Meryl and I worked in the indie greeting card business together. She represented Pulp Couture (my former company) in the Mid Atlantic region and helped my small greeting card business into a company that sold to 900 stores around the world. Today, Meryl Hooker helps individuals and agencies start selling wholesale to retailers, and she achieves rockstar results with a rockstar attitude. An expert in selling products to stores, Meryl is an internationally recognized writer, speaker and consultant. She is the co-author of what has been hailed as “the bible” and a “must-have guide” for the greeting card industry with "Pushing the Envelope: the Small Greeting Card Manufacturer’s Guide to Working With Sales Reps" and "Showtime! The Greeting Card and Gift Company's Guide to Trade Show Success."
Her next book, a guide for sales reps, is due out this fall.
Meryl, when I owned Pulp Couture (indie greeting card publisher) and was selling products to stores, you were one of my favorite sales reps. You were very successful. You are the complete expert now — you have even written books! I hope you can share some of your "secrets" of selling wholesale to retailers with our audience.
Well, thank you. I loved working with you and selling your line. I’m not sure I’ve got any “secrets” but I do think I’m the first person to ever write them down the way I do for this industry. Regardless, I’ll take the props.
How did you get your start as an indie gift/greeting card sales rep?
I got started the way most reps in this industry get started: I just showed up at the National Stationery Show and said I was a rep. Seriously. I had worked various retail jobs and was just coming off a stint as a fundraiser for social service and political nonprofits. The skill set is completely transferrable: establishing connections, integrity, maintaining relationships and delivering a product. Only instead of a “vision of a better world”, I now had something more tangible.
Would you tell us a little more about your books?
Of course! I’m really proud of those and I get emails almost every day from companies telling me how helpful they have been for them, which makes me feel great.
When Rob [Fortier] and I began to write “Pushing the Envelope”, it all started with the 10 questions we kept getting asked over and over again about working with reps and selling wholesale to retailers. The book practically wrote itself just by answering those questions. The fact nothing else like it exists amazed us and we’re really happy that we were able to fill that void for new and young creative companies.
“Showtime” came directly by request. We got so many people asking us for a beginners guide to trade show participation that we knew we had to deliver. My new book, due out this fall, is a down and dirty guide for sales reps. Legally, I think that’s all I can tell you without having to kill you.
Where can we buy them?
Both are available through Amazon or at www.CenterAisleGroup.com
. You can also sign up for my free sales newsletter and Rob’s free newsletter for manufacturers at the Center Aisle site too.
Could you share some basic tips on selling wholesale to retailers?
It’s important to have realistic expectations. There are no overnight sensations and no overnight successes. You build a business one store at a time, one order and most importantly one RE-order at a time. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of not relying on sales reps to get your line out there. Sales reps are under more pressure than ever and they don’t have the luxury of taking on small and new lines in this economy. If you want to work with reps, focus on building a solid, marketable, sellable line and they will come. Reps will always follow the money. Always.
What one piece of advice would you give to others who are just starting out in selling products to stores?
Well, first off, it is critical that you have a USP, a unique selling position. What makes your product different? The fact it’s made by you isn’t enough for anyone but your mom. The marketplace doesn’t care about you or what inspired you to create your line. It cares about cash registers ringing. Walk a trade show before you exhibit. Learn how your industry works and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Take an active role in setting a trend, not following one because by the time it’s a trend, it’s over. As far as growing your business, the most important thing is to get over whatever your fear is. If you don’t feel confident picking up the phone to pitch your line to a store, get over it! Learn how to sell your line yourself. You can’t expect anyone else to sell it if you can’t. The same goes for social media, market research, whatever. Sometimes, it’s just about having the guts to put your stuff out there too. As artists, there’s a certain vulnerability that comes with a product launch. Ask for help when you need it from unbiased people, not just your friends and family. Learn to hear and take criticism. This is not a business for the thinned skinned. Sorry, I guess that’s more than one thing.
I know you are now doing consulting. How did you get that going?
Well, I would say I do more mentoring than consulting. I’m all about helping people navigate growth and changes in their businesses themselves as opposed to taking on a project and delivering and end product. There’s nothing I like more than taking someone’s goals, combining it with my expertise and working with them to generate rockstar results. My style is definitely not touchy-feely. I’m not a coach or a therapist, though emotions do come into play. I’m more results oriented and outcome driven.
What kind of clients do you have?
I’m fortunate enough to have the best clients on the planet. I work with sales reps, small and new creative companies, as well as anyone looking to take their business to the next level, whatever that means for them.
Where do you want to go next with your work?
I will definitely keep writing. I have a whole box of book ideas. This summer, I have a new mentoring program called Rock Your Business launching. I’m really excited about doing more speaking and training for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
What’s the best part about what you do?
There’s a magic A-HA moment that every client has at some point. I love that. It’s like you hear the little click when some missing piece falls into place. There’s not much that makes me happier than helping people articulate, go after and achieve their business goals.
What’s your favorite anything?
My favorite anything? Huh. Let’s see. Just one thing? You know that’s hard for me! I’d have to say the "family dinners" I have with my friends. Once a month, we all get together at someone’s house and have an old school Sunday family dinner. We’re all pretty busy so it’s hard for us to see each other very often. I really look forward to those easy afternoons filled with really good food and a whole lot of laughter. Yeah, I think family dinner might be my favorite anything right now.
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