Job Issues for Ski Representatives
Being a manufacturer’s rep offers a little more job security and less investment risk than going independent, since reps usually can make a draw on their commissions and get paid periodically throughout the year. Successful independent reps, on the other hand, can make a lot more money and not be tied to any single manufacturer, which allows them to move on to new products that can be hot future sellers. The biggest drawback, and a real barrier to anyone getting started as an independent, is that they don’t get paid until their customers actually pay for the product. Many independent reps have to go an entire year before they get paid their commissions, and they usually don’t get any draws during that time.
For most successful ski reps, sales strategy revolves around offering the best-looking product within each price bracket. A customer entering a shop may not know much about ski equipment, but he does know what his budget allows. While the consumer asks questions about whether a ski is sport-racing, all-mountain, or cruiser type, the shopkeeper wants to maintain a salable spread of skis throughout all price levels. Although most shops do a majority of their business in the intermediate price brackets, the national advertising in ski publications emphasizes high-performance, high-priced ski equipment and clothing. Ski marketers continue this practice because they believe it fuels consumers’ desires for specific brand names, which transfers to lower-end lines.
Regardless of how well a rep’s skis turn or how colorful his brand’s marketing, the bottom line is sales, and buyers for ski retailers are constantly reviewing sales figures to see which skis are selling and which are not. Ski reps spend a large amount of time traveling to retail outlets, making contacts, and checking on their lines, and even though this may not make a big impact in immediate sales, hopefully managers notice the service and sales support and reward it with more floor space in the stores. It can be a funny situation: first a rep sells skis to the ski shop, then he goes back and helps the shopkeepers sell to the public. Much of a sales rep’s energies are focused on deepening personal relationships with dealers.
The ski industry is perhaps unique in that virtually all orders are placed in March for the next season. Deliveries are usually made in August but payment for goods is not due until December 10, almost ten months from the order date. The rep’s annual salary comes with one paycheck sometime in January. Reps know that every year they may lose a few accounts, so they must constantly pioneer new ones. But the savvy rep structures his efforts around accounts with good credit. There is nothing more frustrating than to spend a lot of time and energy on a new prospect, make a sale, and have the credit manager refuse to ship the product because the account’s credit is no good.
It used to be that ski customer service people and ski reps could take it easy when May rolled around, but now most ski manufacturers are getting into the booming in-line skate business, which recently has been generating nearly as much revenue as the ski equipment business. Most reps sell in-line skates from May through August, then gear up for the ski business again in September, which doesn’t leave any real slack period anymore.
As most reps must buy their own samples, they may have thousands of dollars deducted from their commission checks. The rep must sell off these samples, usually at steep discounts, to bring their income back into line with overall sales efforts. Unfortunately, many of these samples have been loaned out to ski shops for use as demos, and after a season of use the equipment can be well worn.