Suzanne is a former regional magazine publisher, as well as a cooking and gardening writer. She lives in North Carolina.
How I Became a Road Warrior
If you are bored with your present job, moving to a new area and looking for a job, or just dreaming of having the freedom of being your own boss, with no set hours or days, where your income is unlimited, then joining the ranks of thousands of gift sales reps, known affectionately as "road warriors", just may be the job for you.
I stumbled upon the exciting, ever-changing world of the gift sales representative while working in advertising sales. Every month for 18 years I published and edited a regional magazine. The revenue for my magazine was generated by advertising space sold to mainly antiques, gift and country shop owners. Each month I would visit these shops to set up their monthly advertisement. Occasionally I would notice a sales rep sitting in a corner, surrounded by samples of beautiful cards and stationery, heavenly scented candles, rustic country gifts and décor and gourmet goodies. "That looks like fun", I thought to myself.
I shared my curiosity about the sales reps with one of my advertisers and she gave me a copy of Country Business, a trade magazine for gift retailers. The magazine's classified section included wholesalers looking for sales reps. The Internet offered another source of finding giftware wholesalers looking for representation.
Soon I was on my way to a new profession.
I Contact My First Gift Manufacturer
My first group of products, known as a "line", was a country giftware manufacturer from Indiana. Their advertisement in Country Business magazine listed their website on which I found a "sales representatives" section and noted my state was not listed. I contacted the company and explained I had a customer base consisting of antiques, country and gift shops and was interested in telling them about their products. After we established my territory was available they offered me a 15% commission on any sales generated, and even supplied me with a list of local shops already buying from them that they wanted me to visit and they would pay me a commission on any sales generated. Most companies supply their sales reps with examples of their product lines, and a huge box of samples and color catalogues arrived from the company within days.
Before my first appointment, I generated business cards, order forms, and letterhead on my computer, loaded a black sample case on wheels with my samples and catalogues, filled up the gas tank,and headed out the door to visit my "advertising" clients. Before the day was over I had made several sales, including advertising.
Tools of the Trade
- Business cards (make your own)
- Order forms (make your own with download from Internet)
- Sample case on wheels
- Samples to show or leave with buyer (soaps, lotions, candles, dips etc.)
- Catalogues and/or price sheets
- Cell phone
- Maps and/or GPS
- Laptop (small printer would be handy too)
Building on Success
Inspired by my initial success, I began looking for additional "country" gift lines to offer my clients. Each time I visited a gift shop, I would chat a bit with the owner about what types of products they wanted to sell in their shops. Sometimes, before dropping by, I would pick up a gourmet coffee and a donut for them. So, we would walk around the shop and discuss this or that gift line and share what types of items they would like me to find for them. It was only a matter of searching the Internet for the desired product type, i.e. gourmet, candles, country gifts, soaps, and plush. The Internet was the easiest source as most sites had a place where their sales representatives were listed from whom retailers placed their orders. If my state wasn't listed, I emailed the owner of the business and asked if they needed a sales rep.
Eventually, I represented 20 gift lines, which is a manageable amount to be able to show during a sales consultation. My sample bag held greeting cards, candles, gourmet dips and sauces, soaps and lotions, country linens and pillows, cookie cutters, and more. I traveled the Delmarva peninsula from southeastern Pennsylvania to Chincoteague, Virginia visiting antiques, country, museum, and hospital gift shops.
Keep Up With Trends and What Other Sales Reps are Doing
If you really want to get a job as a gift sales rep but are not sure it is for you, an excellent example of what it is like to be a successful sales rep, read the blog Road Rage from beginning to end. This giftrep and I covered the same territory and became road warriors about the same time. In fact, she writes about a company that I, too, recognized as one that was going to be a big hit, and, like her, decided I was not big enough to approach BlueQ about repping for them. However, she eventually became so successful, the company called her and asked her to cover our territory!
Which reminds me of another way to find new lines: Whenever you are traveling outside your territory, go shopping. When I saw BlueQ, I knew it was a winner. Look at the lines the shop offers and when you see one you think one of your retail clients would like to carry, make a note and Google it when you get home. If your territory is available, jump on it.
Sales representatives often attend gift shows in order to meet with local retailers over several days. It is also an excellent way to find new lines. I signed up for the Ocean City Gift Show and was approached by several sales reps who wanted me to "subrep" for them. This is another aspect of the business where you carry another sales reps lines for a smaller percentage of sales. If you are looking for new products, this is an excellent way to add them to your present lines.
Another website loaded with gift rep advice is Gift Rep Sandy. Sandy also writes for Hubpages, so be sure to check out her articles.
To learn more about the industry, Rephunter.net is an excellent source. I joined the site and receive emails from manufacturers looking for reps. I receive weekly emails with leads to companies looking for reps. Greatrep.com, is another website for anyone looking into entering the gift sales industry.
I Am An Independent Contractor
A gift sales rep is an independent contractor, meaning you are responsible for paying your own taxes and business expenses. It also means keeping track of those expenses, i.e. gasoline, business lunches, hotel, which you can later deduct from your taxes at the end of the year.
Before you enter into a business relationship with a wholesaler, and if none is offered, you should create your own "Independent Contractor" agreement setting out the terms of your business arrangement, such as the territory to be covered, the amount of commission, and when you can expect to receive payments. Independent contractor forms are available to download on the Internet.
Being an independent contractor offers you total freedom from any constraints a "day job" places on you. You work for yourself, you set your own hours, days and place to work. If you enjoy traveling, you can write off your entire journey as long as you do your sales rep job during the trip. Some sales reps devote 10 months to travel and take two months off.
Trade Shows - A Gift Rep's Best Friend
If the territory in which you travel offers an opportunity to participate in a trade show, by all means look into renting a booth to display your gift and greeting card lines.
My rep agreement included a paragraph stating that the manufacturer would pay a pro-rata share of the cost of any trade shows in which I participated.
I rented a 10x10 foot space to participate in a local trade show and most of the cost, excluding tips and travel expenses, was covered by my gift lines.
It is a lot of work, but definitely worth the effort to participate in a trade show.
If you love to travel and shop, and have the gift of gab, this may be the job for you. Go for it!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
mallonmadison on August 09, 2018:
Thanks for such an amazing article. I was looking for such an informative piece of content for long. Happy to read.
Earlier for my machine tools business; I hired https://hexisreps.com/ and their experienced and knowledgeable manufacturer reps were really helpful to me.
My I'm starting my new venture of gifts and handmade stuff so this article will be helpful for me.
American_Choices from USA on August 08, 2015:
Fascinating. I have heard of personal shoppers but never heard of this. Thank you!
David on December 02, 2010:
We need reps for a Hot new kids product www.charmingxcess.com
Lindsay on October 26, 2010:
I am looking for reps that are interested in selling a new western rustic style of soy candles. 20% commission, if interested email me firstname.lastname@example.org
mcleek from Chicago, IL on October 19, 2010:
I need a rep for my designer pet product business, Sophisticated Pup, www.sophisticatedpup.com. This would involve selling to pet boutiques, pet stores, and gifts stores that carry pet products primarily.
Please contact me if you're interested at email@example.com.
kim Stein on September 08, 2010:
I need a rep. for my new line of inspirational products, someone who specializes in selling to hospital gift stores and wellenss centers/rehabs.
Please contact me at Kim@kimstein.com
You may want to visit my newly launched site..... it does not show all of my products, but at least it will give you an idea of the product messages.
bayareagreatthing from Bay Area California on June 20, 2010:
bayareagreatthing from Bay Area California on June 20, 2010:
Did the Gift Rep thing years and years ago and loved it! Unfortunately the group I worked for disbanded and I moved on. It was really fun while it lasted :)
Mary S. on June 15, 2010:
Hi Lillyeth -
I have a bcakground selling giftbooks/ calendars, & educational (teachers gifts) resources as an inside sales rep; I've also sold real estate (years ago - back in the early 90's - that wasn't such a good time either for RE..!;) and have a lot of customer service as well as retail experience. Would love to transition to giftware sales. Could you tell me more about getting started? I want to focus on quality kids' products, well-made jewelry, as well as earth-friendly things such as personal care/ bath & body care, etc.
Sandy Dell on January 04, 2010:
Great article! Working as an independent sales rep myself, I can relate to your article! Would love to keep in touch to see how your change from country gifts to children's or pet gifts.