Tell us what you do.
GM: I am a manufacturer’s representative for about 40 small artists and designers. What that means is that I work as the go-between between the artists and the retail stores I work with. In social situations, I tell people that I’m a sales rep in the greeting card and gift industry; in reality, I’m not a skillful “salesperson” or “closer”. What I AM great at is service.
For me, this business is chiefly about two things:
- I am a small-business person working to help other small business owners – whether they are retail outlet operators or artists/designers – succeed.
- I enjoy working with greeting cards because they facilitate communication between people. It feels like important, and necessary, work, in our communications-challenged society!
What would you change about the stationery industry?
GM: I can’t think of anything I would change about the industry. In my view, the industry responds well to the demands of the market. There are greeting card lines for every conceivable niche! So, there’s something for everyone. I think that is delightful, because it means that for every artist who wishes to create and sell cards, there is probably a market – no matter how small – for what they create.
Who has taught you the most about the stationery industry?
GM: I would have to go back to the start of my greeting card sales career to answer this question. Two reps who worked with the rep group I started with, way back in 1985 or 1986, were instrumental in helping me learn how to approach stores and how to set up my business. These women were Susan Chalef, a Los Angeles-area rep (sadly, now deceased) and Rosie Finkelstein (originally based in San Francisco, and known by another name – Barbara Matison – who has lived in Oregon for a number of years, and I think she is a card rep there!). More recently, the conversations I’ve had with local card designers Kate Harper and Marie Jensen, and with Washington, D.C.-based industry expert Meryl Hooker, have helped me step back from what I do, and how I do it (after 20 years, it’s easy to fall into habits, some of which may no longer be productive), and change what needs to be changed.
Do you have to have a competitive spirit to be a rep?
GM: No. You DO, however, have to have drive – in my case, drive to bring good product lines to my stores, and to do a good job selling my designers’ creations. If I succeed on those fronts, then I will succeed, too.
What are five qualities essential to being a sales person?
GM: Here is what makes ME a good sales person:
- Making good line selections: choosing to work with companies/artists that I appreciate and enjoy working with, and whose businesses I want to support.
- Being highly organized and having good attention to detail.
- Maintaining an ability to focus on what each buyer, and their business, needs to succeed.
- I enjoy working with people and helping them problem-solve. This includes keeping an eye out for new lines, as trends change over time.
- Having lots of energy. I believe that the best reps are a bit Type A, or hyper-active. This job is mentally and physically demanding, and the more energy you have, the better you’ll do, and the more you will ENJOY what you do.
What is YOUR favorite line at the moment?
GM: This is a VERY tough question!! But if forced to choose one, I’ll say that my current favorite line is La Familia Green, from Mollie Green, based in Chicago. I love her line because, to my way of thinking, she breaks many of the “rules of successful greeting card design”, yet her line is a strong-selling line. I love it when something I assume to be true turn out not to be – those “the exception to the rule makes the rule” moments. And her line is a rule-breaker in a variety of delightful ways! Also, her sense of humor is contemporary, and corny, and quirky. And her cards sell VERY well, in the right store – and in my trend-forward, progressive area, I’ve got lots of stores for whom her line is a good fit!
Name three companies that you admire in the stationery industry?
GM: As a long-time representative of very small greeting card lines, I may get in trouble for saying this, but I rather admire what RPG (Recycled Paper Greetings) is doing now – approaching various small card lines and asking the designers to design something just for Target, or for other of RPG’s customers. I think it’s a very forward-thinking approach, rather than assuming that everyone will be happy with Hallmark or American Greetings – or even with RPG’s stable of great designers! (I was a HUGE Sandra Boynton fan, way back in 1975!!). I certainly don’t want my many independently-owned stores to fear competition from a big-box store like Target, but I can’t help but appreciate that Target, via RPG, is seeking to add a wider variety of new, hip designs to their card section. To me, it shows that Target recognizes that GREETING CARDS MATTER. That feels VERY important regarding the industry as a whole – especially to the many folks who wonder (and worry) about the impact of email, IM’ing and texting on “snail mail”. Since I primarily work with individual artists, many of whom hand-make their cards, I must name at least one of those. I admire Kate Harper – even though she no longer has a card line, but has shifted into full-time designing. I admire her because she is a designer with great business sense, and when she had a card line, she provided some of the BEST rep support, and had so much appreciation for what reps do. She created several card lines during the time she ran her own company; she was never afraid to try something new, that might appeal to a different part of the market. She had the courage to say “no”, and to stick with it, when Barnes & Noble was pushing all vendors for free shipping; she only grudgingly agreed to take returns. Because of that, she didn’t have to pay reps a smaller commission – as most manufacturers did – which was great, because servicing those accounts took extra time and energy! When they finally insisted that she provide free shipping (or a discount), she thought long and hard, and decided to stop selling to them! I can’t think of one particular company to name for a third, but what I would like to say is: ANY company that has taken the risk to try something new – whether a manufacturing technique, a new range of designs, or branched out into new products. I’ve worked with LOT of designers who did that!
What is your biggest challenge as a rep?
GM: My biggest challenge is probably keeping it simple. My attention to detail and super-hyper-organizational tendencies sometimes cause me to make office-related tasks more complicated than they need to be. Somewhat related to that is saying “no” when a vendor or a store asks for something. I’m SO customer-service oriented, that’s hard! I’m getting better at it, though, in my effort to have more down-time from work.
What could designers/manufacturers do to make your life easier?
GM: Come out with new designs (6-12 is a great number to shoot for) a couple times a year so I always have fresh new things to show my stores. That will keep me, and the stores, excited about a line. And provide paper catalogs (yes a lot of stores still want them)!! If seasonal cards are appropriate for a line, I want those samples early enough to make the most of the sales seasons for those holidays. Also: have a good collections system in place so I don’t have to spend my precious time tracking down past-due invoices. Help me spend my time doing what I do best: showing, and selling, your great product!! One more thing: please check with your reps before releasing new products to find out what their customers are looking for!
What product (or products) do customers ask for but you can never seem to find?
GM: Nothing is coming to mind… If I could think of it, and sell that idea, perhaps I could retire!! Seems like most of the time, it’s a store customer who will come in wanting something SO specific that it really wouldn’t be worth investing in – like a birthday card for someone who’s turning 78, or some such thing! It’s always nice to have cards for some of the “niche” occasions, such as Sympathy, or Pet Sympathy, and other special occasions, such as Retirement, 25th or 50th anniversary, or age-specific birthdays – IF they are appropriate to the design, and prospective customer base of a particular card line.