Monday, February 27, 2012

THE ROAD SAMPLE ISSUE

The issue of road samples often becomes a contentious problem between companies and their reps if not handled properly. For our discussion here, we'll address road samples apart from showroom samples.

In my repping agency days, our line package became a matrix of approximately 100 lines being sold nationally through 30 independent road reps. Yes, that's a lot of road samples! And the key to making it work is to organize a system that insures that the reps have the right samples at the right time to go out on the road to sell.

We came up with the term "road kit" which spelled out what samples to send to the reps. In the case of new companies, the rep needs to take the lead in working out the details of the road kit. For the lines that have been around block for some time, the road kit is usually well established.

Without an organized approach to road samples, you'll end up with either a too little or too much situation. Yes, road samples represents a considerable expense for the company. Therefore, it makes sense to take a conservative approach to the number of samples in a road kit. Having said that, I want to stress to companies that, despite all the wonderful catalogs out there printed or online, the retail buyer wants to see and touch the product. So don't be stingy. As a minimum, put best sellers in the road kit. After all, you want immediate sales.

With new reps, companies should have a "starter" road kit that, if possible, is packed and ready to ship out immediately. Buyers love new, and so do reps. The excitement level is high at the onset and companies often lose momentum by dragging their feet getting out samples to new reps.

Road kits need to evolve, i.e. they need to be updated, refreshed, and account for seasonal/new introductions. Getting Christmas samples out to reps after September 1st won't cut it. By that time, many buyers have already ordered for Christmas. Companies should also build a feedback loop with their reps whereby reps can tailor their road sample needs for their customers and time of year.

Paying for samples may come up in the conversation between a rep and a line when starting out. Unless we're talking big ticket items like Lalique Crystal, I strongly advocate reps never pay for road samples. (Showroom samples should be negotiated separately.) Reps are reps; they are not dealers. Companies need to adopt the attitude that, once they ship out road samples, they will likely not see them again. They take a beating being transported, and it is unrealistic to expect their return. Get with your accountant and write them off.

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