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Vosper: The NBDA's Sales Representative Database is a win-win for effective brand representation

Published August 9, 2021

This piece is a sequel to one I did over a year ago called What's a rep worth, anyway? For the TLDR crowd, I had three main conclusions:

  • Outside reps' role might best be described as facilitators: Their job is to establish and maintain communication for mutual understanding and cooperation between suppliers and retailers. In other words, a good rep makes it easier for retailers to do business with suppliers, and vice versa.
  • As I said at the time, A good rep can make the business of doing business go smoothly among the parties involved. A bad rep, on the other hand, can be worse than no rep at all.
  • The value a professional sales rep adds to the dealer/supplier relationship goes far beyond taking orders. In fact, in my colleague Ray Keener's survey of 180 retailers in 2019, taking orders was literally the least important thing that reps did. According to the survey, the most important things are showing upcoming product, handling warranties, training staff, keeping dealers aware of local market intel and national marketing trends, general business advice, and showing POP options, in that order.

In my consulting business, a lot of my clients are new to the cycling industry and want to get their brand started in the specialty retail segment. One of the first things they ask for is a list of dealers. I explain that, while a dealer list is good for understanding how markets are laid out, dealers themselves are incredibly busy and unlikely to respond to cold calls regarding a new brand and its products. The thing to do, I tell them, is to engage professional sales representatives who — as their name implies — can successfully represent their brand to prospective retailer business owners.

At this point, things get a little stickier. Because until now there has been no list of independent reps available to the companies who might want to engage their services or to retailers who might want to take on lines the rep carries. The best I could do for my clients is advise them to call trusted bike shops and ask who the best reps are in the area. Especially for a brand just dipping a toe into the sometimes chilly IBD waters, this can be a daunting task.

The NBDA steps up

"I constantly have brands reaching out to me looking for sales reps," says NBDA President Heather Mason. "I started as a rep, and the relations with retailers helped me be successful. In my role with the NBDA, we have the opportunity to add value to retailers and suppliers alike with the national Sales Representative Database."

In the cycling industry's current zero-sum mindset, it's a refreshing win-win solution for everyone in the specialty retail channel.

Now in its infancy, the database currently has about 50 reps from all over the U.S. "We're definitely focused on adding more names on that list," Mason says. "It's a great resource for bicycle retailers and the whole industry."

Essentially, the database will perform the same function among reps that reps do for dealers and suppliers: facilitate communication to make it easier for all parties to do business together. Suppliers can more easily find representation for their brands, retailers can find reps for lines they're interested in carrying, and the reps themselves can pick up both suppliers and retailers for their business. In the cycling industry's current zero-sum mindset, it's a refreshing win-win solution for everyone in the specialty retail channel. And that's why I'm so excited about its potential.

But Mason wants to take the database even farther. "We're looking forward to having best practices for reps, especially with regard to product and staff training and interacting with the public in events," she says. "When a rep comes in, they shouldn't just be an order-taker; they're a valuable resource for industry trends and product knowledge." That should come as no surprise, because it's exactly what retailers told the industry they wanted from reps back in the 2019 survey.

Of course, it wouldn't be the bike business if everyone wanted to play. Large brands in particular — and especially those with dedicated reps — have long been reluctant to publicize their rep lists. It remains to be seen whether organizations with dedicated rep forces will want to participate in the NBDA initiative.

One large company that will be supporting the database is HLC, which encourages but does not require its 14-rep U.S. salesforce to register with the service. I reached out to Pat McGinnis, president of HLC North America, about this. "I'm of an open mindset with everything," he told me. "We've requested that reps provide Heather with the (Sales Rep Database) information. Our philosophy is always to find out how we can help. We see the NBDA as an industry partner, and if there's a way we can help out, that's good for us, too."

For now, the Sales Representative Database is available as a free resource to NBDA members. In addition to bike shops, interested individuals or suppliers can join the NBDA as individual or associate members, respectively. According to Mason, the list is not currently available outside the NBDA; although, that may change, she says.

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