Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

by : 
Kim Perkins
April 1, 2013

Question: Can you give me some advice on working with reps? I am glad they come to see me, but I spend a great deal of time looking at product lines that don’t seem to fit my store. And when I do take a rep’s recommendation and bring in a new line at their urging, it usually doesn’t sell well. Do you have any suggestions to make buying easier and less time-consuming?

Answer: As in all industries, there are great representatives and then there are mediocre ones. However, it sounds as if you are having these issues with more than one or two reps. My first thought is that you may need to adjust your purchasing plan.

Once a rep learns your local market and your specific store, they can be extremely helpful in presenting new products, keeping you up-to-date on current lines, and protecting your territory so that a nearby competitor doesn’t offer the same products you stock.

My advice is to ask yourself, “Have I been clear about how I envision my product mix?” If you are wishy-washy and ask for a rep’s advice on every line, they won’t know what you really want and will therefore show you many more choices than you need. If you are clear and decisive, they will quickly ascertain what you like—that’s their main job!—and your time together will be minimized. If you don’t think a line will sell well in your store, just say “No.” Stick with what you love—after all, that’s why you have your own store!—and don’t try to be everything to every customer. That doesn’t mean don’t take chances; just take the chance when your heart says “Yes!” rather than being talked into it.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to