Rep Battle

Can technology really replace savvy sales help?

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In my former life before becoming a children’s fashion editor, I dreamed of being a political reporter. Like every journalism student, I hoped to become the next Woodward or Bernstein, exposing crooked politicians and winning Pulitzers. While interning on the hill in Washington, D.C., I learned the phrase “All politics is local,” which is commonly attributed to former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill. I won’t bore you with political jargon, except to say that O’Neill was relating that voters often care more about the mundane but necessary needs in their local neighborhood, rather than big national issues.

Who knew that aphorism would come in so handy at Earnshaw’s? If there’s anything I’ve learned in my time here, it could very well be “All fashion is local.” What’s selling at a boutique in Des Moines, IA, is drastically different from what’s selling at a store in San Antonio. In fact, what’s selling on one block in New York City is remarkably different from what’s selling 10 blocks away.

To some degree, style has always varied from region to region. But the phenomenon seems to be especially true in recent years, a fact I attribute to our tech-heavy lives. In the age of the Internet, shoppers want a personalized experience when they visit a brick-and-mortar boutique. They want to find unique products that express their individuality. They want to support local artisans.

That’s why sales reps are the unsung heroes of the children’s industry. Retailers sometimes ask me if I think a particular brand would be a good fit for their store. The honest answer? I can’t really say. I don’t know the local market, and I don’t know the store’s customers. Except for hearsay, I don’t really know the sales potential for most brands.

But you know who does? Experienced sales reps.

Sales reps are in the privileged position of talking to both manufacturers and retailers every day. Good sales reps know each and every item in their showroom (or their trunk, as the case may be) down to the tiniest detail. They know the needs of their retailers’ customers almost as well as the retailers themselves. Most importantly, they know what sells, and what doesn’t.

Unfortunately, I often hear from retailers that too many sales reps are “out of touch” with what’s happening at the retail level. That’s too bad, because the reps I’ve had the opportunity to meet are some of the sharpest professionals in the children’s industry. If one of your reps isn’t helping you meet your sales goals, it’s time to find another. Harsh? Maybe. But with so many talented reps in this industry, there’s simply no reason to settle for second best. (If you’re looking for tips on finding a great rep, check out our Shop Class feature on p. 16.)

With so many new technologies aiming to replace everything from sales reps to trade shows to brick-and-mortar retail itself, we have to stick together. While wholesale e-commerce sites like BrandBoom and NuOrder may make for a seamless ordering experience, they will never be able to replicate the industry insight a good sales rep can provide.

Think of it this way: All fashion is local, and sales reps are your elected officials. Don’t be afraid to vote. 

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