In the business of running an MI store, it takes three parts to make the commerce machine run. Obviously, the first part is the store owner. Equally obvious is the second part of the machine, the customer.
Store owners usually understand the first part of the commerce machine really well. They know their own situation, their employees’ strengths and weaknesses, and they understand their need to meet the customers’ needs. They also know that, ultimately, they have to make money.
A successful store owner makes an effort to understand the second part of the machine as well as possible. They know their customers by name, they know the names of their spouses, where their kids go to school, what kind of instruments they like, their preferred string brand, etc. Every bit of customer information a store owner can retain for instant recall helps them connect with the customer, helps make the customer feel special and helps the customers see the store owner as a friend, not just a guy who wants them to spend their money with him. The more the store owner can get his or her employees to adopt the same mindset of getting to know the customers personally, the better the store’s chance of running as a well-oiled commerce machine.
If you’ve been nodding your head a bit while reading this and thinking “Yeah, I know all that, what’s your point?”, let’s go back to the first sentence. There are three parts required to make the machine run, and the better the quality of that third part, the better your commerce machine will run.
The third part of your machine is your reps. Yeah, I know, the last thing you want to hear when you’re in the middle of some transaction, or your first quiet cup of coffee, is “Hey, the Acme rep is on line two.” If you’re not familiar with the Acme name, they used to supply strap-on rockets and giant magnets to Wile E. Coyote back in the ’60s. Once cartoons went digital, Acme picked up a line of MI products, and Bob (everyone calls him “Acme Bob”) has been calling you for years trying to sell you Acme tuners, Acme nylon straps and Acme tube guitar stands. Sometimes you can dodge him, but just as often, you end up answering the phone and you’re hung up talking to Acme Bob while your coffee grows cold.
If you’re seeing these reps as work-interrupters, I think you’re missing a great opportunity to refine the third part of your machine. Fostering some sort of personal relationship with your reps (even the ones you don’t buy from often) can pay huge dividends over time. When a rep calls, take time to get his or her number, and make sure you know all the product lines he reps for. Ask him to email you his line card, and you may find out he’s got a line you’ve thought might be interesting for the store. Ask him how his week’s going, and make some small talk with him about something that’s not related to whatever he or she is trying to sell you. Let them get to know you a bit, as well. When you know Acme Bob’s wife has been sick, but is on the mend, and his daughter’s doing well in college, and she’s coming home at Christmas, he becomes more than just a rep on the phone, he becomes a real guy trying to make a living by helping you make a living.
Bob, just like all your other reps, has a pretty tough job. He’s got to make contact with you, and somehow convince you to buy product from him instead of all the other reps who are calling you each month. He’s either on the road constantly, or tied all day long to a phone. He’s got x number of calls he needs to make each day and y number of stores to visit, and he’s constantly interrupted by late orders, wrong deliveries, damaged goods and calls about some product that’s just not working as it should. Life as a rep can leave Acme Bob pretty frazzled at the end of a day.
Granted, some reps are easier to talk to than others, and reps who start each call or visit with a hard sales pitch can be taxing. Maybe the rep is kind of new, and hasn’t figured out yet that the hard push approach doesn’t work well with you. Maybe he’s calling just to get you off his call list. But, each and every rep who calls is using some of his limited daily time allotment to give you a call. If whatever he’s selling isn’t part of your store arena, and never will be (i.e., he’s selling stage lighting and you’re a violin store), thank him for the call, and just tell him you don’t stock or sell any lighting products. This will save time (and money) for him in the long run, and cut down on your interruptions. If he’s selling products that are in your arena, but you just don’t want any right now (or don’t want the brand he’s selling), let him know that, and take a moment to ask how things are for him otherwise. Sure, you don’t need him right now, but some companies change reps the way I change socks, and chances are that rep will be handling products you do need in the future. When he calls you, or drops into the store, and he’s now the area rep for your No. 1 instrument supplier (and you know that happens), you’ll be glad you’ve already established a rapport with him.
There’s no way to overstate the value of a good rep. A good rep is your go-to guy when something goes wrong, or your shipment is three days late. He or she can pull strings to get an order out quicker, or to make sure backorders aren’t delayed. A good rep can help with pricing, or she’ll call you when there’s a freight deal on gear she knows you buy. A rep can make your machine run smoother, as well as help you make more money. And I really think how good your rep is depends, in part, on how much time you’re willing to invest in seeing your rep as more than just a voice on the phone, or a guy with a notebook standing at the counter.
Every store owner knows at least one Acme Bob. If we never see him as more than that, I think we’re shortchanging our store, as well as the reps. Helping Acme Bob become the good rep we all appreciate may be as much up to us as it is up to Bob. So, invest some of your time in getting to know your reps.
And, when Acme Bob calls, see if he still has any of those jet-powered roller skates. I’ve always wanted a pair.