What is a sales representative? He or she should be much more to a snowboard retailer than a pest who calls every year around trade-show time. The pushers and peddlers of all that stuff in your store can be an important partner in doing business. But retailer/rep relationships are often riddled with conflict, mistrust, and/or ambivalence.

Sales reps are hired by manufacturers to sell their wares to the retailer. They have quotas to meet and rules to play by. And yet, rep commissions (about seven to ten percent of the total dollars shipped) are really paid by the retailer, not the manufacturer. This conflicting marriage of manufacturer, retailer, and rep is held together by a common goal¿to make money.

Often, retailers don’t know what they can expect from a sales representative. Many have unrealistic expectations that lead to a less than desirable relationship. So, what can and should a rep do for you?

First, reps should schedule a time to show you the latest merchandise either at a trade show or in your shop. A good rep will know the market well enough to give suggestions and guide you in a direction that will work for you. Ask them to be up front about distribution and let you know what the competition is carrying so you can order different merchandise. Keep in mind: unless you can financially carry an entire town, don’t expect to get an exclusive. When a rep does call, talk to them. If you are not interested in carrying a product, be up front and let them know. Unwanted sales calls are expensive for the sales rep and a pain in the butt for you. Don’t waste your or their time.

Reps can usually help resolve any conflicts or concerns you have with a vendor. Let your rep know that you expect them to return phone calls immediately and act upon promises made. Before you sign the papers, check with your salesperson about what kind of service they plan on delivering. It should include scheduling clinics at the shop early in the season to teach your staff about the product you bought. Hardgoods salespeople can also leave demo boards for your staff to try on the mountain. Most reps bring goodies such as T-shirts, stickers, brochures, beanies, and caps to give away. Motivating your staff to sell merchandise is a very important part of a successful season, and your rep can really be a part of this. So, make sure your staff shows up and is ready to learn.

If you sponsor or employ some really good riders at your shop, talk to your rep about taking care of one or two. Most reps can flow limited product to key people.

Expect your rep to check inventory for any needed reorders around the holidays. Or, if you have some slow-moving stuff, this is a good time to exchange it for something that could work better. Many companies will give their reps the freedom to exchange some dogs for new inventory if you let them know early enough in the season. It’s too late to swap merchandise at the end of March. Many sales reps have years of industry experience and can help retailers merchandise their stores, set up computer systems, locate good managers, put on special events, and more. Get to know your reps and find out what they have to offer you. Remember, if you are good to your rep, they will be good to you.

Anka Corbin is a Colorado-based Swag rep, freelance writer, and marketing consultant.