Is a Career as a Rep the Right Choice for You?

So, you want to be a rep. Well, you’re not alone.

I often hear the words, “How can I become a rep?” Sometimes the question is posed by dealers looking to reposition themselves from the retail world. Other times it is asked by company salespeople searching for more independence.

Frequently it is posed by people simply looking to earn a living.

When observed from the outside, the freedom, independence, travel and socializing are powerful enticements. These perceptions of a rep’s lifestyle are what draw people’s interest.

Reps set their own schedule and determine with whom they do business. They decide what vehicle to drive, what clothes to wear and what expenses to incur. If reps want to stay at a Marriott, they can. If a rep wants to wear a golf shirt to work, all I can say is “fore.” If they want to eat at the steak house every night, it’s their choice. If a rep wants to fly first class, that’s their decision, too. As a matter of fact, almost every decision is theirs, and that’s what I personally enjoy about my job and what others are attracted to, as well.

If you’re one of those drawn by this, here are two essentials that you need to carefully contemplate before embarking on this venture.

The first consideration is discipline. Above all else, a rep needs to be disciplined in order to be successful. From the outside, there appears to be great latitude, freedom and independence in the rep business. And there is, but what is not as obvious is that a rep’s business is not that different from any other business.

Sure, reps can stay at the Marriott, eat at the steak house and fly first class if they choose, but they run a business like any other. The $300 room at the Marriott comes right out of the rep’s pocket, as do the steaks and first class tickets. Those expenses are not magically paid for. If I’m going to feed my family and pay my mortgage, I make the decision to stay at the $79.95 per night Fairfield Inn and eat at Boston Market. As for first class flying, I’m sitting at an airport now waiting to be herded onto yet another Southwest Airlines flight. Sure I, as a rep, get to choose, but in the end, a successful rep is making the same business decisions that you and/or your organization do. The business latitude is not as broad as it might appear.

Having discipline extends well beyond controlling expenses. It pervades a rep’s daily function. With no one looking over a rep’s shoulder, it’s the sole responsibility of a rep to make sure that he or she is on task, on time and doing everything and anything that needs to be done in the business. A rep needs to be able to withstand the lure of the smell of a freshly cut green and the peaceful combination of sun, water and a fishing line. It is up to the rep to discipline himself/herself to do what is necessary for the business, ­otherwise there will be consequences from the rep’s manufacturer and its dealers.

Now if you are really thinking about being a rep, here is part two of what you need to carefully consider: money. Reps live on commission. Most of us live 100% on commission. No steady income, no check every Friday. A rep cannot sit down on January 1 and know exactly what the coming year’s income will be on Dec 31. No “for sure” things, no guarantees. A rep must be comfortable with the fact that not making a sale this week means not getting paid next week.

I revel in this lifestyle, but if you have either the true or psychological need to have the comfort of a steady income, being a rep is not the profession you want to pursue. And income is just a part of the financial unknowns associated with being a rep.

Do you need health insurance? If so, you are responsible for procuring it. Do you value pensions or IRAs? Guess what?

That’s your responsibility, too. And wait until you realize that, at your current job, your employer pays half of your Social Security taxes. ‘Self Employment Tax’ is another financial responsibility that comes gift wrapped and packaged with the freedom and independence of being a rep.

Becoming a Rep

If you have carefully considered the above and without a doubt, you are disciplined to the core ­– plus you have the intestinal fortitude to withstand the financial challenges – here are three methods for becoming a rep.

Method #1 – Save enough money to be prepared to go the first year in your rep business without any income. This is not an easy thing to do, and very few people can do it. This allows you to start small with several lines and build a territory. Most manufacturers looking for reps don’t have established territories; they are looking for a rep to build it from scratch. If you are in the right financial position, this is an option. In reality, unless you are able to walk into the perfect scenario, building a rep firm will take you time and your money.

Method #2 – Become a sub-rep for an established firm. This is a great strategy because an established firm will have established customers and may offer you the promise of steady income starting out.

Method #3 – This is the best scenario, but it’s also the rarest. Sometimes an established line and territory will just fall into your lap. This is the holy grail of options for a rep. Why? It’s instant and steady income. You are walking right into a customer base that is knowledgeable, established and ordering regularly. Don’t count on this, but every lottery does eventually have a winner.

If you are truly interested in being a rep, do your due diligence in investigating whether or not it is an option for you. I can attest that it is a very satisfying role to play in our industry. The freedom and independence are invaluable, but even more so are the varied relationships that you build. The interaction with the plethora of designers, dealers, distributors and manufacturers that I get to work with daily is the most rewarding part of being a rep to me.

If you combine hard work, some financial daring and toss in a little luck, you can build a successful existence as a rep in the kitchen and bath industry.

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