Comment: How times have changed for the sales rep

Well known in the UK cycling market, David Wilsher has traversed the country as a sales rep and latterly settled as an importer selling his own specialist goods. In response to CI.N’s article on “What makes a good sales rep“, here he reminisces over the then and looks cautiously on the now…

Reading the article The Professionals in the latest CI.N Trade Journal and the comments of On Your Bike’s Michelle Chapell brought back memories of my days as a sales representative back in the 70/80s, trudging around the country. From Penzance to Scotland working east of the M1. The M25 was being built in stages back in those days.

We had no mobiles, no sat navigation no laptops. We were sales driven, relying on the Yellow Pages to find accounts in different towns. We needed to make five or six calls in a day. It was not as today where reps have dedicated accounts working on appointments. That feels easier. We had no computer spreadsheets showing the last orders, nor the payment information of those we called on. There was no computer information at all. I kept index cards of my sales, last visit, customer details, even a dog’s name, Bisto, at a bike shop in Luton.

I guess I would be one of those reps walking into On Your bike not getting a smile back in the day. Although I do remember getting orders from that account.

Times have changed, I am not sure for the better. I had plenty of laughs, frustrations. I called on many dealers who are still friends. So many changes. Raleigh only shops, Specialized, Giant, even my company Viscount tried the dealer store model. It never worked. I even called on the first Asda selling Viscount bikes. Total failure. Action Bikes the franchise is no longer with us. Bless Adrian Fudge, he did try, but in the end it failed. The Dutch believed they could come over and kill off the likes of Fishers and other smaller suppliers. Again, it never happened.

Now we have the main bike companies who have taken control of some stores with computer systems, which are excellent, but I feel the control will eventually either kill off the small store, with only those larger stores surviving. This is the future, more online sales delivered to the consumer’s door, currently via the shop. But for how long?

I came from a Supermarket management background into the cycle Industry. I arrived at a cottage industry, it was unbelievable the complex styles of ownership. I soon had a reputation amongst the other reps as brash, especially with dealers with paraffin heaters keeping the place warm; condensation running down the windows. I walked into one shop with Koga Miyata bikes hanging like cow horns off scaffolding. The bike of the day. I cried. The dealer was more than upset when I said “you will never sell a quality bike stacked like that.” He almost threw me out, coming after me on the pavement. Fun times.

Viscount went bust along with other companies during the Thatcher years. Peugeot were selling bikes at £1 less that their cost price from France. Then came the BMX revolution. I switched to Ammaco, selling Mongoose BMX and made a fortune. I was treated with smiles on every call back then. The boom lasted a few years before the Mountain Bike took over. Raleigh had to allow their stores to buy Mongoose, it was the only product selling. Their Burner missed the market coming out too late.

The Industry was not controlling the brands. Having no control, the van boys made a killing driving to the continent loading up and selling Grey, as it was called. I was one of them. If only I could have seen the potential when I visited Chris King back in 1990 in California. I brought back a few headsets. He had one lathe in a small workshop at the time. The UK was still selling heavy woollen tights and I was bringing in lycra, Sinchi and Moa sport clothing. I made some money in those days. The Carratti rep wanted me knee capped for stealing his clothing business in the big shops.

I opened a cycle shop in the 90s, now passed on to my son. My days are now spent semi–retired involved in my business importing tricycles for the disability market.  As with all the cycle importers, this year is already a challenge with quotes of deliveries 9/10 months from order.

With a smile on my face when talking to our accounts or the consumer I consider myself incredibly lucky to still have a company in these Covid times. I took a course in smiling some years back when using the phone, some of those who know me would not believe that. Maybe times have changed for the better. I call it greed in this digital world. Unfortunately, to survive, I have to join the club.