the outstanding commissionable orders (don't discard anything when a company goes belly up, you never know when you may get paid--six years is a good time to retain any applicable documents).

Within a few months I received a check in the mail paying me 70c on the dollar for what I was owed. I asked other reps around the country about this…not one of them bothered to send a claim letter to this district attorney!!!! Their payout: $0.

Would it have been any different if the bankrupt company had previously put together contracts with us independent reps when times were good? I kind of doubt it.

There are several ways to protect yourself, contracts and agreements are among them. But don’t forget the value of doing your paperwork, making sure you are paid for what you’ve delivered. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: it’s amazing to me I find many reps not doing this. They are leaving a lot of money on the table.

Rep Agreements And Contracts Part One

It’s come to my attention that my book lacked mention of contracts or written agreements between the independent sales rep and vendor he or she is to sell for. It’s a good point, as some states now require such a legal document.

My own experience is that I’ve rarely had to use them. When I did, the relationship didn’t turn out very well anyway, and it may not be cost-effective to try a lawsuit over state lines. Many industries are kind of close-knit, so if some party cheats the other, the word is out and reputations are an important thing to maintain. Remember too the deal between Arnold Palmer and Mark McCormack of IMG. This was a handshake deal between the athlete Palmer (vendor) and personal manager McCormack (the salesman), and it lead to the world of sports management we see today. No contract was ever signed.

But we live in a country with one lawyer per 50 people, easily the most over-litigated nation in the world. So it’s best to be prepared for such documents.
I’ve seen two different types—the agreement letter and the more formal contract. What follows in this post is a typical agreement letter and notes in bold italics:
XYZ Corporation Inc., (800) CAL LXYZ

John Q. Representative
JQR Sales Group LLC
123 Main
Anywhere USA

Re: Sales Representation Agreement Form (Typical agreement form used; can be considered a binding legal contract)

We’re pleased to hire your services as an independent sales rep with our company. We expect you to act as our sales agent for the territory we will define below for as long as it is mutually beneficial to you and XYZ Corp., as well as the individual accounts involved. Either you or XYC can terminate the agreement upon 30 days notice or as agreed. This letter will be the sum of our agreement. If there are particular issues in this agreement please feel free to call and discuss, or send in a separate letter with return of a copy of this letter signed.

Your territory will be the states of ___________, ____________, _________ (filled in as needed by vendor—rep can amend as he/she sees fit). If there are any other accounts outside this area, please feel free to phone us for approval.

You’ll be an independent contractor, so we will not be withholding taxes from your commissions. We will send you 1099s or any other appropriate IRS tax documents. We’ll need following info from you in order to process these and your commission checks:
· Full personal or business name as it will appear on check and in our files.
· Complete mailing address.
· Telephone and fax numbers, plus email address and website URL.
· Social Security & Taxpayer ID numbers.
· Names of any subreps or associates you have working under you.
· Other special instructions you require.

Enclosed with this agreement (or, if it were emailed, substitute “Being forwarded to you”) is a complete set of sales materials that includes:
· Catalog binder
· Representative product samples and display units (Vendor may bill rep for these, with the expectation that the samples be returned or paid for when requested back by vendor, when partnership ends, or when product becomes discontinued. Rep may be responsible for payment of samples not returned).

A list of accounts in your area is attached. Your salesman number will be #62. (Vendor may request the rep handle these existing accounts or may request they keep hands off…or a combination of the two. Vendor will usually give details here as to how accounts are handled by the rep so that the rep gets credited with the commission).

Your commission level is ___% based on the pricing shown in your catalog binder and our wholesale website. If you need to discount from that price for larger accounts, your commission will be adjusted down accordingly. Please feel free to call and discuss before you discount any price. (Some vendors may provide a discounting schedule as well).

We accept credit cards Mastercard, Visa, and AMEX. We will accept COD Company Check with a bank reference. We can also do prepay via check mailed to us or wire transfer. In your catalog binder there is a standard Credit Application form if an account wants Net terms. We can also email this form to you. (Most companies will have policies such as this, or a few variations).
Please read this agreement thoroughly and feel free to call me with any questions or amendment concerns you might have. When you agree to what’s stated herein and any amendments we discuss, please sign and return original, keep a copy for your records. Welcome aboard!


Sam Salesmanager

I have read and understand the above letter and by signing below, agree to the terms.

Date: ____________ Rep signature_________________________
Date:_______________ XYZ Sales Mgr ________________________

Don’t hesitate to ask a sales manager (or whoever has composed such a letter) to change anything to your favor. Something as simple as just asking for one additional state or part of a territory can reap benefits. They may have overlooked this area (they may be poor at geography and didn’t realize it was next door to your state!); if you are dealing with accounts in that area already and know the vendor is not being handled there, go for it.

In the next post, we’ll deal with a more formal looking legal contract. Both of these documents can be legally binding. The only difference is the kind of language used and the formality and tone expressed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

“That’s Not My Job” And How It Better Start To Be…

One of those snippets of AP-sourced news found on my browser home page recently announced that employees who objected to their boss asking them to occasionally take on some different task, might find themselves out of a job when/if the time comes to cut costs in payroll.
As an independent sales rep, or as any kind of entrepreneur, this is “old news”. If you are thinking of becoming any sort of self-employed individual, taking on another task should be second nature. Clean the bathroom, because it needs it. Do an associates job while he’s on vacation because, well, he’s on vacation and it needs being done!
Never once in the AP article did it mention the idea that employees that do willingly and cheerfully take on another task outside their normal job description, are the kind of employees that stand themselves to be promoted when/if that time comes…people do get promoted even during economic downturns, you know. And if you were in the boss’s shoes, who’d you want to promote? Someone who stuck to their “job description” or a well-rounded individual who knew the ropes all around?
Sadly, the fact we have to be told this kind of thing via an AP news blurb is pretty pathetic and an indication that Union Mentality creeps into all sorts of corners of the workplace. Do you like Unions? Would you like to move to Detroit or Appalachia?
I guarantee the boss-man/lady or owner spent many an extra hour cleaning the bathroom, cutting the lawn out front, cleaning dishes, packing and shipping the last 10 orders of the day, whatever it took, to keep the business running. If you want to wonder why they are boss, you might contemplate that.
T.Boone Pickens was a guest on a radio talk show I listened to in the 1980s. He was discussing entrepreneurship in particular. A caller, obviously a young man fresh out of school, asked him “Mr. Pickens, when one first starts out in their own business like you once did, about how many hours a week should they expect to work?”. Pickens answered in as kind a voice as he possibly could, “Ralph (or whatever his name was), if you are even thinking about that, you will never make it in your own business. To be your own boss, you work until the job gets done, or at least caught up”.
The “How many hours a week” mentality is very closely related to “That’s not MY job!”.
This is also why it is important for an independent rep to become as well-rounded and experienced as possible. YOU are your own boss…or you have many bosses. When you find something needs doing, you may be the only one who has the time or talent to do it. If a vendor (a boss, so to speak) needs something more than just someone to take orders and send them in, they will notice someone who’s talented in multiple areas.
Here are some examples of what a rep can do to go beyond “their job”:
· Get as tech savvy as possible, and keep educating yourself to what can be done with today’s technology. One of my own lines can name-drop a store’s logo onto the back of t-shirts. A customer who wasn’t very tech-savvy sent in a cute logo, but no script. They wanted us to add it. The vendor could not, or was hesitant to do so. I took it upon myself and after about 5 or 6 tries to get the dpi-resolution to comply, I got it to where the customer and vendor were both happy with the results.
Therefore the sale was made. It would not have been made if I had simply stuck to “my job”.
· Become a marketing expert. Marketing is the process where you prepare the prospective customer with information and tools so that when they are ready to buy, they buy from you…. or your vendor. Many vendors may be good at producing product, but they may do a questionable job marketing it. This means it may also be harder to sell. Sales are the end result of good marketing, not bad.
Don’t be afraid to offer help to a vendor that has a boring website or lacks any sort of print campaign. Think like the customer and translate that into “Would I buy from this company?”. Make up some of your own marketing materials or enhance your own website and see the results. Share them with your vendors.
· Think like an inventor. Use customer feedback or your own observations to think of what the market lacks…if you see a lot of products adapting a particular theme, fad, or trend, why not products that one particular vendor would be good at and has the production capability to pull off?
Remember the line of t-shirts that could be name-dropped? I suggested such a line to this vendor for several reasons. I had another line of good product of this sort, but horrible delivery. The vendor I contacted was already doing programs similar to what I had in mind, and I stressed they’d have a market pretty much all to themselves. It turned out with a little research, they agreed, and they could do the product fairly inexpensively compared to other things they had…and the new product could sell to their existing accounts as well.
· Be a bean counter. As mentioned in my book “The Independent Sales Rep” (check, you should keep track of your sales and commissions in detail. When you get paid, the check should have a detailed statement as to what orders it covers. It’s surprising many reps don’t do this. Check off those orders on your statement as though it was the bank statement for your checking account. Notify the vendor as to what orders from that period you were not paid for. It may be those orders are still in house and on hold due to the customer not paying an old invoice—you may offer your services as a collector too, but it may not have to come to that. It may be that the orders were lost. Or it may be they were shipped on time and credited to someone else.
Several times I have been owed commissions and went over my list with whatever list (or lack of it) a particular vendor had. When it became obvious to me in some of these cases that the person in charge of commissions couldn’t tell a PO# from a pig’s snout, I made a personal call to the owner/CEO of that particular company and told them: “In all honesty, if I had someone like that in charge my money at my company, I’d have my hand on my billfold 24 hours a day”. In each case, the commission handler was either fired or transferred to another department that did not involve handling money. These bean counters were not up to the job, so there may come a day when an independent rep has to be.
Of course the independent sales rep can’t literally do everything, from production down to shipping…but when things get stalled on account of someone, somewhere, not being able or willing to do their jobs, ask yourself: “Can this be something I can make my job?”. Customers and vendors alike will notice this and you’ll earn their trust.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where To Manufacture Your Product? China? Think Again

In recent years, when a start-up company wanted to have their goods manufactured the dominant mindset was “Well, let’s go to China”. Cheap labor was always the answer and China has it in abundance.

American manufacturing companies suffered as a result. They just could not compete. Large companies like Wal-Mart could set up their own facilities over in China and get the job done. Smaller companies, retail or wholesale, could find a source that would be willing to manufacture the items in bulk and ship to warehouses in the U.S.

As a rep I started noticing flaws in the past few years with this supposedly winning strategy. Customers may not have been willing to wait for several months or more that usually was the norm for manufacturing in China. Quality may not have always been there either.

An article in the March ’11 issue of Wired confirms that “Made In America” may be making a comeback. Recent currency rates certainly have something to do with it, but there are other key factors that may have been going on for quite a while.

The U.S., it turns out, has more manufacturers up to speed on robotics. Chinese have lots of cheap laborers, but robots eventually cost less than any human workers…and when things get going real good, robots don’t demand pay raises. Remember when Japan and Korea were both the places to go when you wanted to make something cheap? As those countries became more affluent, their laborers wanted more money. And their costs approached that of using U.S. workers. So you see Japanese carmakers building factories in Tennessee, Ohio, other U.S. states…and often, they are non-Union shops turning out good quality cars. These factories also pioneered robotics.

When one manufactures in China it involves huge quantities to be produced…and that large amount of inventory dollars may not be quite the advantage that a smaller cost-per-item means. U.S. companies may be better off with a domestic maker who doesn’t commit their customer to a boatload of finished goods months in the future. What if, by the time they show up, demand is starting to slacken for that particular item? If it is a new, innovative product, what if, by the time it shows up, someone else has produced a similar product domestically and beat you to the punch? They will have had several months of sales under their belt while you’re unpacking for the first time.

That touches on another aspect: waiting for months for goods to ship. Most customers appreciate fast service. If someone committed to a large purchase order of goods in early 2008, what do you think their reaction was when they shipped that holiday season when sales had plummeted during the start of the recession? There are many cases where a customer wants to hold his cards close to his vest and place an order with a quicker ship window. U.S. manufacturers hold an advantage here.

One company I’ve worked with that sells special, collectible guitar picks had this exact problem. Their Chinese connection promised goods by a certain time and kept putting off the delivery date. Funny, when they set up things in the first place, the manufacturer promised them the moon!

Whether this Chinese manufacturer was an outright liar or not, who can tell? I do know from personal experience, however, that many Asians think it rude to tell the truth when the truth might be bad news for the recipient. It isn’t that they are trying to deceive or cover their own hide…it’s just good etiquette on their part. My Indonesian wife and I needed to get some documents over to a translator during our honeymoon in Bali. We asked a cab driver if he knew the address, he replied he did. Then he proceeded to drive around aimlessly for the better part of an hour when the translator told us by phone she was only five minutes from the hotel. The driver finally admitted he was totally lost. We did not pay him as we got out and started walking...

They are trying to be polite, but would you want to tie up your goods with a guy who could turn out to be like that cab driver?

Brendon Koerner’s Wired piece also mentions the phenomenon where many Chinese manufacturers have reached their limit. They simply have too much work on their hands. What do they do from there? They either tell the American customer they can’t deliver when promised, or they outsource to another Chinese manufacturer in Western China where the quality standards may not be as high…and where the team doing the work has not dealt with the original source. The goods wind up being of inferior quality, and it’s a classic case of “penny-wise, pound foolish”. It’s real hard trying to return a boatload of inferior goods. If an American manufacturer screws up, at least it’s easier to get them to make good.

This leads us to the next problem: copyright and intellectual property theft. It’s well known that this issue dominates discussions between diplomatic corps of China and the U.S. If a manufacturer in Coastal China farms out some of his work to someone near Mongolia, how copyright protected are those goods? Obviously, this is a distinct possibility.

When discussing new product lines or product types with a vendor, it is a good idea for sales reps to mention the kinds of expectations their customers may have and what advantages “Made In U.S.A.” can have for faster service, better quality. In the long run, the extra cost, if there is one, may be worth it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Holiday Season—Super Bowl For Business: Don’t Fumble!

A friend of mine was on an airplane once and struck up a conversation with a fellow businessman. They were talking about, well, business, and this other guy told my friend,
“No matter what kind of business you’re in, a lot of what you do depends on going into or coming out of Christmas”.

The more you think about it, it’s true. My friend had a wholesale lumber business at the time and did not think the holidays really applied to him, but he started thinking more and more about how they should. He could very easily fine tune his marketing to cash in on the money changing hands during and because of Christmas. That’s the key.

Christmas comes once a year, and it offers an opportunity to look upon your business in a fresh way. Retailers ought to see it as the same kind of thing as a Grand Opening. Even if you sell summer garden supplies wholesale, if you don’t take advantage of the buying mood Christmas affords, you really ought to have your head examined.

Years ago in retail, having a well-stocked store was crucial for the holidays. Retailers did not worry about putting everything on sale—this was the time of year when you had captive shoppers who simply had to buy something. So it was also a time of year retailers made profits.

Wal-Mart and online shopping have changed that—this is why you see so many sales going on from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) up to Christmas, maybe New Year’s Day. But it is still crucial for a retailer to have the goods even if they are not making as much margin on them, because how the retailer appears during the holidays will affect return traffic for the rest of the year and into the future.

Think about the chaos that happens during this time of year. If a retailer is running out of best selling goods, if he or she is short staffed, mismanaged in any way shape or form, how do you think the customer is going to react? What will the customer think of this store in April, August, or even next holiday season? Any fool can see that being on your toes during the holidays is going to pay dividends, just as it would during a Grand Opening.

Face it: a lot of retailers ARE in a chaotic state of affairs during this season. It separates the men from the boys. If you arrive at the Super Bowl and fumble in the opening drive, throw interceptions in the second quarter, lay down on defense in the third quarter, and generally poop out because you’re out of shape in the fourth, you are not going to win. But if you’re prepared, you win both in retail and in the Super Bowl.

The holiday season is the Super Bowl. You have all year to realize this. Don’t fumble!!!

Wholesalers and Sales Reps need to be on their toes too. How? The best way is to accommodate the winners you have as accounts who are preparing properly for this time of year. And go a step beyond accommodating them, train and educate them as well.

Here are the ways how:

Marketing Materials
· Right Way: have your catalogs, brochures, whatever you use for lead generators or informational needs, ready to be sent out by September 1st. I know, you’re complaining about department stores putting Christmas decorations out before Halloween. But think about that: do you think they expect shoppers to shop that early? Not really: but they do want to tell those shoppers that they, the store, is prepared. The same thing happens with priming your accounts in September and October. If they receive a new catalog and start preparing early, they will be better prepared when the customer crunch comes in late November. A store full of customers in late November is not the time for a retailer to be doing a thorough order for your products and lines. He should be free to wait on customers and nothing else.

Smaller, fill in orders can be done in November and December, but to do those, the retailer must have an idea of what’s moving, and he/she’ll have a better idea of what’s moving if they base that on a large stock order done earlier in the fall.

· Wrong Way: catalog and brochures released December 1st. You’re playing catch-up at this point. If you get orders, they will be done with half attention, half effort on the part of the retailer. Mark your calendar in June of next year to be on time (September) for having your print materials ready.

New Products
· Right Way: similar to your marketing material, have these ready to go in September. Some industries, like fashion, show products at trade shows almost a year in advance for large chains to buy in time for the holidays (or, for that matter, other seasons). Rolling out new items early gives accounts plenty of time to order them and get a read well before Christmas.
· Wrong Way: releasing any time after November 1st. This is not the time of year for market research and moving planograms around to accommodate something new. The movie industry can get away with Dec. 24th release dates, but odds are you can’t.

Sales Calls & Meetings
· Right Way: sales calls and meetings relating to the holidays should be held well in advance. For major chains, summer, maybe September at the latest. If you are a rep selling to wholesalers, you want to prep them so they are ready to meet with their accounts at that time, so your meeting may occur in the Spring or a year in advance. However, support staffs for major chain stores generally have slow schedules in the weeks around the holidays, and if a meeting concerns matters and issues for the coming year, that could be a good time to schedule a sales call.

· Wrong Way: any time after mid November for individual stores is a bad time to impose your presence on a retailer. That’s when they should concentrate on customer service, not listening to your spiel.

Shipping Schedule
· Right Way: have plenty of order pullers and shipping staff trained to the max to handle the extra business you should be receiving. Step it up a bit—if your usual in house time is three days, make it two. Come out with a schedule and notify all your accounts and reps (and you reps notify accounts too) to get orders in by a certain date to get shipments by Christmas week. Have warehouse personnel constantly monitor what is in house—no orders piled up in the “to do” tray. If there is a stack of boxes labeled for a particular account sitting for more than one day they should know exactly why—credit issues? Awaiting prepay? It should be shipped if there is nothing holding it back.
· Wrong Way: blasé attitude like it’s just another time of year. Giving some problem issue to someone else to do—in other words, all employees, if a customer or rep calls in wondering what is taking so long for an order, don’t give it to someone else to do. As Ross Perot once said, “If you see a snake, kill it. Don’t wait for some meeting to discuss the issue or think someone else will do it.”

Since the trend of holding huge holiday sale events at retail became vogue, the December holidays for smaller retailers have come close to disappearing…but many of these independent retailers are finding the period after the holidays to be just as important, if not more so. Reason? Gift Cards is a big part of it. But as a sales rep or wholesale vendor, be aware that “the holidays” can be considered to be a longer period now…almost Halloween to Valentine’s Day.

Anything that generates foot traffic at retail should be taken seriously, and the holiday season is the most traditional event of this type. Another, more recent phenomenon of traffic generation is the “tax free weekend” many states have adopted in order to encourage sales of school supplies/apparel (Texas started this) to hurricane season preparation (as in Louisiana). Even if a retailer does not sell the goods that qualify for tax free status, they can and should join in on the fun. When you think about it, saving 8% sales tax is not a big deal—would anyone respond to an 8% sale”? Yet they do, and many retailers go beyond 8% to attract shoppers. These events have whetted the appetite of shoppers so much that neighboring states (like Oklahoma) had to stage their own “tax free weekends” because local merchants were sick of seeing migrations to Texas every year at that time.

This shows the importance of that lemming-like mindset shoppers can possess with events like this. So why treat the Christmas holiday season like it is any other time of year? You know traffic is going to increase, you know customers are going to shop (and they will shop for items for themselves as well as gifts). They will be in the mood to spend money, no matter how dire the economy, and they’ve done so for 2010 years! It’s the Super Bowl, don’t fumble!

Prepare for this season and help your accounts prepare for it. It is the most crucial traffic generating time of year and no opportunities should be wasted.