This is an excerpt from 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.
Every rep is different, but I have found these things to be common with almost every rep I've worked with.
1-The rep does not pay for the artist’s card sample deck.
2-Reps expect all cards in the sample deck to have a code, either preprinted or hand written on the card, that is unique for each design. So, for example, if you have a card line of 50 different kinds of flower images, the artist needs to assign a code to each one, so when the rep writes up an order, they know #45 means the red rose card.
3-The artist is primarily responsible for the cost of all promotional materials, such as brochures, catalogs, and store signs.
4-The most important thing you can do in your relationship with reps is to pay them on time.
5-Normally, the artist pays the sales rep once a month for all the prior months’ orders, independent of whether or not the stores has first paid the artist. This is referred to as “paying reps by ship date.” Some artists pay reps after being paid by stores, but I believe reps sell more, and are happier with artists who pay by ship date.
6-Reps sell cards in dozens and half dozens. A typical beginning order for an artist might be 12 dozen cards of 12 different card designs, or 144 cards.
7-Independent artists usually pay the rep a 20% commission on the wholesale price the cards. Therefore, if you receive an order for $200 wholesale (the price you sell it to the store for), the rep’s commission is $40. Some reps might accept 15%, but that is usually for larger companies that have high sales.
8-Reps expect the artist to discontinue slow selling cards and replace them with new designs. A good plan is to add new designs 3-4 times a year: January, May and August, and seasonal items approximately 6 months ahead of the holiday.
Sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line between the artist’s job and the rep’s job. For me, an easy rule of thumb was: The artist should not be communicating with the store.
If there is a question on an order, the artist should call the rep and not call the store.
If the artist starts calling stores, it means either 1) The rep is not fulfilling their role or 2) The artist is interfering with the rep’s responsibilities.
Here is a typical example of a potential conflict:
Event: A store calls you (the artist) and leaves a message because they want to order more cards.
Solution: Instead of calling the store back, you contact the rep as soon as possible and ask them to follow through on the order.
Goal: You want the store to rely on the reps for customer service and communication.
Why: If you allow stores to order directly from you, it will create more work, you will probably receive a smaller order, and it will confuse the rep.
If an artist starts taking phone orders directly from stores, several problems can develop:
It will take you more time to process an order because not only will you have to contact the rep and give them a copy of the order, but you might end up writing an order incorrectly if the store does not have the proper ordering codes and tries to verbally describe the cards by the way they look. Phone orders can also turn into larger tasks if they request other things such as faxing your catalog.
You may be unaware of a prior arrangement the rep made. Perhaps the rep was going to drop by the store tomorrow to deliver catalogs, and take an order. If you took the order over the phone, the rep has less incentive to go to the store. Then catalogs are not delivered, missing envelopes are not replaced and racks are not straightened.
If you have limited sales skills, you will probably generate a smaller order than the rep would. It is my experience that the rep can sell more cards than the artist can.
-Disruption of Sales Plan
You might interfere with a rep’s sales strategy. Some reps have specific sales calendars where they show all their Valentine’s cards on a certain date. If a store is not thinking clearly in the moment, and orders all their Valentine’s cards from you directly, this can undermine the rep’s overall plan for other artists they represent.
If a store orders from you directly, they might request extra perks the rep is uncomfortable with. For example, if you agree to a discount, that will affect the rep’s commission
~Since the rep receives the commission no matter who takes the order, always encourage the store to contact the rep instead of you. It makes a lot less work for everyone. This does not mean you should hang up the phone if a store calls you. Just explain that you do not normally process direct orders. Always let the rep know you took the order.
In my opinion, once you start working with sales reps, unless it is an emergency or the rep is on vacation, it is disrespectful to take orders directly from a store unless you have a clear understanding with the rep. You do not want a rep showing up to an appointment with your card line, expecting to make a sale, only to have the store buyer say "oh, I just ordered those cards from the artist." It wastes the rep's time and causes distrust between the rep and artist.
If you do take an order from a store, pay the rep a commission for any order generated in a rep's territory. An artist might argue "But I took this order, therefore I deserve the commission, and not the rep." However, the rep does more than write orders. Most of what they do, an artist never sees, such straightening card racks and replacing lost envelopes.
On the other hand, if you find a store complaining a lot, saying the rep never calls back, this is a problem. Try to find out what is going on. It is possible your rep is not fulfilling their obligation to you or perhaps the store had a tendency to complain about many things.
Sometimes you might get in a situation where you are in a conflict between a store and a rep. I tend to error on the side of supporting the rep's preference, especially if I have worked with them for several years and trust their judgment.
An example of this is if two competitive stores next door to each other want to buy your cards. Since it is standard policy that reps do not sell to stores near each other, someone needs to decide which store can carry your cards. The store that is not chosen will probably be unhappy about it.
I like to let the rep decide what store they prefer to work with, even if it means a smaller order for me. Usually reps have good reasons for their store preferences. Perhaps they know that one store is slow at paying bills, or has been in business for a short time. By showing faith in the rep's judgment, it allows them the freedom to make decisions on your behalf.
Reps are people-persons, and tend to be peacemakers. More often than not, if a problem arises, the rep has already invested many hours trying to resolve it, long before you even hear about it.