How to Half Wholesale: #9 Work with Reps

Eighth in a series of how to grow your wholesale business in a small way….

What is a rep?

I believe it’s short for “sales representative”. It’s a person who carries either actual samples or very good print images of artwork/craft items/jewelry etc. to stores. They “represent” the artists. If the stores like the work (and they trust the rep), they place a wholesale order. The rep delivers the orders to the artist, the artist makes the work and collects the money. A new wholesale account is created.

How much will they sell?
They will follow your wholesale terms, unless you have both agreed to exceptions–say, small sample orders.

How do I get paid?
Reps only carry and show your work, and collect the orders. They turn them over to you, and the rest is just like a normal wholesale transaction. You make and deliver the work, the store pays you according to your terms, and you put the money in the bank.

How do reps get paid?

Typically, reps get paid an amount equal to 15%-25% of the wholesale order. My understanding is that 20% is the norm for our industry. That might seem like a lot, but actually, that’s the amount artists and craftspeople are expected to budget for marketing and promotion anyway. Using a rep is simply another way of marketing your work. If you’ve accounted for this expense in your wholesale pricing, you should be okay.

Every order??
Well, that’s a good question. The answer is, it depends….

And here we get to the issue about whether using a rep is a good thing or a bad thing:

It depends.

Reps are just people. People who sell your work for you. Consequently, some are great, some aren’t.

Some work hard to sell your work, others want a lot of artists (because it makes them look like they got a lotta stuff) but only push their sure sellers. Some are careful to pitch your work to appropriate stores, others will sell to every two-bit operation that is willing to pay your minimum. Some are hard-working and honest. Others are fast-talking, sleazy and sloppy.

Over time, a rep will develop their routine to what works best for them. You must understand how your rep works before you sign on with them, to keep misunderstandings to a minimum. Use a contract, and read it carefully!

Some will repeat their “tour” regularly, writing new orders and reorders for you constantly. And in this situation, since they are actually doing all the selling for you, they expect that percentage from every order.

Other reps simply introduce your work to the store. Reorders and follow-up are up to you. They expect a percentage on that first order (the one they got for you) but they don’t expect a percentage after that initial order.

Some insist on actual samples, others are happy with a good catalog or line sheet. Some want you to give them the samples. Others accept them “on consignment”, and your items will be returned to you after their tour of duty. (Obviously, it’s easy to give someone inexpensive samples like cards or bookmarks, but you probably don’t want to give away precious metal and stone jewelry….)

Reps may expect you to develop new lines and new designs regularly, because it’s introducing these new items that keeps their inventory fresh and appealing.

In short, if you work with a rep, it’s important to know upfront what is expected of you, and what you can expect from them. Contracts are simply a written record of those expectations, with both parties in agreement.

How do you find a rep?
It’s actually not too hard to find a rep. The trick is to find a good rep. One who is a good fit for your work, your work ethic, your goals, your dreams. But when you find one, it can be a marriage made in heaven.

Here are some suggestions for finding a rep:

Ask other artists. When you find an artist with work that’s compatible with yours who’s already wholesaling, simply ask them if they use a rep. And if so, would they mind sharing the name.

Ask a store. If you are already wholesaling to a store, ask them if they ever buy from a rep. If so, ask them for the names of the ones who might work well for you. (Assure them you don’t intend to saturate the area with your work, or sell to their competition.) This is also a way to vet and pitch yourself to the rep: “I’m already selling to one of your accounts, and my work does well there….”

Ask a working rep.
Some reps actually do wholesale shows, representing a variety of artists. If you think your work might fit, talk to them. (Caveat: Show etiquette applies here. These people are working, and their first priority is to sell their current clients’ work. Wait until they are not busy with actual customers, and be ready to simply leave a card or catalog and contact them after the show.

Go where they gather.
Pam Corwin of Paper Scissors Rock has long recommended the Great Rep website as a great source for reps. You’ll find reps looking for specific lines (maybe your work is a good fit?), and craftspeople looking for reps. It’s a directory, so it’s up to you to screen your potential candidates.

Ask everyone!
Spread the word you’re looking for a rep. You might find out the brother of a friend of the sister of your neighbor in yoga class is a rep. Yes, you know it happens!

My caveat up front: I’ve only worked with a rep once, without much success. But many other craftspeople have, and it’s a real option for expanding your wholesale territory without leaving home.

A fellow artist who owned a small framing gallery took to the roads of New England with samples of local artists’ work. She planned to visit various stores and galleries along the way, showing them the samples and hopefully writing orders. She liked my jewelry and took samples with her. Nothing came of it, but the idea was intriguing.

A few years ago, I had a chance to work with a really great rep. He came highly recommended by other artists, and when I called him, he was interested in my work. The reason was, it fit in well with a few other lines he carried–Southwestern/tribal/world art–and he had stores in mind that did well with that look.

The only reason I hesitated was that his territory was New England, and I felt I had enough accounts in this region. In hindsight, maybe I should have tried working with him, and maybe I’ll open that door again someday.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

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