by Rena Klingenberg.
Hiring a jewelry sales rep can be a good way to get your work into shops and galleries.
What Do Sales Reps Do?
They represent your jewelry lines, showing samples of your work to interested retail businesses and taking orders – usually in one or more of these ways:
- by traveling around a specific area or territory with your jewelry samples and literature, visiting stores and other businesses (these folks are often called “road reps”)
- by setting up samples of your jewelry lines at a booth in trade shows, gift shows, or wholesale shows
- by displaying your jewelry samples in their space at a permanent wholesale showroom or gift mart
- via the internet.
Are Sales Reps Affordable?
Hiring a jewelry sales rep usually involves paying them a commission, based on their sales of your products.
Commissions are usually between 10% and 20% of the total wholesale order. Some specialty reps may charge more – I’ve spoken to one rep who charges a 25% commission for the first year, then goes down to 20% thereafter.
Once your rep establishes a relationship with a shop for you, the rep rightfully receives a commission on all jewelry you sell to that shop from now on – even if the shop owner calls you directly to place an order (instead of contacting your sales rep).
Commissions can add up to a lot of money paid out to your rep. So you’ll need to be absolutely sure your jewelry pricing allows you to:
- sell your work at wholesale prices,
- pay a commission to your sales rep,
- cover all of your costs,
- and still provide you with a worthwhile profit.
See my jewelry pricing formula as a starting point for figuring out your profitable wholesale pricing – and crunch your numbers carefully!
However, a good sales rep can help you get your work into a lot of good, high-volume shops that you might not have access to otherwise.
If you can fill your jewelry orders quickly, and work hard to maintain good relationships with your sales rep and with all the shops that carry your jewelry, you may find that your rep is worth his / her weight in gold.
Is Hiring a Jewelry Sales Rep the Best Way
to Sell Your Work to Shops and Galleries?
It’s not that hard to work directly with some shops and galleries yourself, especially if they’re within a few hours’ drive of your house. You’ll need to:
- Research shops and galleries that seem to be the best fit for your work.
- Make an appointment with your top choices to show them samples of your jewelry (see Approaching Shops and Galleries with Your Jewelry).
- Fill orders reliably, and as quickly as possible.
Once you’ve established a shop as an “account” (a buyer of your jewelry), it’s mostly a matter of developing a good relationship with them.
One of the keys to success is communicating regularly with your accounts about what they need that you can provide – and then following up as quickly as possible.
You may decide that shops and galleries in your area are easy enough to handle by yourself, without paying a sales rep’s commission on all the sales you make to these accounts.
I’ve even worked directly with shops and galleries in other states completely by myself – approaching them via email, mailing product samples, and shipping orders to them.
So When Do You Really Need a Sales Rep?
Hiring a jewelry sales rep to establish and handle your accounts can be a smart move – especially if you can produce enough jewelry to supply several shops / galleries.
It can take a lot of time and energy to establish and maintain several accounts by yourself, so outsourcing it to a knowledgeable rep can be a good decision.
Also, some out-of-town shops and large stores are harder to establish and build a relationship with on your own.
So it can be a worthwhile investment to use the services of a good sales rep who already has a relationship with these shops, or whose territory is outside of your local area.
And if you wind up hiring more than one jewelry sales rep, make sure they serve completely different territories so they won’t be competing against each other in the same market for you.
Consider Breaking into Wholesaling Slowly
I found that it was very helpful to start wholesaling to just one local shop first, while I learned the ropes of wholesaling.
That made it easier to adjust to this type of selling – and to discover and fix any problems on a small scale while I went through my learning curve!
(For example, I quickly discovered that unnecessary, time-consuming design details are not usually a good idea on wholesale pieces! Learn more about that issue in Mass Production Strategies for Wholesaling Jewelry.)
Even if you plan on hiring a jewelry sales rep, you may find it extremely valuable to start out working directly with one or two shops without a rep first, to really get a feel for what’s involved.
In addition, many experienced sales reps hesitate to accept clients who have never wholesaled their products before. So stepping into wholesaling on a small scale by yourself first can make your business more desirable to good jewelry sales reps.
Nothing beats the learning experience of talking face-to-face with a shop owner about their needs, how you can best serve them, how they operate – and how to best design your jewelry for wholesale selling.
If the thought of talking to a shop owner turns your stomach inside-out, see I Love Making jewelry, but Just Nervous to Start a Business.
Once you’ve gotten this valuable experience, you’ll have a much better understanding of the needs and perspectives of shop owners – and of your sales rep.
And of course, that will make it easier for all three of you to work smoothly and successfully together.
What Your Jewelry Sales Rep
Needs from You
Hiring a jewelry sales rep means keeping them supplied with everything they need to do a great job of selling your work for you.
See my Interview with a Jewelry Sales Rep to learn, directly from experienced sales rep Jo-Ann Gibbons, exactly what your rep needs from you – and how you can help them make more sales for you.
Where to Find a Jewelry Sales Rep
If you’ve decided that hiring a jewelry sales rep is a good move for you, there are several places you can find reps to consider:
- Check the classified ads in the back of magazines that serve the professional craft, giftware, fashion, wholesale, and small business niches. These publications often have an ad section specifically for sales reps. Examples of these magazines include Giftware News, Niche, Ornament, CraftsReport, etc.
- You can also place your own “seeking a jewelry sales rep” classified ad in the back of one of these magazines.
- Ask other artists if they can recommend any good sales reps.
- When you find stores, gift shops, and galleries that carry jewelry you like, ask the manager who the sales reps are who show jewelry products to them.
- Although these venues are not open to the general public, some of the best places to find jewelry sales reps are the trade shows, gift shows, showrooms, and gift marts where the reps are showing product lines. If you’d like to get access to one of these venues, I recommend going to the venue’s website and contacting their customer service to ask what qualifications and business credentials you’ll need in order to get in the door. At the very least, you’ll usually need to bring your resale license.
- Many reps network actively with other sales reps. So if you find a rep who isn’t a good match for your jewelry, be sure to ask if they can refer you to other jewelry sales reps who may be a better match.
Questions to Ask
Before Hiring a Jewelry Sales Rep
Before hiring a jewelry sales rep, consider interviewing a few different reps to find one who’s a good fit for your jewelry, your business, and your communication style.
Here are some questions you may want to ask them:
- What’s your specialty?
- Are you accepting new jewelry lines?
- What retail price ranges do you work with?
- What jewelry lines do you currently represent? Do any of them conflict with my jewelry?
- Where do you show your product lines (what territory on the road, or which wholesale shows, showrooms, etc.)?
- What shops / galleries / buyers are your main accounts?
- How many accounts do you work with?
- How often do you communicate with your accounts?
- Do you have any sales staff working under you?
- What is your commission structure (usually a percentage of wholesale sales)?
- What monthly or annual sales volume are you targeting for the lines you represent? (It’s a good idea to verify that you’re capable of supplying the volume of jewelry they’ll expect from you.)
- Do you accept jewelry designs that come in an assortment of colors (or stones)? (Many shops – and especially galleries – are interested in carrying color assortments of a design, instead of all items being the same color.)
- What product samples would you need from me – and how would you want them packaged and labeled?
- What marketing materials / literature would you need from me – and in what format?
- How long have you been in business?
- Can you please supply references?
Lots More Info on
Selling Handmade Jewelry to Shops and Galleries
For a ton of other tips, ideas, and strategies for selling your work through shops and galleries, please see Selling Jewelry Wholesale and on Consignment.