Expert Sales Interview: Angela Engel, Sales Manager, Dwell Studio

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Back by popular demand — Our first in a series of “expert” interviews, Angela explains the role of a sales manager in the children’s market and what entrepreneurs need to be prepared with in order to approach retailers with their product.  She works with 100’s of retailers from small boutiques to major mass market outlets.  With over 10 years of experience for Dwell Studio, Chronicle Books, among others, she dives into …

  • The seller/buyer relationship
  • Managing inventory especially during a spike period when Dwell Studio’s product are on The Today Show, Elle Magazine
  • What brands should expect a rep to do and how much commission they take
  • The best way to work with buyers at Costco
  • The key tradeshows to attend

 

Viewers, we’d love to hear your feedback.  Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.  Thank you!

 

READ THE TRANSCRIPT

Read the transcript

Rachel Olsen:  Hi, I’m Rachel Olsen, founder of Best Moms Products, where mompreneurs share their adventures in business.  Today is the first interview in a series, where I’ll be interviewing experts to help educate entrepreneurs on starting a business.  Today, I’m talking with Angela Engel, sales rep of Dwell Studio and previous Sales Manager of Chronicle Books where she contributed to 11% of their overall sales and that major category expansion including several placements of children’s books at Target.  She is here with us today to help explain the role of the sales rep and what you need to be prepared with an ordered with fresh retailers with your products.  She has worked with hundreds of retailers from small boutiques to major mass market outlet, does that sound about right Angela?

 

Angela Engel:  Yeah.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay, so maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background not only Chronicle Books but you have a long history in publishing and about Dwell Studio what they are, what they do for people who don’t know?

 

Angela Engel:  Okay, so I will start with Dwell Studio.  We are a design, home furnishing line and we actually started in 1999 in home furnishings in bedding, top of bed which is duvet covers and sheet sets and we moved now into decorative pillows, into decorative pillows, into rugs and as well as throws.  And Christiane, our CEO and Founder, she has a degree from Parson’sSchoolofDesign, has two children of her own, lives in SoHoNew York.  And when she had children also decided, hey I do great bedding for the home, I should do it also for the nursery.  We’re modern, we’re accessible.  We believe that textiles can get dirty, which means that you’re not going spend a $180 on a silk dress or blouse for your child that you are really going to get something beautiful for about $34 in organic and easy to wash.  And so that sort of lot of things we’ve really grown in baby.  We do everything from layette to accessories and bedding and right now I’m working with them and selling two specialty stores.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Great, okay.  What does the sales rep do, what do you do day to day and what’s your main objective?

 

Angela Engel:  Okay, so well, day-to-day it varies.  It really has a lot to do with what’s happening in the marketplace, who honestly is meeting my attention, sometimes that’s what it feels like in sales.  So mostly it’s really figuring out on a weekly basis, okay, these are my weekly goals.  So my weekly goals might be let’s take, let’s do some account example.  So my weekly goal this week might be to work with Whole Foods and work with Amazon and my top 10 small independent stores.  And that’s my week, now that is good in theory however maybe something happens to that you need to jump on with Cosco.  So it’s always going to be a juggling act, in similar ways it’s like children that you think it’s going go one way and then a week after, actually went in different way.  And it’s I think that that sort of big success in sales is to always know that there is always a new day, that you did the best you did that day and you helped this – these particular customers.  So I tend to start to structure my day, where I would like just right myself a list and they okay these are two or three things I must get accomplish today, and then – and then that might take me four hours and then the other four hours I dedicated to whatever kind of things might come up within that day.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay, so yes your role as a sales rep for Dwell and then for previously Chronicle Books is basically as a Sales Manager to get the product or the brand that you are representing, their products into stores.

 

Angela Engel:  Correct.

 

Rachel Olsen:  And then you organize your day or weeks depending on which customers you had and what their needs are.  And what is that?  So for Dwell right now, you handled and you say west – we talked previously in west coast sales…

 

Angela Engel:  Yes, I do that way.

 

Rachel Olsen:  So, how much can a sales rep handle, so if you’re west coast sales how many clients are you calling on or how many stores are you in, can you share that information?

 

Angela Engel:  I think it really honestly that varies on the product.  So now with Dwell Studio, I have an entire brand to sell.  So I’m not really selling, okay, this is very different than book publishing, book publishing might be an actual author series, but in many, many cases it’s a one off book, might for children book.  And it’s one piece and it’s going to live in this store for X amount of time and then we’re moving on to the next book.  With Dwell it’s really selling a brand and how we’re going to sell that brand.  So it’s going to – it could be like a three year relationship.  We’re creating in the store a back wall of our entire brand of products from bedding to accessories.  So I think that it really varies for anybody what they’re going to sell like for example if you’re selling a brand right now, I feel like the west coast makes a lot of sense and I wouldn’t be able to take on for example, the southeast or even because in many ways I am selling and continually want to make sure that the brand is going to like have a lot of life within these stores.  For example, it might be a large boutique down in LA that can do a lot of volume.  I want to continually make sure that they are up with the next products.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Right.  Okay so, can you tell me a little bit about the difference in working with as a sales rep when you are approaching a boutique versus like a big-box store or major mass retailer?  What’s the difference for somebody who’s like an entrepreneur listening who has within a big-brand like Dwell or Chronicle books and they are trying to get their product that’s just one product into a store.  What how – how should they approach these stores?

 

Angela Engel:  Okay, well I think that, I mean a big-box retailer like the Target or Cosco is a very different animal than a small mom and pop.  And so I think that you really need to understand and know your – the market and does your products even make sense for that particular vendor.  For example, you want to try to sell the Target, you better walk all those Target stores, see how the packaging looks, see what’s your competition, what are price points.  If you want to be in the – in the boutiques, again it’s just actually the same rule of thumb like what are the price points, how is that packaged like what also are they selling and how does your particular product fit into that.  So that’s the first thing, you’ve really need to do before you approach any vendor is to understand where your product fits into their – with their customer because you are right the best – the best way to make a relationship with an account is for you to be trustworthy and to also understand their account, not just to say oh my products are the best in the world, well that that tells me nothing.  It’s important, why is your product the best in the world, that’s what I would ask them, and then you would actually say, it’s better to point out differences.  For example, what is the material made out of, how is that different from what I’m already selling, what is the maybe it’s a – let’s take a bottle folder, a baby bottle, so is yours insulated, okay, how is the technology, what is the design.  All of those things will add up to should yours be in place of another baby bottle.  So those are the things that you need to ask yourself and be prepared to when you are approaching a vendor.  It’s really the differences versus it’s the best in the world.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Right, so when somebody is pressing the eye opening and have this product and they are looking at the design and the packaging, should they be thinking does my – should my packaging look like this company.  Like if they are trying to approach a target, but they want to be another big-box stores, they can only do one design a packaging correct or they want to have one brand.  So is it smart for them to decide like I’d rather be in a Cosco than a Target, but what about, they don’t even know what those differences are.  So what’s the reality do you think in dealing with them I know you’ve major brands and getting your foot image or to some of these major mass market retailers versus a boutique, is it much easier for a new product to go into a boutique do you think or to go down the path of mass market and try to do every single thing that these major retailer say to do?

 

Angela Engel:  I think it really again depends on the product, but I would say like let’s say you’re doing a series of clothing, I think and it’s let say it’s hand made, you really should be in a small boutique.  You’re not going to do these hand made clothings for mass market, right.  Let’s say, you want your retails to be $50.  You’re not going to be in a mass market retail.  So, I think you again need to look at what’s the – what are your margin goals like and understand that like if you can upgrade 3,000, 4,000 units of a product take that risks and still make great margins and go after mass market then you should do it, if you’re going to do it at $10 an item.  If that item needs to be $20 then you better actually instead think 300, 400 units and I’m going to go after specialty boutiques and I am going after specialty high-end retailers like Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters.  Think a little differently and outside the box, and maybe it’s not a full mass market, and I’m not going go into grocery, but I’m going to find another specialty retailer like a maybe it’s going to be cost buzz maybe that’s a better place for my product.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay.  So when you say that you throw the numbers three to four thousand, so is that the minimum around that minimum number of units that somebody should be anticipating having produced if they approach a mass market retailer if there…?

 

Angela Engel:  No I honestly just threw that number out.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay…

 

Angela Engel:  But I think you can be prepared it depends on the store and honestly if I was going to approach best market, I would always go intact with that.  So for example, you might want to say okay, this is a great product, but it really regionally makes more sense forTexasthan it would forCalifornia.  So if I’m going to go after Cosco, I’m going to really think about maybe talking with the buyer how we can test it in the south and if it works off then we can maybe expand it to other regions.  I think that’s a wonderful thing about Cosco, and if we all know wherever we live, your Cosco is a little bit different than the Cosco in the Southern California, your Northern California Cosco and same with the Minnesota Cosco or – and Texas Cosco.  Cosco is one of those retailers that does do great demographics.  And so that would be an area where I would say, you’re going to take less risk and let’s say you already had success at stores down in the south, but you know that this going to work for you then maybe that pilot approach mass market or you do a random test – if you feel it’s a national brand then you do a random test with the mass market retailer like Cosco and you say let’s – may be we’re going to test in 15 to 25 Cosco’s the product randomly and then that random test will be able to tell if you want to take the risk of manufacturing quite a lot of product.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay, so that’s interesting.  Do you think that that something, I would know you have your experience with major brand names, is that something that a – a small wholesaler can approach a Cosco with and that would be do you think received well or what are your thoughts on that?

 

Angela Engel:  Again, I think it really has to do, let’s take an intangible product.  So for example, let’s say they’re in swimsuit wear, I think again I think if you can prove to any, buyers are brilliant, I mean some of the smartest people I have met are buyers and you’re not going to try to pull the well over there, I think this is the best swimsuit in the world, you could instead try to tell them why has, what is it about this particular swimwear that works.  So for example, it may be has sunscreen belt in, I don’t know and then may be it is special Brazilian fabric and it is a hot new trend that Angelina Jolie has into and she brought her this Brazilian bikini in Brazil and yet you can make them for half the price and they’re really going to fly off the shelves.

 

Rachel Olsen:  So, okay.

 

Angela Engel:  That is sort of what I think if you have to again have a real goal in mind that it actually can really work?

 

Rachel Olsen:  Yeah, I think that this is good, though the way the conversation is going is, we started I feel like very big and now I kind of want to – I kind of want to simplify it to the people for the entrepreneurs that are listening like, I think what we talked previously you gave me some really good feedback on a few different things, one was what cost should start up you aware of, when they’re approaching but how does the store order and how does that whole process work?

 

Angela Engel:  Okay.  So standard mark up like on toys, books, clothing, I mean for a boutique 50% mark up.  So you’re going to sell your, you want a – you want a $11 for this item and they want to sell it that for $22, I’m talking boutiques are in specialty retailers, not mass market.  So that’s very easy, very accomplished in terms of looking at a spreadsheet, putting in business, what cost me to make the product, this is what it cost to package the product, this is what it would cost me to shift the product, this is what it would cost me to basically any other marketing or time involved and if you’re looking now and at the end of the day may be you’re comfortable with making 30% to 40%.  So may be after all those costs, its $5 to you, you’re going to sell it for I don’t know $9, and they’re going to sell it for $18, so that would be the simple matter.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay and then how does it work if the store wants to place an order then what is the best – what does the wholesaler need to be prepared with in order to approach a store, what types of materials, what types of negotiations take place?

 

Angela Engel:  I think it’s a lot about what’s – so if it’s going to be a straight cost and let’s say I’m going to take like a small boutique in rockridge and I have a baby item, it’s just the straight cost.  So this I’ve looked at your shelves, I’ve seen these great bottle holder, I see that you’re selling them for $20, mine is $20 too, I going to sell it – I mean mine is $10 and you sell it for $20 and if they – the buyer feels that the statistical work for their store, I think that’s pretty easy.  They’re going to send their purchase order that’s the binding agreement and they’re going to sell the purchase order.  Typically, I advice a lot of people, small entrepreneurs, they’re going to need PayPal or a credit card machine and I would honestly, they might ask for terms which is net 30, I would actually say to those accounts if they hit a certain dollar minimum then we would grad them terms.  So let’s say they say, okay once you hit a $1,000 and you buy and you reorder and you hit a $1,000 in product then I’ll take your trade references and I’ll call the banks and may be we’ll extend to net 30 in 20 days.  So that would be my advice there, when it comes to corporate account, you’re not going to have that lead way and they’re going to expect terms.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay.  So we talked about margin, the terms that you need, how to kind of come up with your profit and loss, either all basic thing that a start up would definitely have to do?  Is there – have you come across a form or template that people can use to figure the stuff out, what retains any resources that are out there?  I mean you just plug it in to your spreadsheet grid?

 

Angela Engel:  Yeah, I mean honestly I just look at, I just pull out an excel grid and I would just plug in those numbers like I would great handlers.  So but I would doing it now, I think what over 10 years at least a 11 year sales and marketing, so I just probably like just do it naturally like just ask those questions, I honestly don’t, the template that I would probably use now as what I basically do it.  For example, I mean I now work with companies where I’m really looking at our overall inventory, our over – our overall what’s working, what’s selling and how to sell more, how to move more products.  So that’s actually a different sales role than what I with than like an entrepreneur that’s just starting and we need to be from scratch.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay, Well let’s talk about that then for the next level of business.  So you’re in a stores, you have a lot of products, what do you do to move products?

 

Angela Engel:  Okay, yeah so that’s really where what I do, right now and what I’ve – like for example what I would do is I would look on a weekly basis okay, while is that account selling.  Now this is small retailer you’re not going to need to look weekly and you really not, you’re going to be maybe look at reorder patterns and you’re going to say call that and go, can I do an inventory leader shelf.  When it’s a larger account or department store, they should be able to send you sales on a weekly basis.  So it’s like it’s your job as a sales manager to go on a weekly basis well Amazon or Nordstrom or Cosco our Target based sold a 1,000 copies this week of this particular book.  That’s really great.  That would mean that I need to make sure our inventory can handle the next six weeks of sales.

 

So the job that I do now is more looking at that and maybe executing an email to the production team until the CEO and people who are in charge of making the product.  And saying okay, hey I’m noticing the spike in sales and these are the reasons we got coverage in our magazine, we got coverage in domino all held to elevate the sales.  So I would take great sales vendor.  We are continually like for example when I marketing team sends an e-mail that were – that as soon as being featured in domino, I will suite that out to my customers and say look at this great masala sheeting has been featured in domino and what line we hold, we’ll get orders for that masala sheeting.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay, yeah, let me ask you about that because you don’t how point of a role do you feel like marketing in PRs, do you see a huge spike in sales every time somebody is featured with your products?  When do you see like the biggest spike, can you share any of that?

 

Angela Engel:  Again it just depends on the media some things you think oh my gosh yes they are on the today show and we’re going to sell like game busters.  Sometimes and sometimes – sometimes not it’s like pure marketing has really hidden this.  Yes, people magazine does help and how magazine does help but I think is more about it altogether

 

Rachel Olsen:  Yeah

 

Angela Engel:  So I think one thing that Christiane and Dwell Studio is so brilliant at is a real holistic approach, it’s like they not only are on the today show even colors are there.  But they do start with Twitter and with Facebook and Domino and really across all market channels.  So that social media and print media as well as visual media are all working together.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay.  Not out in the market, the baby market and children’s market specifically that you need a strong, the brand needs to be trusted and the customers need to feel really safe.  So I think you were talking to me a little bit about testers, earlier and but in the different regard like do you have a prototype you could call local boutiques and see if they’ll test out your products, do you ever talking about that, and my totally half base here.

 

Angela Engel:  Oh, I think that when it comes to the – I mean Amazons are really a good example of our retailer, when you go in Amazon you read those reviews.  Like the high chairs and the pacifiers or whatever you’re going to buy.  Those are really, really important.  And so yes, if you for example Amazon is a market place that a lot people can sell, almost anything these days.  But so you would work – you would approach Amazon in the category and find out how – part of they have all those reviewers.  So you might send 7 to 10 of your product to those reviewers, so that they can put a review online of your particular products.  Because definitely in the mom world, review has been everything now Dwell Studio is a trusted brand, so people know that all of our dice are safe and our toys are lead free and nontoxic.  So the nice thing is when you sell a brand, mom was already trust take me out, but if you’re an untested brand then it will be absolutely important for you to get those mommy bloggers and the testers out there I would even say first places like babycenter.com and really – and really ask them to review your product.

 

Rachel Olsen:  So would you – would they be asking – who would they be asking a baby center, would they just look for people who review products, and contact them individually and say could you review this?  Or would they be – who would they reach out to?  Do you have any idea?

 

Angela Engel:  An editor, an editor.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay.

 

Angela Engel:  Yeah you don’t want a sales person or a buyer but you would want an editor like a person who really can review it, and write well and give you an honest opinion.  And I would say that that’s actually the first approach, so like if you already had positive reviews from several mommy bloggers and online – online like places that are resource centers for mom.  I think and you had reviews from a doctor if it was one of those types of products, or a nurse, practitioner, I think you are going to be just again armed better as you go into those retailers of why they should carry your product.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay.  So I want to ask you a little bit since we are kind of also on the marketing arena like, what trade shows have you found to be really good venues?

 

Angela Engel:  Okay so in the book world, I mean you have to go to book expo inNew York.  And in the baby world ABC which is inKentuckythis year and it was in, last year it has been inLas Vegas.  And obviously the gift shows are great inNew York,Atlantahas a great gift show, it brings people from all over north – and also has a high concentration of the South.  So I think that again it depends but let’s say you are doing a very regional product, then you are going to want to go to a regional gift show.  And if you are doing more of a national product, you will want to go toNew YorkorAtlanta.  And then – or if it’s a toy – toy fair is fantastic that’s a great show.  So it – just really well depend on the product that you are making.

 

Rachel Olsen:  So what is the best way for people to find a reputable sales rep?

 

Angela Engel:  I think that trade shows are really great to go and I would say before invest of money and get a bill and do all of that sort of extremely expensive, just get yourself a plane ticket and go to a show.  And walk it first, see what it is, what the competition is, I mean how are you going to get a badge usually have to be like a, have some kind of resale license or have a friend in the industry.  I mean – you got – you’ll figure it out and you’ll go and you would then look at the different rep groups.  So like rep groups will have actual bills, and where they’ll carry all these different minds.  And you might decide, let’s say you do jewelry, let you might decide the best approach for you is to have this rep group who does the North East, sell your jewelry, because it makes sense that looks very similar you would show them the type, the jewelry that you make.

 

And you sit down and have a meeting and then you guys would work out like what their commission rate would be and what tradeshows they do.  And then you have an agreement with them.  And so then you would know that in the North East because you live inCalifornia, you never have to go look at those boutiques, you have some reps doing that.  And you then decide if thatCalifornia, you want to keep in house.  And that’s your – and you want to keep corporate in house and you want to may be do the specific Northwest yourself because you go out there as well.  But may be the Northeast is where you think you are going to be really strong.  And then you move on to other areas in the country.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay.  So then also what is like a standard commission rate?  What should somebody expect to pay a sales rep?

 

Angela Engel:  15% on small mom and boutiques, half of the net sales and you don’t have to pay them until you get paid, that’s really important.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay.

 

Angela Engel:  And then if your bill is paid then you pay them.  So like they’ll give you a purchase order and you pay them.  It’s when you shift the product and you’ve got actually received payment from the store that’s when you – they get their commissions.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay.

 

Angela Engel:  And then it’s negotiable for corporate accounts under 10%, 7.5% even as low as 5% depending on the volume.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Right so the more volume, the less percentage?

 

Angela Engel:  Yes because usually it also means the store wants to make more margin.  Yeah.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay so what about just going into a baby store and asking them I think you told me this before asking them.

 

Angela Engel:  Oh, yeah.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Yeah.  What sales reps they like to work with?

 

Angela Engel:  Yeah that’s also great like I think let’s say you decide okay I want to be more – the production, the design, the marketing might, my talents are in PR and I don’t really want to do the sales side.  I don’t – I’m not interested in talking with these customers.  Yeah I would definitely just go into those stores and say who do you guys like to work with?  I have this line do you have any suggestions of somebody I can approach in this area?  They’ll tell you those stories like because and that’s – reps are great.  I mean the fact is that stores are loyal to their reps, may be if they do a great job and they want to work with those reps.

 

Rachel Olsen:  Okay great.  Well, thank you.  Angela, I appreciate you sharing all of your experience and you story.  I think anyone with the product trying to get into your retail stores gained valuable information from this interview, so I appreciate it.  And if people have questions and want to retype to you, they can contact me at rachel@bestmomproducts.com.  And for viewers and listeners, if you like what you heard today, please subscribe for monthly news letter, so we can make you aware of future interviews, I promise I won’t spam you.  And if you are interested in hearing from specific founders, want to be interested, interviewed or interested in sponsoring, please contact me.  Thank you and thanks again, Angela.

 

If you found value in this interview, please share it so we can help as many mom entrepreneurs as possible during their journey of navigating motherhood and bringing their other dream to life.

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