Repping rewards – IHFRA Road Warriors

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In March, I became president of the International Home Furnishings Representatives Association, more commonly known as IHFRA. Maybe you’ve seen our guys walking around market with round pins on their lapels? We’re everywhere! These pins gain us entry into any building at market without fumbling to keep our badges in a handy place.

For avid readers of RetailerNOW, I’m not a stranger. I’ve been published in these pages a handful of times waxing on about topics that I hope resonate with home furnishings retailers around the continent and beyond. This article is going to be a little different, so please indulge me.

We’re only five months into the year, and 2019 has already been a year of change for me and my little furniture business. Having had the pleasure of representing a well-known West Coast furniture manufacturer for nearly a decade, I took a bit of a plunge. I resigned from that company to work with a handful of other lines that I believe will lead me to be the kind of sales rep and business partner I want to be. I read somewhere that “the enemy of a dream is a good job,” and that quote has stuck with me for years, so I complicated things a little.

Part of the reason I made this change has to do with my commitment to IHFRA and the industry. IHFRA has gone through a lot of ups and downs over the years. With history dating back to IHFRA’s first president in 1934, Len Finkelman, we have endeavored to inform, serve, listen, commiserate, schmooze, dine, laugh and cry with all of you. We’ve been trusted confidants, devil’s advocates and de facto trainers for your businesses for a long time. For those of us who rep for a living, one would be hard-pressed to find a handful of people who would say being in this business isn’t the best opportunity in the world. Yeah, it’s getting tougher, but what isn’t these days?

Earning your trust does not come easily. It takes time and determination. It takes the highest level of integrity and honesty that is proven over the long term. Sure, a lot of us have a great gift to communicate with effortless cadence and a sparkle in our eyes. We can do a phenomenal walk-through in a showroom and even reach back to old classics about huntin’ dogs, items smelling like money and buckets of (you know what). Selling is the easy part. The hard part, the really hard part, is to prove that we deserved your business in the first place.

The guy who hired me at my old gig 10 years ago is a former rep and a master. He’s cool under fire (I’ve seen it) and smooth under pressure. He delivers good news like it’s the greatest thing ever and bad news as if it’s not so bad. One day he walked into the bullpen at market with a poster he had made of the “Seven P’s of Selling,” hung it on the wall without a word and moved off. The poster displayed terms like Persistence, Professionalism and Positivity. In the end, though, what I believe it comes down to is you have to care.

I may not have the smoothest delivery you’ve ever seen or every price in the showroom memorized. My Oriental Weavers boss will tell you I still have some learning to do on the line, but I really do care. I care about your business, your staff and your investment in the product that you buy. I care that your team is prepared to present it. I also care about the company I represent and the people who work there. Their jobs and livelihood depend in direct correlation to how well I do mine. That’s a lot of pressure when you think about it, but it’s what I signed up for, and it’s awesome.

I write this pseudo-manifesto because we have a lot of goals at IHFRA. Frankly, some goals have been on the vision board for a while. Now, with the supervision and leadership of our executive director, Ray Allegrezza, we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Last month, Ray did a great interview with our incoming first vice president, John Pinion, in our internal newsletter. John rightly pointed out that being a rep is a profession. Reps are the conduits from retailers to manufacturers, and we’re wedged in pretty tightly. As speakers of both languages with the skills of a hostage negotiator, we work every day to ensure the flow of product proceeds unhindered and good old Mrs. Jones has her davenport on which to sit and sew.

To this end, we are developing an education program to help inform the older members of new tricks and remind them of skills long forgotten, as well as to help show the new generation how to do what we do so they can be successful. I’m very excited about the program, which will help our members improve what we do.

My next article will deliver my usual witty prose and delightful furniture stories, but giving you a sense of who we are at IHFRA, what we’re doing and why we do it might tighten the bond we share as we strive to grow our businesses into the future.

About the Author

Jonathan Schulman
Jonathan Schulman is a member of the IHFRA executive committee. His coverage area includes Southern California and Hawaii. He has won several awards including Sales Professional of the Year in 2013 and can be reached at jschulman@breaklinesales.com.