Card & Gift Rep Uses Social Media "On The Road."

The biggest unspoken truth about the stationery industry is: If there were no sales reps, there would be no card industry.

Don't believe it? Look at the facts: Reps know all the stores in their territory better than anyone else. They know the store buyer's cat's name, how many children they have, and the top selling card last month. They can memorize 1,000 card ordering codes, know what products will sell before they are released to the public, and locate a parking space in any city. They can handle "challenging" personalities, tell you how many greeting cards will fit in the back seat of any car, and at the end of a hard day's work, they have enough remaining resources to let you know you are important. This is why my mantra has always been: "Pay your reps before you pay yourself," because sales reps are the most important people in this business.

Years ago, when I manufactured my own card line, Meryl Hooker was one of my sales reps, and while I cannot recall how many years we worked together, I do know she was consistently one of my top selling reps.
Not only did she rack up top sales for me, but today she does the same for Accoutrements, Blue Q, Ephemera, Greggo Magnets and MikWright. At this year's sales meeting for Pomegranate, she even swept up several awards: Most New Accounts, Greatest Sales Increase and Most Unusual new account. Meryl's tagline is "Sales Rockstar" and that is not an over statement. It is an understatement.

Since Meryl is plugged into social media and uses it in her business, I asked her to write a piece on how she uses new media "on the road."


Guest Writer Meryl Hooker

I love blogging. I love Facebook and, I love Twitter. There. I said it loud and proud.

Despite maintaining an active online personal life since the mid-90’s, I didn’t start doing anything for my business online until 2007. I work as regionally based, independent sales rep and specialize in smaller manufacturers and independently owned card and gift stores.

Until recently, being online professionally didn’t appear to hold much value for me. I got into sales because I am blessed with the gift of gab. I am at my best “on stage” in front of customers. The Internet and online communities were not places I could shine, let alone generate any business or cultivate loyal customer relationships. Besides, I’m hardly a computer wiz. That’s why I use a Mac.

ROAD RAGE BLOG
But, working as a rep can be a solitary and sometimes lonely existence. In September 2007, I started my blog, Road Rage, as a way to keep myself sane. The things a road rep sees and hears are too crazy to be made up and I wanted to record my adventures, even if for no other audience than myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but before I wrote my first entry,
I developed a very clear content and posting strategy: update as often as possible and limit topics to those industry, product and customer related.
I made a decision not to include any details about my personal life, though I would make reference to people and things that inspired and motivated me in terms of selling. My favorite entries to date are my analysis of Kid Rock as the ultimate salesman and Gene Simmons of KISS as the ultimate sales coach. No, seriously.

For the first year, nearly all of my entries were about my retail customers. I took a camera to every appointment and clicked pictures of stores and displays. I posted write-ups about the creative and unique things my customers did really well, especially when it involved lines I repped. When the entry ran, I notified the store that they were a star and included a link to Road Rage. My customers loved it and it didn’t take long for them to start asking to be featured.

I covered trade shows I attended and visits to the offices of the manufacturers I represent. I began to feature comics and funny things I came across that related to sales or greeting cards or gifts. When the economy started to plummet last year, I began writing about sales tips and motivational advice to retailers and other reps. A publisher of a trade magazine saw one of those posts and contacted me about running the piece in an upcoming issue. Then, another magazine saw the article and published it too. Next thing I knew, I was getting invitations to contribute to other magazines and blogs.

The ball really started rolling in 2009. I started gaining more readers and the number of hits my website received started increasing dramatically. My Inbox started filling up with emails from manufacturers looking for help developing their products, advice on finding reps and commenting about things they’d seen in Road Rage. A sales manager for a company I rep told me the principle of one of their largest rep groups forwards new entries to his entire 12-rep sales force. Not bad for a sanity-inducing scratch pad, huh?

SOCIAL MEDIA
Making the professional leap to Facebook and Twitter took a little longer. I played on Facebook personally for about six months before I started to see how I could benefit me professionally. It wasn’t until I attended a seminar at the New York International Gift Show in August 2009, that I fully started to understand the power social media. I remember walking out of the room with my head spinning, my mind blown with the possibilities. I immediately changed my profile and posting content on Facebook to reflect my blog guidelines, created a LinkedIn profile and started a Twitter account to mirror my updated Facebook profile.

Like most people, I’m still figuring out how to fully take advantage of these platforms but my initial results have been fantastic. My Friends and Follow lists have grown, not just in numbers but also in richness. I have customers, manufacturers, other reps and my industry friends all following me and I follow/friend them in return. My sales tips are often re-tweeted or cross-referenced and I return the favor when appropriate.
Readership on Road Rage has increased by nearly 30% since I started announcing new blog entries of Facebook and Twitter. I have even started working as a sales and customer service consultant with several manufacturers who found me through Twitter.

People comment to me all the time about how they don’t want all their personal information out there online. To them I simply say, it doesn’t have to be. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn content are all user controlled. You are not required to put your phone number, relationship status or your political views in your profile. If you don’t want it out there, don’t put it out there.

I have an “accept all” friend request policy. Even if I don’t know you, I’ll friend you on Facebook. I am more selective on Twitter and only follow greeting card and gift related people. Otherwise, my feeds would be flooded with all kinds of people trying to sell me their proven sales methods or ways to help me get more quality follows on Twitter. No thanks, I weed through it on my own.

The crux of my business hasn’t change as a result of my blog or turbo charged online presence. I still call customers, go out on sales appointments, fax in orders and wrangle customer service issues. But having a blog did raise my industry profile and bring me a certain level of credibility and, at least perceived, authority in the greeting card and gift industries. I am conscious of the fact that other reps and retailers look to Road Rage for inspiration and ideas they can put into place for their own businesses.
Everything I post is constructed with a single purpose in mind: value-driven content, even if that value is just a good laugh at the industry, or in some cases me.
While many of my industry colleagues snub having a virtual presence and vehemently discount the power of social media, I am finding that it provides many creative ways to promote products, share information and generally meet my industry peers where they already are...in the halls known as Facebook and around the coffeemaker known as Twitter. With social media working warming the way, I’ll never have to make a cold call again.


ABOUT MERYL

Meryl Hooker is a manufacturers representative, writer, speaker, sales coach and all around Sales Rockstar. She is the writer of “Road Rage”, a blog about repping and selling and co-author of the forthcoming book, Pushing The Envelope: The Small Greeting Card Manufacturer’s Guide to Working with Sales Reps (Center Aisle Press, May 2010). She lives in Washington, DC and can be reached via www.merylhookersales.com
AWARDS
Accoutrements :Top Rep 2009. #2 Rep 2008, 2007 Blue Q:
Top Rep 2008 & 2009
Pomegranate: Winner: Most new accounts, greatest percent sales increase, and most unusual new account for 2009
Ephemera:
Top Rep 2007 & 2008
Greggo Magnets:
Top Rep 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009
MikWright: #2 Rep 2008, 2009





Here are books I own or recommend for learning about the card business. Some are out of print, but used copies can be found online.  They cover themes such as starting a card business, writing text, designing cards, technical skills, copyrights and marketing your work.


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The Greeting Card Business
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Get Your Greeting Cards Into Stores: How to Find and Work With Sales Reps (Updated 2017 paperback) If you like to make greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them nationwide.  Learn about changing trends in the indie card market and niche opportunities available for artists. Book includes detailed guidelines on pricing cards for a profit, getting professional feedback on your designs, finding sales representatives, pitching your card line to them, approaching stores, and the industry standards you should follow. Information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals and calendars.






Start and Run a Greeting Card Business From a British author, whose country has a long history of greeting card design, she takes you step-by-step through the process of starting and running your business with lots of useful practical advice to help you, including: - Deciding what type of cards to produce - Finding your market - Dealing with printers - Copyright and licensing - Pricing and profit. Kate's note: Some specs are different (card sizes) since it is UK standards.



Greeting Card Design This volume features a vast array of fun, elegant, simple and imaginative greeting cards designed by internationally-known artists, illustrators and calligraphers. With over 300 full-color photographs of creative, popular, and inspiring greeting card designs, this invaluable sourcebook showcases the very best of what is happening in the industry today. Accompanying text explores the history of the greeting card industry and examines the major contributions from the leading innovative companies.





Pushing the Envelope Things the small greeting card manufacturer needs to know about finding, recruiting and retaining a winning sales force can be found in this easy-to-read handbook. Written from both the manufacturer and sales rep perspectives, this nuts and bolts guide is full of industry information, sales tips and guidance for building successful and profitable rep relationships. Kate's Note: This book was written by my top selling sales rep in the country.


Greeting Card Design and Illustration 12 step-by-step demonstrations show how to create successful greeting cards Samples of 130 actual greeting cards Twelve step-by-step demonstrations by professional greeting card artists show you how to combine basic illustration techniques with the eight most popular mediums. This art technique book is a comprehensive and practical guide to all aspects of designing and creating professional greeting cards.Samples of 130 actual greeting cards.leads you through every stage of the design process.


Painting Greeting Cards for Fun and Profit The author and a group of other successful greeting card artists offer friendly and practical business advice on all aspects of producing, publishing, pricing, packaging and marketing greeting cards


By the Batch Innovative new ideas for creating fabulous cards (and envelopes, tags, and bookmarks) in batches, with impressive results. The wide range of techniques presented includes everything from the tried and true (rubber stamping) to the unexpected (polymer clay), from the spontaneous (smudge-and-smear) to the whimsical (shaped cards). And author Judi Kauffman shows precisely how to put pedal to the metal and create whole batches of cards in just one sitting. Kate's Note: See my book review here with photos and information.


Mary Engelbreit: The Art and the Artist This book is about her path into art licensing and greeting card design. She is now a successful licensor, her career spans over decades, and she was awarded "best art license of the year" by LIMA. Kate’s Note: See my book review on "7 things I learned from Mary". This book is one of the more encouraging and practical books I've read in awhile. She confirmed my inherent belief that if someone tries to impose rules and prerequisites on entering this career, someone else will come along, break all the rules, and become successful.


The Very Best from Hallmark: Greeting Cards Through the Years. This collection of 750 of Hallmark's best takes readers through seven decades of birthdays, births, trips, holidays, get well wishes, graduations, and more. The story of this remarkable company is as fascinating as the cards.






6 comments :

Allyn said...

Hi Meryl, no wonder you've done so well, this was a fun and very informative read! I hope to someday have enough lines to hire a sales rep ;)Think it's crazy for anyone in the industry to snub social media. It's becoming essential really.
I'm a big Blue Q Fan!! like the cute orange kitty, too! Thanks for writing this :)

Carrie Dils said...

Great post! I follow Meryl's blog and am glad to find this one as well. Thanks for good stuff!

Katie Atkinson said...

Meryl-how interesting to see this business through a rep's eyes. Love this post- It really makes me think of "Julie & Julia"- It just needs a dramatic personal story interwoven with the biz blog and then I could see "Road Rage" as a box office hit!
(Somehow an attractive woman driving across the country selling greeting cards is such the antithesis of what you would ever picture for Road Rage. Maybe someone should write a script for Sandra Bullock!

Joel from Old Tom Foolery said...

Meryl is the real deal. She's one of our top sales reps, and she's always inspiring and encouraging us to think about connecting with our customers in new and interesting ways. I'm excited to read her new book.

gift delivery Philippines said...

What a very inspiring blog so informative its good that you shared this. Keep posting!

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Drew said...

This is really fantastic. I like the display stand stuck into the back of the car. But, really, to outline your process here is amazing and something to look to as I make my own way. Thanks for your story

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