Become a Wholesale Representative
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Would you enjoy earning a living visiting bicycle shops?
I have a feeling lots of people just enjoy hanging around in bike shops. Why not get paid for it?
The wholesale representative, also known as "distributor's rep" or "tech rep" goes to bike shops and helps them purchase goods from the supplier s/he represents. Some reps are paid on a salary, by the company they represent. Some work for only one company, but are paid a commission, around five percent, on sales. Others are independents, often representing more than one company, although usually in non-competing product lines. For instance, a person who represents a general line of bicycles and parts may also work for a company who manufactures bicycle clothing.
The wholesale representative works in an assigned area, usually within a one or two hundred mile radius of home. The rep visits the bike shops every two weeks or so, depending on how much the rep is needed in the shops, how big the rep's area is, and the time of year. There is a lot of driving involved. Occasionally, the rep will do his/her rounds on a bicycle, but this is not common.
A typical stop on the rep's tour will take forty-five minutes. The rep visits with the owner of the store, generally swapping tales or talking about family. They talk about an upcoming bicycle order. The rep starts arrangements for a 90-day credit so the store can have a hundred bicycles but not pay for them until after they are (hopefully) sold, making a call to the warehouse from the store's telephone. Then the rep talks to the shop manager, who has a 'want list.' The want list is a everything the mechanics and sales people wrote down during the past two weeks that they would like to have in stock. The rep's company cannot supply everything on the list, or at least not at competitive prices, and other things the manager disallows, but soon they come up with a list of items and quantities. The rep whips out a calculator and approximates the total cost. The owner of the shop OK's the purchase. Finally, the manager pulls out a box of returns - failed tire pumps, jerseys with defective stitching, and warped chainrings. The rep makes a list, and gives a copy to the manager while one of the mechanics throws all the defective parts in a cardboard box. The rep carries the box out to his car, drops it in the trunk, and drives on to the next bike store. That evening at the hotel, the rep fills in the product numbers on his order forms, calls the wholesaler's in-house 800 number and places the orders from all the stores s/he visited, and tapes up the the boxes of returns to be sent by UPS back to the warehouse tomorrow.
The independent rep may have more orders to fill, more phone calls to make, but generally the orders are simpler, since many of the product lines have only one or two models. Generally, the independent is less-well paid, and has to be content with less than major-brand name products. You'll see a lot of new independent reps trying to interest bicycle shops in hopeless products, such as special bicyclist's hair combs, or inflatable pads for use with car-top bike racks. Manufactures of these crazy things are short-lived, but during their lifespans they will welcome all reps willing to show their products. Sometimes, a startup company will come up with a pet rock or something - something special for bicyclists, maybe a new lighting system or a new set of panniers which is a real winner. The reps who decide to take on that product are lucky reps! Keep your eyes open for things you know you can sell.
Does sound like something you'd like to do? Although not a particularly high-paying job, this is one which is fairly easy to get. It is best to have some sales experience, and even better if you have professional bike shop experience, but often the wholesalers know the job is more personality than skill, so if you send a resume, and they like you during the interview, you're in. Enjoy!
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