Summer Place Sales Stay Hot Through All Seasons
Summer Place is a wholesale rep group specializing in high-end baby and children’s products. The sales organization has over 2000 active customers, and covers the Southeast territory, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Summer Place represents 30 different product lines. Owner Brittany Harrell says, “We strive to provide outstanding customer service to our stores through a consistent and dedicated sales rep team and a customer relationship management system designed specifically for our industry and our showroom.” Here, Harrell gives us an up-close, personal look into what makes Summer Place shine.
How long have you been a manufacturers’ sales representative and how did you get started in the children’s business?
I have been a sales rep since the winter of 2002. I got started in the industry working as a Georgia sales rep for the original owner, Lisa Summers. The company was comprised exclusively of road reps, without any showrooms. Lisa began with a handful of lines and sales representatives in Arizona and California. Summer Place experienced tremendous growth over the next year, acquiring dozens of new lines and expanding to territories nationwide. I purchased the company from Lisa Summers in January of 2004. The model evolved to include both showrooms (Los Angeles and Atlanta) and road reps. The LA showroom was sold as well as the Southwestern territory. Gail Latimer now owns Summer Place II, where she operates a very successful showroom in Dallas, Texas. The model as it exists today includes a showroom in Atlanta, Georgia at AmericasMart with 30 product lines and four sales reps. The Dallas showroom operates independently, although our showrooms share many of the same product lines.”
What was your experience prior to becoming a children’s sales rep?
Prior to becoming a children’s sales rep, I worked at Deloitte Consulting in the Atlanta office. I went through an Analyst Program at Deloitte where the company paid for me to earn my MBA. I attended the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and returned to Deloitte. When my first daughter was born in June of 2006, I decided to make a lifestyle change. My dream as a little girl was to work in this industry – specifically to own my own store and run my own company. The most gratifying part of owning Summer Place is that I am realizing my lifelong dream and working in an industry that is so child-friendly.”
How many reps are in your organization and what territory do you cover?
Summer Place has two full time sales reps (Becky McDaniel and me) and two part-time sales reps. The part-time sales reps help at all shows (both Gift and Apparel) and are “on call” during the busy season.
We cover the Southeast territory, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.”
How would you describe the “look” or style that defines your showroom and the lines you represent?
In designing the Atlanta showroom, we tried to merchandise our lines as you would see them in a boutique. We have a boutique feel where customers can browse independently or be guided by a sales rep throughout the showroom. We do not have typical “show bars” that define Atlanta apparel showrooms. Instead, we use two movable display racks to show apparel lines during appointments. We have a 50/50 mix of gifts or accessories and apparel. We fall somewhere between traditional and modern. While we are not a showroom of smocked dresses, we also appeal to traditional shoppers. While we are not modern by New York or Los Angeles standards, we do have trendier lines than many of the showrooms on our floor. We also have a substantial inventory for expecting or new mothers – maternity tees, nursing covers, diaper bags, slings, teething necklaces, etc. We strive to create a nice ambiance where customers can visualize our products in their stores. We also strive to have something we can sell to every customer who walks through our doors!”
How do you evaluate prospective collections presented to you?
We are currently very selective about new lines because our showroom has been at, or slightly over, capacity for some time. We do not take lines that are in a product category where we already have a good selection. We do not want lines competing with each other in our showroom. We are very heavy in layette and infant apparel right now as well as toddler girl apparel. It seems harder to find cute lines for boys’ clothes and excellent lines for “tween” girls. We always have a large number of gift items, particularly picture frames and door hangers. The first test is whether the product category is one that we can consider.
If we have capacity and decide to evaluate further, a line should ideally be more than a single product offering; however, we don’t have room for a large line with many SKUs. We look at quality, price point, how it would fit with our current mix, and how we think our customers would respond. For lines new to the market, we look for unique features that the products would provide that we don’t already offer. For more established lines, we review their customer lists and past experience with showrooms and reps. We typically add only one or two lines per season. We try to keep continuity with the lines we carry, but we do recognize the importance of having something fresh and new for our customers from season to season.”
What line have you represented the longest?
Luna Luna is our oldest apparel line and the first line I added after purchasing Summer Place. It continues to be one of our very strongest lines and a wonderful offering in our product mix. Rock Me Baby Records is one of the original lines added by Lisa Summers dating back to 2002. I have worked with Susie Tallman for almost 8 years and continue to enjoy her new releases in the music industry.”
What are the most recent lines you’ve picked up?
We recently added Little Pea – a darling line of girls’ separates and dresses in sizes ranging from 2T-6. The pieces are designed with style and function in mind. Silhouettes are offered in chic prints and colors that seamlessly transition little girls from play dates at the park to dinner dates with mom and dad. This line is fun, fresh, and unexpected! It fits with our showroom beautifully, but it does not compete with our current offerings.
We added 3 Marthas earlier this year. This line has had a very strong customer following in the Southeast market for many years. It is a larger line than we typically add, but its sale-ability and excellent brand recognition made it a very good product addition for us. It has improved our gift business dramatically.”
What fees, if any, do you charge the manufacturers you represent?
We charge the industry standard for commission, as well as a modest showroom rent to cover our base rent each month (this covers rent only and not the additional operating expenses).”
How do you interact with the brands you carry regarding their future product development?
My consulting background makes it very easy for me to provide assistance with respect to future product development. Summer Place manufacturers often run ideas by me or ask for my suggestions regarding new product introductions. I am always happy to help, and I enjoy sharing feedback from the front lines to improve a company’s business.”
What methods do you use to interact with buyers?
We started as a road rep company, so we are very accustomed to traveling a territory and making sales calls. However, we have found that focusing on the Atlanta trade shows (both gift and apparel) and using information technology have been more successful for us. In terms of regional shows, we do attend the Ft. Lauderdale Kids Expo in Florida. Between shows we work very closely with our buyers via phone, internet, and email. We use email blasts to keep customers informed of product specials and introductions. We use our database and information technology to call on customers for re-orders and to check in periodically. We have excellent records of every order placed through our showroom and can query our database to extract customer lists by line, by product, by territory, etc. We use this data mining to give us insight into what sells best, who is buying what, and how often we should check in to best service our customers. We have both a company website and a virtual storefront through AmericasMart to provide information on our lines and our showroom.”
Do you provide other services such as merchandising or consulting to your buyers?
We love to provide merchandising suggestions and consulting services if asked. However, we try to keep the services connected to the lines we sell in our showroom (e.g., how to best display a line they are looking at purchasing, how much to buy in a certain apparel line, etc.). We feel this separates us from many other showrooms. We particularly enjoy working with new stores and educating them on the industry to give them the best start possible.”
What do you feel makes your sales firm unique?
Our boutique style showroom and team of sales reps, who have been with Summer Place since its grand opening, make us stand out. We also enter every order into a database so that we can email or fax order confirmations to customers after market. We meet customers in the showroom anytime by appointment since our team of reps is local. We have been told by customers that they love our showroom and feel we provide outstanding customer service, specifically our responsiveness and excellent follow-through. We have been told by manufacturers that they love our open, two-way communication and attention to detail.”
What is one thing you would like manufacturers to understand better about their relationship with sales reps?
The most important thing is for manufacturers to understand that hiring a sales rep firm is entering into a PARTNERSHIP. We need to work together to be most successful. Lines that fully support their reps in terms of supplying samples and marketing materials on time, sending commission and showroom rent checks promptly, forwarding us leads within our territory, and communicating regularly regarding sales goals and new product introductions, have the most successful manufacturer/rep relationships.”
What is one thing you would you like buyers to understand better about their relationship with sales reps?
The most important thing is for buyers to understand that working with a sales rep is intended to make their job easier. We can be a one-stop shop for multiple lines. We can also share our experience in terms of what sells best from the various lines and how best to retail the products purchased within our showroom. We can also serve as their advocate with the various manufacturers.”
For more information about Summer Place Showroom, and the brands represented, some of which are linked on the Businesses Referenced sidebar, visit www.summerplacereps.com
Summer Place Reps
1517 Wedmore Court
Smyrna, GA 30080
Rep Wrapup is a new feature on The Giggle Guide. Sales representatives throughout the country will share with us their answers about what’s special about their services, and offer tips about improving communications, sales, service and teamwork between reps, manufacturers and buyers in the children’s business. What sales rep or rep organization would you like to know more about? Let us know,