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Choosing a Specialization, Niche and Territory For Your Independent Sales Rep Business

Updated on June 19, 2009

INTRODUCTION

Choosing a product specialization, a market “niche”, and a geographic territory are the first three critical decisions you will make heading into your sales rep business.

Competition for customers (retailers/buyers) can be overwhelming at times. Picking products, markets, and a territory suitable for YOU, are critical to getting started on the right foot. Success requires that you feel good enough about your business and your lines, to take on the many challenges of self-employment and still come out smiling. And at the same time, you need to attract enough success to find a reason to smile!

Initial selection of both product specialization and a wholesale niche market are often very personal decisions. Both choices depend upon – and affect – the size and range of territory where you are ultimately effective – and the expertise, and professional and personal contacts you develop in this field

PRODUCT SPECIALIZATION

For now, let’s take a look at most of the significant gift product categories of products you might choose to offer (and you very probably will end up with several). This list is by no means exhaustive, but represents a large sampling of the opportunities available:

•    “General” gifts  
•    Souvenirs  
•    Gourmet foods
•    Confections
•    Home décor
•    Jewelry
•    Personal care (soap, massage oils, lip balms)
•    Books and/or CDs
•    Housewares
•    Toys/children’s products
•    Cards and stationary
•    Candles
•    Apparel
•    Regionally-made products
•    “Country” theme
•    Hand-crafted or artisan pieces
•    Herbal or natural products
•    Custom or private label
•    Special event (births, deaths, birthdays)
•    Holiday merchandise (Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas)
•    Desk accessories

Many of these areas can overlap – and as you know, almost any product can be a gift item. Focusing on complementary products types can be advantageous, when you get to the marketing side of choosing a niche

MARKET NICHE

“Theme” niche markets are very popular, and a good way to position yourself in the industry. Often this represents your area of product emphasis, rather than exclusivity. Gift stores are looking for that unique line that no other store carries.  While meeting this preference is difficult to accommodate across a large area, the idea is more feasible if you work in niche markets.  Examples of niche market specializations could be cowboy-themed products, or perhaps themes such as chocolate, huckleberry, “in-state”, gold jewelry, or woodcrafts.  
 
If you do offer a specialization, make sure you communicate that fact, to take advantage from a reputation standpoint. Often, the narrower your niche, the more potential success you will experience – especially if you find a popular consumer market that is not addressed sufficiently in the marketplace.  Trying to be everything to everybody ensures that you will appeal at a high level to almost no one, although that is the more traditional model for reps. Remember that if you take the wide spectrum approach, each mini-niche you offer among your lines, is competing against a rep that might be SPECIALIZING in that niche area.

As you spend time with your lines and your customers, you will find under-represented specialty markets.  These are great opportunities to change and refine what product lines you are selling.  Not all the answers or directions come at once when you start, so allow yourself the option of changing with your themes, as you become more knowledgeable about the opportunities in your territory, and as markets change.

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

One of the first questions a potential vendor will ask you when I are opening discussions on sales repping is “what territory do you cover?”   Just like choosing a category, you will need to look at what territorial region you would like to cover. Obviously, the first choice of territory would include the state and region where you live.  (And if you want to move, this is a good business to start, when you arrive at your new location!)

As you widen your territory, servicing all the customers in your state or at least your part of the state is a good option.  Travel time, which cuts into sales time, along with the cost of fuel, vehicle wear and tear, and meals, means you should put plenty of thought into territory.  If you chose a territory that is too large, you may spend more time traveling to and from the sales region then you may actually spend on selling. (Actually, some of my routes, including profitable routes, are like this.)

Ideally, the best territory to service is less than a half day’s travel time, with some sales stops. That way, you can commute from home, and avoid the cost of overnight travel. Next best, is a territory within one full day’s travel time by car or van. So you might consider 300 miles as the maximum distance from home, if you sell in a rural area, and substantially less distance in urban areas.

CONCLUSION

As you can see, selecting a 1) product category and 2) market niche and 3) geographical focus are often intermingled and require research before making a decision. Spend some time working through all three… but don’t spend too much time because the only thing I can tell you with certainty: they will most likely ALL change and evolve over time. So, READY, FIRE, AIM… and just get started in a general direction. Understand that things happen, and a combination of opportunities, relationships, and new experiences will take your rep business into exciting new directions over time.  Start your business small and expand your product lines as you gain confidence and experience within your chosen territory and the types of stores you call on.

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    • Lilleyth profile image

      Suzanne Sheffield 8 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

      Really enjoy reading your informative articles...good job!

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