Working with an Independent (Clothing) Sales Rep vs. Cold Calling shops
September 8, 2008 12:41 PM   Subscribe

My wife has designed and produced several items of clothing for girls which are available online. She's interested in getting her items placed and sold through specialty shops and boutiques. She is trying to determine the best way to go about this without breaking the bank. (For example, the expense of a booth at a trade show is outside of our budget). She's thinking about working with an independent sales representative and/or cold calling shops directly.

  • What are the pros and cons of using an independent sales rep vs. DIY? She's especially interested in any financial considerations of either approach.
  • Any advice on how to find an independent sales rep?
  • Any tips on cold calling on a shop owners?
  • Can you recommend any resources that may be helpful to her (for example, she's heard of a line sheet but needs to understand how to prepare one and how to use it effectively; is the line sheet for the sales rep to use or for the shop owner)?
posted by braveterry to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by cortex (staff) at 12:51 PM on September 8, 2008

the expense of a booth at a trade show is outside of our budget

Is the expense of producing a sizable initial order outside your budget too? Your target audience needs to include your capacity to produce. My df and I make a craft and someone once suggested we investigate a local-are chain store. They actively solicited submissions, but were up-front about the fact that you needed to be able to provide up to X quantity of your item to Y stores with an order lead time of 30 days.

That's just them, but other operations will have their own explicit or unstated restrictions in this way so you need to target places that you can satisfy. Even if you get in the door, if you are unable to fill a few orders they're just going to go elsewhere.

We've had good luck pounding the pavement with a sample in hand, and by that I mean about 20 rejections for one nibble. At the moment we only sell things ourselves at craft shows (which is not a bad way to do it, and clothing has the advantage of being nice and easy to transport compared to our heavy stuff) and a local craft consignment shop.
posted by phearlez at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2008

I can't answer your question directly, but if you are looking for cheap ways to improve business and visibility, have you tried the following yet?

1. Do you sell on Etsy? If not, think about it. You should get exposure to a much bigger audience.

2. If your wife makes girls' clothing think about sending a free sample to consumer goods blogs like Mighty Junior (products for kids) or Stylephile for Kids (blog about kids' clothes), etc. Even if you are still selling your own stuff, again a mention in this blog would get you a bigger audience.

Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 1:24 PM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your wife should check out The Switchboards, It's a forum for women in business for themselves. An amazing amount of info and resources. I know I've seen similar questions posted there.
posted by izoralee at 4:20 PM on September 8, 2008

Search the boards at Etsy for "wholesale" and you'll find good tips from many women who have done this before you. Before looking at hiring a sales person (which is a silly thing to do when you're dipping your toe into wholesale - you can hotfoot it around with samples and an oversized postcard to leave as a calling card) you need to critically assess your pricing. Most people making this transition fall over because wholesale at this level is often 50% of what she's charging for retail, and most small crafters don't have that much profit built into their pricing.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:13 PM on September 8, 2008

Check out the newbie page at the Fashion Incubator blog. Among the many, many articles there are several on sales reps and approaching shops. DonĀ“t be put off from reading the article clips that start off with day to day things that have nothing to do with the fashion industry, many of these link to other pages where the meat of the article resides.
posted by yohko at 5:35 PM on September 8, 2008

Best answer: I'm not sure where you're located - that really makes a huge difference when it comes to the quality of independent reps available to someone as small as your wife. Fashion cities have clothing reps coming out of the woodwork while a small town in Kentucky is going to be a massive struggle.

A good sales rep will be established and can get you in to any of their customers almost immediately if they have a good feel for your line. You need to sell it to the sales rep first to gain any traction. They will normally expect 10% commission. If you can't afford the 10% now is a very good time to get out of the game without losing money (seriously).

To find a sales rep I would recommend going to your ideal customer and asking them who their favorite reps are and would they mind giving you their contact details. That's how we got our first reps and I know of quite a few of our competitors have done the same thing. It means you get a quality reference in addition to the contact details. Remember a bad rep can kill your line very quickly in any region.

Ideally the rep will need a full line of samples.

You'll need a line sheet to sell and most often to leave with the store owner. Treat it as a marketing document - in the beginning that's how they'll remember you and hopefully will cut down on cancellations if they're trimming budgets. You want them to remember how nice your styles were and cancel on someone else.

If you want any more details or specifics please let me know.
posted by Umhlangan at 6:15 AM on September 9, 2008

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