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.
The sales representative is probably the second most important person in your business, after yourself. As your business grows, you should look for sales reps who can work with you. A sales rep is someone who sells your cards. "Selling for others" is the business of the independent sales representative. They travel around to different stores and show your cards. Usually, with independent card businesses, they will carry more than one card line by different card makers. They make their money by representing several card makers, or manufacturers on a commission basis. Typically each card line represents a small business that cannot really keep a rep employed full time. Therefore, you may have a rep selling your own line next to another card maker's line.
Barry Siegel, a greeting card sales rep in northern California advises new card artists to take time, before expecting a rep to carry your line. "Don't be in a hurry to make or print up a huge stock of cards. Get feedback from people first." Barry says that card artists have to be unique. He continues, "For example, don't just try to recreate a better M & M. People are happy with M & M's just the way they are. Instead, try to be different." Barry carries approximately 24 different lines from a variety of card companies. Most of his lines have over 50 different designs each.
Reps are generally divided up by what territory they cover. One rep may cover San Francisco and another rep may cover Minneapolis. A rep will visit the same store about every one to three months.
Reps have several advantages:
1. They can provide a fast way into the marketplace. Once a rep has a sample deck of your greeting cards, they can start showing them immediately to several stores.
2. They are skilled salespeople and they make their money by selling. Reps are salespeople by profession and they also know buyer's personally. They are the lifeline between the card maker and the store.
3. They know the industry and they can provide you with valuable information, tips, and suggestions. If a rep notices a sales trend, they can communicate that to you. Also, it is not unusual for a rep to let you know when stores like a particular style. The rep may ask you to develop your line more in a particular direction.
Before beginning the process of selecting a sales rep, you should do four things:
1. Develop a clear business plan. This does not mean you have to write a formal report. Basically, know that if you sell 6000 cards tomorrow, that you can deliver them and that you know what profit you expect.
2. Know that your product sells. A rep is more likely to want to work with you if you have already sold cards to several stores. Also, by knowing if your product sells, you speak with more confidence about it.
3. Know what types of stores buy your cards. It's helpful for the rep to have a list of stores you feel are good places for your cards. If you make cards for children, you might want to do research on all the stores that carry these types of cards. This will show the rep that you know your cards and what types of stores want them.
4. Have around 50 greeting cards in your line. While some reps will carry lines that are smaller than this, it is easier to get a reps attention if you have a high number.
How to work with reps
My experience with reps is that they will get take an order for your cards and then fax or mail me the order. I then transfer the information to my own invoice system and then proceed along the same lines as if I were selling to a store directly.
I have never had an experience where reps collect fees from any stores, nor did they bill them. Reps do not ship or collect orders. Rather, the card artist takes care of all the paper work. Generally, the rep does not pay for your samples, for your brochures or any other promotional materials. Basically the reps should not incur any fees from carrying your cards besides their own business fees of phone calls, gas, etc.
You may want to know some basic information about a rep such as how many other lines they carry? How many accounts (stores) do they have? Do they carry other lines besides cards? Do they cover trade show? Can they help in collecting an overdue bill? How many orders per month are reasonable to expect? How much is an average order?
It is easy to think that when you have a rep you can forget about promotion and advertising. This is not the case. You need to promote your product to the rep as if they were a store and get them enthused about it.
One rep told me that after carrying a particular line of greeting cards around in her car for about a month, she realized she had never even taken the line into a store. It wasn't on purpose, it was just that she was so confident that her other lines would bring her big sales, that she neglected to bring the first line in. This may sound irresponsible, but when you think about a rep who carries hundreds of cards into stores, sometimes on a hot summer day, there is a tendency to just show the big sellers. So as a card maker, your responsibility is to keep the rep interested in the product.
Barry Siegel told me that he will drop a card line if stores stop reordering it. On the positive side, he also added "the thing that really impresses me is when I walk into a store and the buyer asks for one of my card lines by name. This shows me that not only did it sell well, but that is sold so well that they actually remember the name of the company." Barry visits each store 4 to 8 times a year and he feels a good line will have "a steady turnover."
Here are some ways to help a rep sell your cards as well as other things you can do that the reps will appreciate:
• Provide them with sales literature and advertising.
• Provide them with a Biographical sketch of yourself or your art experience.
• Give them copies of any articles that have been publishes about your business periodically.
• Ship orders on time.
• Track your card sales and let the rep know what your best sellers are.
• Inform reps of any design changes.
• Let them know who is late on a payment.
• Most importantly, pay reps on time.
Card makers generally agree that sales reps can make or break a business. One artist believes that "It's important to find the right kind of person to represent you, even if that means letting go of someone. I have had people whose 'style' of selling didn't agree with me."
For handmade cards, reps usually are paid 20% of the wholesale price and they are usually paid after the store has paid the card maker. Reps can be paid on the 15th or the 30th of each month. When mailing a rep their payment, you need to list the invoice date, invoice number, name of store, total sales, overdue invoices and any other updates. It is good to create a business form for this purpose (see figure 64.0 Rep Payment Form).
Contracts are not always used, but they are desirable. The Professional Artists Coalition, an organization dedicated to helping the independent cardmaker, strongly encourage all manufacturers to write their own contracts and selt their own policies. If for some reason there is some confusion about who does what and how much is paid, it is all in writing. A contract should cover the following information:
• The territory the rep is covering
• The commission amount
• The day of the month the rep is paid
• What the responsibilities are for the rep and the card maker.
• Who is responsible for what costs.
• What is each party's obligations once the agreement is terminated.
How To Find Reps
You probably will not find a rep in the yellow pages and my experience has been that it is really a person to person network. Some even call it an "underground market." Here are some of the best ways to find a rep:
I think one of the easiest ways to find reps is to ask stores. Start with stores where you already sell your cards. Often, the store does business with reps that they already have a good relationships with. One word of warning: stores don't easily give out names of reps if they don't know you and reps don't always appreciate being contacted by manufacturers (card makers) without a recommendation from someone.
Go to Trade Shows
Trade shows are another good place to look for reps. Trade shows are events where several manufactures and distributors come together to display their products. Prospective buyers walk up and down the trade show aisles looking at products and making orders. The best type of trade shows to visit are stationery or gift trade shows.
When I find a booth that carries handmade cards, I often pick up the rep's business card and contact them at a later time. I never interrupt a rep when they are making a sale at a trade show. When I talk to them, I try to keep it short and just ask them if they ever look at new lines. I also always bring some sample cards just in case they want to see them. More often than not, they will give me the name of a contact person and I wait a couple weeks after the show before I contact them. Often after a show, reps are very busy with all the new orders.
Look in industry Trade Journals
Trade Journals, such as Greetings Magazine, and Gifts and Decorative Accessories often have ads in the classified section for reps looking for card lines and card lines looking for reps. These can be a good source of possible leads (see figure 65.0 Places to find reps).
Join the Professional Artists Coalition
Every independent card maker should join this organization (see resource list). Not only is it affordable, but you can join at two levels, as an associate member for a beginning cardmaker ($25) or a full member for professional artists who are already selling their work ($50).
PAC was founded by Roger Riege in 1992 to help the independent cardmaker. It's goals are to help the artist learn where to find materials, be informed of product trends, how to find reps, get into tradeshows, learn how to write contracts and develop a professional skills. Members can receive material resource lists, seminar reports, newsletters, member lists, guidelines for industry standards, contracts, rep lists, sample media press kits, tradeshows information and customer lists for direct order.
Most of the resources I have mentioned up to this point are mostly "free" ways to search for reps. If you don't want to make hundreds of phonecalls and beat the pavement, there are many ways to seek out reps and marketing advice for a fee. Here are a few:
You can order the Sales Representative Directory from the Greeting Card Association c/o Chris Gagnon 1200 G Street, NW, Suite 760 Washington DC 20005 (202)393-1778
This publication lists greeting card sales representatives that are for hire in the United States.
You can also hire someone to help you find a rep and assist you in publicity and marketing with the Manufacturer's Representative Profile. They help new giftware manufacturers in bringing their products to the marketplace. Contact Roger Wilson 2150 A Douglas Blvd. Suite 210 Roseville, CA 95661 (916)784-2300 FAX (916)784 2217.
The Rep Registry provides access to giftware reps who are prescreened and they publish a book called Working with Wholesale Giftware Reps by Jill Ford. They can be contacted at PO Box 2306 Capistrano Beach, CA 92624 (714)240-7777. There are also individuals who do marketing consultation and assist businesses in locating reps (see resource list).
There are two associations for sales reps. They are the Manufacturers' Agents National Association which is the largest trade association for sales representatives. They publish a magazine called Agency Sales which lists ads of reps looking for lines and lines looking for reps. They can be reached at (714)859-4040. The Manufacturer's Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF) offers a free list of 45 manufacturing representative associations that are industry specific. They can be reached at (708)208-1466.
In most large cities there are gift marts for different trades. In San Francisco, for example, there is a gift mart that publishes a catalog called "Buyer's Guide and Building Directory" that lists reps and suppliers of different gift products. Some gift marts also have bulletin boards that list reps looking for new lines and new lines looking for reps. If you live near any of these metropolitan areas, you might want to visit one of these giftmarts:
Atlanta Market Center
240 Peachtree Street Northwest, Ste. 2200, Atlanta, GA 33043 (404)658-8994
Columbus Gift Mart
1999 Westbelt Drive, Columbus, OH 43228 (614)876-2719
Dallas Market Center
2100 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, TX 75207 (214)655-6100
Denver Merchandise Mart
451 East 58th Avenue, Ste. 2344, Denver, CO 80216-1422 (303)292-6278
1933 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90007 (213)749-7911
Miami Merchandise Mart
777 Northwest 72nd Avenue, Miami, FL, 33126 (305)261-2900
Minneapolis Gift Mart
10301 Bren Road West, Minnetonka, MN 55343 (800)626-1298
New York Market Center
230 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10001 (212)532-4555
San Francisco Gift Center
888 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94193 (415)861-7733
Seattle Gift Center
6100 Fourth Avenue, South, Seattle, WA 98108 (206)767-6800
Some gift marts may require that you show them your resale license, I.D. and business card or business check.
Reps recommend other reps
My personal experience has been that once you get one rep to carry your line and your line begins to sell well, it's a lot easier to get another rep. Reps will recommend other reps. Also, reps may see your cards in a store and contact you directly to see if you already have a rep.
Reps can really be the major key to your success. Don't feel you have to find one right away. Give your cards time to be on the market and reps will probably find you first.