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State of Retail: What are your expectations of sales representatives? Are they being met?

Published July 11, 2023

A version of this feature ran in the July issue of BRAIN.

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — For our July magazine edition, we asked our State of Retail panel members: What are your expectations of sales representatives? Are they being met? 

BOISE, Idaho: Jason Bauer, owner Bauerhaus Bikes

Jason Bauer

Having a quality representative is important to us and our desire to work with a company. Quality relationships are what matter most to us as a small shop. Our main expectations for sales representatives are that they have knowledge of their product and provide assistance with orders and warranties. Our reps are generally pretty great. Of course, in-person visits have increased following COVID, and we appreciate having frequent check-ins. We look for reps to have knowledge, to convey accurate delivery and ship times, and to provide good presentations about their products. We feel special when we are trusted with upcoming product knowledge. 

WALLA WALLA, Wash.: Kathryn Austin, owner/manager Allegro Cyclery

Kathryn Austin

Our factory and independent reps are easy-going, super friendly and have down-to-earth personalities. We often feel as if we've been friends forever. We assume that they will be experts about their products and will know how to help us work with the expectations of their companies. We never feel pushed or slighted. We don't live near a big city and are always surprised that our reps make it out here as much as they do. Our expectations are just that we are kept up to date and that they are there for us when things come up that we need help with — and they all go above and beyond our expectations. We definitely see some more than others, but that usually has a lot to do with geographic distance. This year, we are seeing them more since the pandemic, and the conversations revolve around the unexpected issue of excess of product, both for the vendors and the shops, and what we are all doing to manage it the best that can be done.

MOBILE, Ala.: Brad Burton, owner Cadence120 Bicycles

Brad Burton

Sales reps need to facilitate the relationship between their company and ours. They are the face we see in this age of B2B ordering. I expect reps to help me understand what is happening in the marketplace, to understand our region, and to bring new opportunities to the store, but I don’t want to see a rep too much. I think our sales reps are meeting those expectations, and if they don’t, they are not usually around very long. Our reps are traveling again, so they’re back in the store, and they continue to check in with us via phone or email.

STAMFORD, Conn.: Julie Gabay, owner, president, buyer Pacific Cycling & Triathlon

Julie Gabay

Good, effective sales representatives should be present in our business by showing up at the shop, checking in weekly, and generally having a good relationship with staff and owners. The best sales reps genuinely care about our business and don't try to push product. They are also available when needed for questions. It's teamwork on all ends to sell the product.

In general, our sales reps are meeting these expectations. We are lucky to have good ones. It's about a good relationship and cultivating that. As Woody Allen said, "Ninety-percent of it is just showing up.” We appreciate it when our reps call to see if we received email notifications from corporate offices on updates, let us know that they are offering discounts on products, making demos available. Some of our best sales reps are a call away, readily available. They do the right thing for the IBDs instead of trying to collect commission.

MASSILLON, Ohio: Molly Lehman, marketing manager Ernie’s Bike Shop

Molly Lehman

The position of sales reps, regardless of whether they're factory or independent, absolutely depends on clear, consistent communication. We expect great communication from our sales reps: offering direct explanations, preempting questions, taking notes during conversations, always following up. We also expect them to be conscious of our time and of the seasonal and sometimes chaotic nature of our business. We've got some great reps, some good ones, and some so-so ones in the mix right now. 

The sales reps we really love to work with are informed about the industry and their product, they’re straightforward, and respectful of our time. They're efficient and they structure interactions around an agenda, which is usually a lot more productive than generic, "How's it going?" style conversations. They also pay attention to what our store looks like and how it operates, giving feedback on displays and making suggestions based on what they see. They do not use a one-size-fits-all approach. Each bike shop has different needs, clientele, branding, and culture, and the best reps know what ours are and use that to inform everything they do.

HOPKINS, Minn.: Jonathan Minks, owner Jonny Rock Bikes

Jonathan Minks

My expectations of sales reps are quite high due to my background in corporate sales, and in general, reps are not meeting my expectations. Coming in regularly is a start. Most of our reps hardly ever make it to see me. When I don't see you, I won't buy from you. It's plain and simple. Sales reps have to ask for the business. And bringing food is always nice!  I haven't seen much salesmanship in our industry. I see one rep quite frequently, and he gets more and more of my business. I met once with a large distributor and asked the president, “If you had 100 small shops that spent $10,000 worth of business with you, would that benefit you?” I didn't get an answer back. So it starts at the top with leadership and trickles down. If your sales organization is not meeting their goals, you might want to look at the top and see how you can change that.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.: Ilya Nikhamin and Kasia Nikhamina, co-owners Redbeard Bikes

Ilya Nikhamin and Kasia Nikhamina

We expect reps to give us relevant information about their brands and products, so we can make smart business decisions. They should read up on our shop and come in with a tailored presentation, not regurgitation of terms or program requirements that we can read in the PDF. We expect them to know their product availability, and give us proactive updates and explanations if those ETAs are not realized. We cannot operate in the dark. We expect reps to help us navigate warranties/defects in order to make reasonable customers happy, and to take our product feedback to the responsible parties and bring back answers. We prefer to call on reps when we need them, not have them visit us regularly. The qualities and skills we look for are care, empathy, candor, and attentiveness. The best reps have pitched in at the shop, merchandising product, or working directly with riders. 

Very few reps have ever come close to meeting our expectations. In our experience, the best reps either get promoted to corporate desk jobs where they quickly lose touch with the rider, they burn out, or they jump around from brand to brand before they burn out, spreading destruction in their wake.

ENCINITAS, Calif.: Will Schellenger, owner El Camino Bike Shop

Will Schellenger

I expect to see or at least hear from sales reps — factory or independent — once a month, but not just to sell me something. I like them to keep me abreast of changes in their company and products, and keep me informed about the bicycle business. Reps see a lot of stores over varying regions, so it is helpful to hear what might help me grow my business. I also expect reps to make it easy to do business with them. There’s nothing worse than wanting to buy a product and then having to jump through hoops to do so.

Good reps are organized and consistent. They come to the shop with a purpose, and they don't waste my time. A good rep knows me and my store and has ideas and products that will make us both more successful. I think in general the reps are meeting my expectations. There are always a few that make me wonder why they are even getting paid, but I understand that our shop is not their only client and that maybe we are a small account for them.

BRADENTON, Fla.: Paul Tobio, owner Ryder Bikes

Paul Tobio

One of our expectations for sales reps, both factory and independent, is for them to educate our staff on new products and technologies. We also expect them to find products our customers need and want and help us keep customers informed. We expect our independent reps to help us navigate the multitude of new brands they carry to see what’s a fit for our store. We have great reps that have been meeting those expectations for years, some better than others, but overall we have a great team of reps that support our store.

The main qualities and skill sets of the top-notch sales reps are those who know the product line well and can explain the features and benefits to our team. Additionally, they make us aware of new products but also understand how our shop works and don't push product that will just sit in the store. They look at what we have been purchasing and look for opportunities to enhance our mix with margin in mind.

Will Schellenger.
Topics associated with this article: State of Retail, From the Magazine

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