Name: John Northwood
Industry: Interiors industry covering retail, manufacturing, project specific contracts, sales, management and customer service
Specialist areas: In my current role as an independent sales agent I specialise in Wallpaper and Fabric sales and work UK nationwide
Years of experience: Scarily this will be my 42nd year in the interiors trade!
Attitude statement: My attitude has always been the same and that is to provide a professional service with traditional values
This week we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing John Northwood, an Independent Sales Representative with 40 years experience in the interiors industry. John has had a wonderfully successful career in sales and over the years has built a credible customer data base of loyal customers, many having been with him since the very start of his career.
Interview With John Northwood
Hi John, thank you for taking the time to share your journey as a successful independent sales rep with the many companies that have signed up to hear about the launch of the ‘CommissionCrowd’ sales platform.
Where did your successful career as an independent sales representative begin?
My sales career started when I left school. One of these new out of town furniture stores opened where I lived (a big thing back in the 70’s!) and I joined, working in the warehouse loading and unloading Lorries and cutting carpets. The manager at the time, John Witham, saw my potential after a short period of time and I was then introduced to the sales floor as a trainee and never looked back.
What made you decide to become self employed and become an independent sales agent?
Without going into too much detail I was made redundant on January 2nd 2013. At that time I had little prospect of securing a desirable employed position quickly and with my wife’s support I decided to step out on my own and become a self-employed business owner, offering sales as a service. Although the first few months were very tough, I always had the belief and drive to succeed and it turned out to be the most rewarding thing I have done in my working career!
Do you have a sale you are particularly proud of in your career?
A good question and difficult to answer as there have been quite a few. Possibly the most rewarding and memorable was negotiating license agreements with English Premiership football clubs for a unique customised digital wallpaper brand. As you would expect with football clubs with so much money in the game at that level, it was a tough environment to negotiate in and the demands to get the product right for their brand was quite an achievement to finalise.
Tell us a little bit about your sales agency and the types of companies you represent.
My agency represents brands that provide predominantly fabrics and wallpapers to the interiors industry. Although some brands are larger than others they all have one thing in common and that is they are family owned. I have a Lancashire (UK) based fabric house that only uses natural fibres woven in the UK and held in stock for immediate delivery. I also represent three Swedish brands of wallpaper that manufacture their own product, and I have a blind (as in windows!) accessory company that are based in Ireland.
I have embraced technology and developed my own website which has been a great “shop window” for my business and I am very proactive on Social Media promoting myself, my sales agency and my brands. Having a website and using Social Media has gained a lot of new opportunities and developed relationships with potential customers that have gone on to become long term happy clients. As part of my development plan I have recently taken on two sales agents for specific areas and I am currently seeking additional agents to represent some of the brands I carry.
In your experience what would you say makes an opportunity attractive to an independent sales rep?
What I look for personally and what I want from a brand is, is it commercial enough for my customer’s, is it an established company, if not can I develop it, can they provide the level of service and quality that I and my customers need and expect, and the commission rate and how regular they pay. The last two may seem obvious, but I have been approached by companies that have offered a below average commission rate and quarterly commission payments!
What sets an independent sales representative apart from an employee?
A self-employed agent has to have more desire, hunger and commitment than an employed sales representative. You are not chasing a target set by your boss, you are the boss! The principles are the same, and the majority of us started life on the road as a rep, but you no longer have that comfort of a salary that you can fall back on if you don’t hit your target this month. As an agent, if you don’t sell you don’t earn!
What qualities do you feel a good sales representative must possess in order to be successful?
To be successful as an agent you must be able to quickly shrug off the disappointments, and believe me there can be many.
You have to be resilient and proactive and be able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances. You also have to remain motivated and self-driven. Remember, you are a business owner providing sales as a service and you have to be prepared to act like one.
That means making sacrifices, working hard to build your portfolio of products and services and the networks you sell into. Self-employment is certainly not for everyone, and can be especially tough when first starting out but the rewards can be significantly greater than an employee will ever experience.
What do you feel companies must understand about the way independent sales agents work before seeking out working partnerships?
Principles (companies) have to understand that a self-employed sales agent is simply another business/company that they are contracting to help develop their brand. Independent sales Reps are not employed by those companies; they are responsible for their own working day and cannot allow all of their time to be dedicated to one company alone. Depending on how many companies an agent is representing, they have to divide the time equally between each one. An agent is responsible for all their expenses; therefore they will plan and work their day that suits them. Our ultimate goal is to build a portfolio of complimentary product/service lines that fit with our existing industry experience and networks.
Have you ever had a bad experience working with a company principal and how would you avoid the same thing happening again?
I haven’t fortunately had what I call any real bad experiences, and it is something that normally only becomes apparent once you start working for them. As an example, as mentioned in my previous answer, I did once have a principle try to dictate to me how many calls I should be making for them in a week! My best advice is to research the company and speak to your customers for reference, but importantly of all, don’t sign any contract until you are 100% happy with its content. For more complex contracts, seek legal advice.
Note from CommissionCrowd: If you are a company principal and are thinking about working with self-employed sales agents for the first time, but are unsure as to how these sales professionals work and what they expect from the companies they work with, you will find the following articles helpful:
We are very excited to be launching a platform that will change the world of independent sales forever. what excites you about commissioncrowd?
The fact that CommissionCrowd is entirely dedicated to the self-employed sales industry and will bring independent/freelance commission only sales agents together with companies is a very exciting prospect. As it currently stands, our industry is highly fragmented and I know CommissionCrowd will bring us together and enable us to find better opportunities, as well as make it much easier to manage our working relationships with company Principals. I am also looking forward to using their integrated management/collaborative systems such as the CRM that will in no doubt be a huge benefit for my business and the way we work.