I don't know where we would be as a company without the reps that we work with, day in and day out. These folks keep us current with product knowledge, new offerings, and the status of current orders through the course of a project. I'm lucky enough to have certain reps in my life since my previous firm, so I'm coming up on 10 years knowing some of them!
If you're starting or growing a design business, we're covering why these relationships are so critical and how you can bring your best to these relationships!
Reps are critical for product knowledge that goes beyond what a dealer can tell you. For example, we met with our Kohler rep last week, and we discussed a very specific line of plumbing that we are considering for a project. A plumbing company that sells 20 different brands won't have the extent of knowledge that a company rep would have.
Companies also send designers to company headquarters and showrooms for in depth product trainings that are more immersive, sometimes lasting for a few days. We went on this type of trip with MTI Baths, which you can read about here! Monogram sent us to Chicago to experience their new kitchen appliance collection this year as well.
I love that more companies are starting to do this, because they understand that designers are, in large part, the people selling their products. If they invest in proper training and time for designers to use the products like a homeowner would, they can vouch for the product from an authentic place in terms of ease of use, functionality, and installation, rather than just aesthetics.
Reps are your partners
While your project manager (on your team or yourself!) manages all of the products being ordered for all projects, the key to finding status information is that product's rep. I reach out with questions through email to reps daily, and they provide us with finish samples and fabrics constantly.
The closest big fabric showroom to us is the Pacific Design Center, but it still isn't quite that close. It also was closed during the height of COVID, so reps had to get creative about getting samples to designers. Now we get more scheduled visits to the office to see what is happening with that particular company, or to get samples for current projects before a client presentation.
With furniture line reps, we mostly see them when we go to markets around the country. Otherwise, it's a lot of email communication and phone calls throughout the year. Being kind and greeting them in these emails goes a long way - remember that they are seeing hundreds of emails a day asking for updates. Checking in on them or their families or even starting an email with a 'good morning' is just the right thing to do, and they're more willing to help you if something is damaged and push claims through more quickly if you've treated them well consistently.
Relationships are Everything
I can't stress this enough - if you treat the relationship as one where there is no interaction until I need something, you won't have a thriving partnership. Sounds like life, doesn't it? Make it a point to know that they have dogs, the names of their kids and spouses, or what vacation they're looking forward to. Your office should be a warm, welcoming place that they look forward to visiting, because they will bring their best selves, as you hopefully will as well.
Barbara (left) is our loyal rug rep, who stops by frequently to chat with us, and brings a car full of different samples for us to browse for projects as needed. Valerie (right) has worked with me for over 10 years now, ever since I started in the field! They've seen MND grow over the years, and it's a really special thing to know someone through all of the ups and downs of starting a business.
We love our reps and couldn't do this without them!! Treat them well, and they will do the same!