Valuable Business Relationships- Your Vendor Reps

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One of the most important aspects of succeeding in the optical world is establishing a positive relationship with your vendor representatives. 

Understand Your Reps’ Perspective

When I consult in the optical world, I notice that there is a huge misconception regarding the position of being a vendor rep, so a little explanation is needed. Generally speaking, frame reps predominantly work solely on commission. Simply put, when you order frames, the rep receives a commission. Generally, the more expensive, exclusive, or “couture” a frame is, the lower percentage of that sale is given to the rep. For high-end lines, a good rule of thumb is 10%.

On the lower-end lines or “budget” products, the commission is slightly higher, perhaps as much as 20%, but this is due to the lower average cost of each frame. Reps do not have expense accounts. They do not get reimbursed for travel, food, hotels, etc. On average, reps spend about $25,000 per year on these necessary costs, not to mention the wear and tear on their vehicles. As much as 100,000 miles is not unheard of in driving time per year.

Lens reps and lab reps can differ in their employment situations. Some receive a base salary plus a small commission, but they have extremely rigorous quotas and goals. Others are paid on much the same basis as frame reps—commission only.

How to Develop a Great Relationship with Your Rep

You and your rep have something in common. You both want to see your dispensary do well. It is in the reps’ best interest for you to move their products, and it’s obviously in your best interest as well, since this means you are producing revenue. So, here are some suggestions for getting off on the right foot, and staying there, with the reps you do business with:

  1. Be up front and honest with your reps. Even if you feel the product they offer is not right for your office, tell them so. They will appreciate your candidness.
  2. Establish your ground rules for working together. How often will the rep be by to visit? What are the return/exchange policies? What about warranties? Will the rep “police” your board for you, pulling product that is going to be phased out of the line and replacing it with fresh product?
  3. If an exchange is needed (and there are many ways to only use exchanges as a last resort), never just order an “even exchange,” where you simply replace what is being returned with no additional frames being ordered. If you are selling this company’s product, then order enough extra pieces to have made it worth the rep’s time and expense to see you. I usually have a “2 for 1” rule. For every piece I send back, I order two pieces to replace it.
  4. If you feel your rep is not living up to your expectations, don’t just give up. Most reps have several hundred accounts. It’s quite possible that the discussions you had have slipped their minds. Reminding them is usually enough to take care of any confusion or concerns.
  5. Ask about your reps’ backgrounds. Many times your rep can guide you to what will work best for your practice, especially if you are new to ordering products.
  6. If you are having an issue with the company itself, your rep is there to facilitate a solution. Contact the rep if this should happen, and most will be adept at resolving issues quickly.
  7. Communication is always the key. Most of my reps e-mail me regularly. I prefer this method of communication between visits because it allows me to answer when I am available.

Your Reps Are There to Help You

Your vendor reps receive a plethora of information about the products they sell. They are given lists of the top-selling items regionally as well as nationally. So, again, if the ordering of products is a new challenge you are facing, ask your reps for advice. They can also help you with pricing your products as well.

If you decide to take a chance on a line that you love but you aren’t quite sure is going to be a good fit for your location and the rep promises to take it all back should it not work out, be sure to get this in some form of writing. Even an e-mail is enough to support your position.

Remember, 99% of reps we see regularly are just like you; they are attempting to make a living. It means that they need you to succeed. Yes, we all have a horror story or two about a rep who treated us poorly, but that is the exception, and those types usually don’t last long in the industry. Treat your vendor reps as you would want to be treated, and you will end up with a long-term, mutually beneficial business relationship, and, as I have found countless times, a good friend as well.

Nikki DiBacco, ABO/NCLE, is an educator, writer and owner of DnD Consulting&Design. She is also co-founder of The Visionaries Group. Learn more at www.visionariesgroup.com

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