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How Do I Go From A Dealer To A Manufacturer's Rep?

Dear Stephen,

I'm a sales rep at a contract furniture dealership. I've been working here for almost five years. Honestly, the first two years were very rough, but I was given a guarantee, and by the third year, I started to make some traction and build my own clientele. For the past couple of years, I've been earning in the low-to-medium six figures; that's a combination of base plus commission. 

It's a very competitive and exciting environment because I work for a big dealer with a major line. Still, it is also frustrating because I work with people in their 70s who've had the same accounts forever. If I were to stay here, I would eventually have a substantial income stream. My problem is, however, I do not like working at a dealer.

It's not this dealership; this is a good company! But there are too many parts and pieces in a dealer order: negotiating the discount with the manufacturer, dealing with an architect or a designer, dealing with the owner's rep, and then the end user. Not to mention worrying about our internal account managers, project managers, and installation team, and finally, there's my sales manager nagging me about GP! (gross profit margin). Simply put – succeeding at a contract dealership is hard work, and I see why people go on to earn the big bucks! I'm simply not cut out for it. I just don't want this job anymore.

I like the contract furniture industry and am great at sales, so I want to stay in this business. It seems like a job I would love to try, and I think I would be great at being a manufacturer's rep.

Given my existing experience working at a dealer and understanding the trials and tribulations, I know I'd be an empathetic rep. I've also had the good fortune to build strong working relationships with major architects and designers because I work for a dealer that carries #MillerKnoll, one of the most, if not the most significant, brands in the industry for the A&D community.

Here's my question – I've hinted to my own MillerKnoll rep that I'd love to go to work for them, and yet I've been told that they frown upon hiring from their dealers. My current boss would be pissed off and probably kibosh it (yes! "kibosh," I'm a New Yorker) since they have invested so much time in me. I know I will leave anyway, and I want to stay in the industry. What is your advice on how to land a sales job at a manufacturer?


Aspiring Manufacturer's Rep

Dear Caterpillar,

You're not alone in wanting to leave a contract furniture dealer to join a manufacturer. It's very accurate – if you represent one of the majors, getting them to hire you can be challenging unless your dealership boss signs off on it directly. Five years working and learning at a MillerKnoll dealer is just that sweet spot where you've learned just enough to be a perfect employee for any manufacturer or another dealer. However, be sure you've well thought out your decision, because although it is probably more work working at a dealer – more moving parts and pieces like you said… ultimately, the financial reward, if you're successful, can be almost double than working for any manufacturer.

That being said, if you're at a MillerKnoll dealer anywhere in the country and want to work as a direct factory sales rep, I advise uploading your resume to any of the other major manufacturer's websites. Actually, all of them! If I were you, I'd be applying to #Steelcase, #Kimball, #Haworth, #Global, #Allsteel and #Teknion. Oh! And don't forget the open lines -- #OFS, #Humanscale, #Exemplis.

Moving on, another dimension to be aware of: do not overlook #RH and #DWR… and don't forget Haworth's Lifestyle Design Group companies, such as #PoltronaFrau and #Luminaire. All of these companies would love to have you!

Here is the most important tip I can give you: When you go to a manufacturer's website to upload your resume, you may not see a local opening. Don't assume there's no job for you - apply anyway. That's because you want your resume in the company's database. Just as every employee like yourself may not be happy and wants to find a new home, every employer may not be satisfied with their employees and could be keen on a replacement once they see your resume – bang! A match is made.

Also, remember that we are soon entering the fourth quarter of the year, so in January 2024, only a few short months away, might I add (where has the time gone!), a whole slew of positions will be opening when the New Year begins, as existing employees traditionally quit their jobs at the end of every calendar year once they collect their bonuses. I hope this helps you and everyone looking. As we all know, the Fall is a great time to look for a new position. Good luck!