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Commentary: The Business

Jeff Unger: On The Road

Reps are struggling, says our columnist.

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DEAR JEFF,I’ve been a sales rep for 20 years. I have loved calling on stores and helping retail jewelers increase their sales through the use of products I’ve supplied them. I have had a great relationship with my stores, stopping in and saying ?hi,? making a call, dropping a line in the mail and now e-mailing for appointments. But times have changed! I’m finding it harder and harder to stay in touch with my stores. Stopping in has gotten very expensive with rising gas and travel costs. I still have all the electronic communication available, but retailers seem reluctant to answer or return my calls and e-mails. It’s like I’m bugging them and they don’t want to see what’s new this year. What is a sales rep to do? 
? ROAD WARRIOR 

Dear Road Warrior,
Don’t feel you’ve lost your edge. I’ve talked with many reps, and you are not alone. I’ve gone to the stores for answers. Here are the top five reasons they avoid reps: 

1. Overstocked. One of my friends said it the best: ?We (reps) are paying for cramming inventory down the throats of our customers and they are throwing it up.? Retailers have loved to buy jewelry without the use of inventory programs to track sold items for years. Now retailers have many tools to support the inventory. 

2. Too many phone calls: Retailers on an average day will get 10 to 15 calls asking if they need any loose diamonds, stop by my booth, etc. If you’re the seventh or eighth call of the day, you have no chance. We are using the phone more now for appointments instead of cold-calling to save the cost of traveling.  

3. Spam e-mail: Buyers’ computers are loaded with spammed e-mails from all over the world selling them jewelry. Unless they have given you access to their server, you end up in the land of lost e-mails. 

4. No money: Industry leaders tell me that retailers still owe from 2006. They are struggling to get ahead and don’t want to add to their debt. 

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5. Smaller world: Where it was once taboo for retailers to travel overseas to other shows they are now buying directly from overseas. But retailers are finding the savings may not be as good as advertised. One of our largest industry wholesalers has started to see a return to buying from U.S.-based companies due to customer service. Is it worth the 10 percent net savings to have no one to help you with your customer immediately? 

Road Warrior, keep your chin up and keep moving forward. Keep doing the things that have worked for you in your 20 years of service. Just as the wind blows, your retailers will need you. And when they do, it will be your opportunity to make your customer think twice about blowing you off.

Jeff Unger was the president and co-owner of B & N Jewelry (d.b.a. Alisa Unger Designs) and a long-time INSTORE contributor. He passed away in February 2019 after a valiant 10-year battle with cancer.

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