Earlier this week Dennis and I took part in a retailer round table event with five other good Scottish retailers, held by a major multinational supplier. This was a really useful exercise for the retailers, as we all learned a lot from each other, and hopefully the supplier took on board our feedback and will proceed accordingly.

But during the course of the afternoon, we got to discussing the value of reps on the ground, and even within that small group it was striking how different all our experiences and opinions were.

I know it’s a topic that has been covered in this magazine before, but I think it warrants a bit of repetition, if only for the massive opportunities that are being missed out there.

There seems to be a consensus on the companies that provide a good service, but as for the store-level worth of that, it’s entirely down to the quality of the rep who walks into your store, and that really does vary enormously. Bad experiences have caused some retailers to lose faith, and they prefer not to deal with reps at all anymore, and while it’s an understandable reaction, it seems crazy not to try to build up a good mutually-beneficial working relationship in order to increase sales for both parties.

We have worked closely with at least a dozen good companies, and even agency reps, on ranging, merchandising, planograms, product trials, sampling and tasting events, themed displays and in-store theatre; there is so much you can do to boost interest and activity in your store, which in turn keeps things fresh and interesting for customers, to keep them coming back.

However, we have also had very poor service lately from a couple of companies who had previously been very reliable, and, looking at sales, it is no coincidence that they are now losing skus from our range, as other brands which are better supported come to the fore. After all, I don’t care whose products I am selling, as long as they are selling well! It is very evident that in our store, at least, rep visits do make a measurable difference to what we are selling.

Of course, being in a city, we at least do get plenty of visits, and I know that is certainly not the case in more rural areas, which must be very frustrating for those stores. Equally, many companies are cutting back on what is a hugely expensive resource, and opting to provide advice online instead, which is fine as far as it goes, but how many of us have time to sit down and look at websites on the off chance that something we may see may help us? Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but nothing can replace a face-to-face discussion; or perhaps I’m just biased, because I used to be a rep myself!