Your vendors’ customer service and sales reps should be helping you do business.
With 28 years of experience at the helm of Mason’s Tennis Mart in New York City’s midtown retail district, Mark Mason says his longstanding success has been a team effort involving tennis manufacturer salespeople and customer service representatives as well as his own staff.
“They’re extensions of my business,” Mason says. “They maximize the experience with a manufacturer and encourage me to buy more.”
Although some sales reps have been able to remain hands-on — Mason cites Bob Berman of Tail and Polo among them — their role seems to have changed since the tennis boom. Rather than being responsible for one or two product lines, sales representatives typically juggle multiple lines for up to 250 accounts spread across a multi-state territory. For that reason, Mason says, many sales reps prefer retailers to meet with them at trade shows to preview and order new product lines, and stay in touch through occasional visits to the store and follow-up calls.
To handle day-to-day needs, including special orders, reorders, and delivery tracking, Mason says he often relies on customer-service reps like Susan Roemer of Fila. During last year’s holiday season, for example, he sold more than 100 women’s velour Fila warm-up suits instead of his projected 40 because Roemer alerted him whenever new stock became available due to cancelled orders from other stores.
“If a company doesn’t take a personal interest in you, you lose interest because working with them becomes too involved, too hard,” Mason says. “Susan makes me feel like I’m her only customer. Why wouldn’t I be motivated to buy from Fila?”
Paul Kobelt, director of tennis at the New Albany Country Club in New Albany, Ohio, says sales reps are his primary contacts, but he also feels comfortable calling CSRs to place an order or check on the status of a delivery. Regardless of the longevity of the business relationship, he says the sales representatives who consistently add value are those who take the time to visit his 18-court facility, which is open from April through October, in order to better understand his business. If a sales rep is unable to make a personal visit, Kobelt says he appreciates calls about specials on ball machines, teaching carts, and other equipment.
“Sales reps who take the extra time [to visit] know I need my inventory by April 1, and that I’m paring back in September while other accounts are gearing up for the holidays,” Kobelt says. “If they miss a call to me in January, I probably won’t order as many racquets or with the same enthusiasm. It’s the little things that count.”
A business relationship with a sales rep is a two-way street, says Chris Gaudreau, owner of The Racquet Koop in New Haven, Conn. “We need them just as much as they need us,” he says. In exchange for his loyalty, Gaudreau says he expects prompt response to phone messages, special pricing for promotional items showcased during his annual sale each February, and breaks on hot new products to compensate for old inventory that isn’t selling.
“I typically get everything I ask for, within reason, but I use my discretion. I don’t go back to the well too many times,” Gaudreau says. “If you’re honest and up-front, you can get things done together. If you’re at odds with your rep, nothing good can happen.”
Jason Havelka, head tennis professional at the Sunset Hills Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., says he also views his relationship with sales reps as reciprocal.
“I give them business, but I would like support for our club’s tournaments and social events in return,” says Havelka, who has volunteered his time doing demo days for Head. For example, Sunset Hills is sponsoring its first “Play Day” in June, and Havelka says HEAD Penn is providing demo racquets and tennis balls for the event.
“With some manufacturers, it’s a daily battle trying to get products,” says Havelka. “On top of everything else, I also do all the marketing for the club. I can’t spend time worrying about whether merchandise is going to get here okay.”
Joe Hajducky, a district sales manager for HEAD Penn Racquet Sports covering Connecticut, Rhode Island and Westchester County in New York, understands his clients’ hot buttons because of his experience as a former teaching pro, racquet stringer, and club pro shop owner.
“I’ve seen it from both sides. When I was a pro and I’d call a rep, I’d be upset if I didn’t hear back for a few days. And I still think that’s unacceptable,” says Hajducky, who counts Gaudreau’s The Racquet Koop among his top 10 accounts. “There are some days I spend traveling to visit accounts and I don’t get back to the office until after a store that called me has closed. My goal is to get back to everyone in 24 hours, 48 hours at the latest.”
Berman, who services Mason’s Tennis Mart as part of his New York and New Jersey territories, agrees that communication with retailers is key. “It’s important to do everything in a timely manner. If someone calls me, I call them right back,” Berman says. “I micro-manage my territory, but it’s kept me successful.”
Get the Most from Your Sales Rep
Mark Mason of Mason’s Tennis Mart in New York City estimates he has increased his business with Fila by 20 percent as a direct result of the responsiveness of customer service representative Susan Roemer. In order to make every client feel valued, Roemer says she encourages them to call her “for anything.”
“It’s easier for them to have one contact,” she adds. “I do my best to help them myself, but if I can’t, then I find out who can.”
Here are some ways to get the most from your own CSR.
- Plan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to place an order. Despite a customer service representative’s best efforts, delivery may suffer.
- Identify “want” versus “need.” Is an important client going to buy elsewhere if his new racquet isn’t delivered tomorrow? Or can that same racquet you wanted for yourself wait a week? Be reasonable when asking for favors.
- Be patient. In Roemer’s case, she works with 946 accounts belonging to nine sales reps. CSRs can’t fulfill every wish list, but they try.
- Get personal. Sharing a little about yourself and your business can provide CSRs with valuable insight that can help them serve you better. Plus, a good rapport makes conducting business more pleasurable for everyone involved.
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.