New faces walk through our doors all the time, most are customers, many are old friends and a few are there to represent a company and build a relationship with that store.  Every once in a while, when a new face shows up and that stranger is a sales representative—the face of a company we support—we are presented an opportunity.

We are grateful for all the information they have and recognize all they can bring to our table. They are our voice to that company, our conduit to that company, in fact they are that company for us. Many become so much more, partners that help grow our business, resources for learning, deal makers and even friends. The good ones teach us, train us and work for us to grow our business. They educate our staff and our customers. They help us make money. They communicate our needs to that company and provide feedback from them back to us.

How does this happen? It happens as you begin to build a relationship with that person and welcome them into your store. They are there to do a job. They earn your trust by supporting you, your staff and your business in all the ways they can. They guide us through staff training; they wed us to their company by providing sound science, facts and virtues associated with the lines they represent. They offer us samples and deals. They spend the time necessary to grow their companies and thus our bottom lines. This is what the good ones do for us, for themselves and for the companies they represent.

They are hired and usually given fairly lofty sales goals to meet from the companies that hire them. They are hopefully given the tools necessary to attain those goals. They have to work hard to build a solid relationship with our stores and our staff. This happens when they connect with our mission, our needs, and our team. They use and develop all the resources available to them and their company. They too attend training to continue to grow. They learn from other stores as well as from us. They become part of our team.

I often wonder at the responsibility given to these company representatives. I wonder if those that hire them recognize what it takes to become part of a team when you don't even work in that store. I wonder if they recognize the importance of the success these folks attain when they become part of that team. They meet their sales goals, they earn our trust and life goes on. Or so it should with all the players happy.

So many times over the last three decades in this industry I have seen a valued company representative leave or be replaced. Some move on to a new company with more opportunities while others are asked to move along. The company knows when they meet their goals and are making all the benefits that were promised.

Often we are never even told by the company that our rep has “moved on.” The trusted reps call and thank us for our business telling us of their plans or we can wait for the next trade show to see where they end up. Those same trusted reps will enter our doors again in the future and we will welcome them and their new company warmly.

Understanding this, I am baffled when a company loses a rep and they treat it so lightly.  Knowing that the rep accomplished the goal of establishing a relationship with their stores, hopefully a trusted one, and met their sales goals, why would a company not wish to appear thankful for this? A simple letter or personal call recognizing the job that rep did and reminding the store of their importance to that company would go a long way for all involved. A little gratitude is refreshing and appreciated. Instead they just assume the next person will pick up from where the last one left off. The company often fails to see just how important a successful bond becomes for everyone involved. The store relies on the rep, the rep is the company and then, poof it's all gone.

So many relationships cast aside for lack of awareness on the part of a company.

Having been a store owner for over three decades with a store well off the beaten path, I want to express my gratitude for of you who serve us so well. Those who get up every day, hit the road for a new destination with new ideas and new opportunities to help us grow our businesses.  I thank you. You make my job easier and when you do your job well, you become part of my team, a welcome addition.

Cheryl Hughes is an owner-operator of The Whole Wheatery in Lancaster, CA. The store opened in 1983 and includes a restaurant inside.  Over the years Cheryl has served on the NPA board, both regionally and nationally. She served as the chairperson on the OTA committee to develop good retail practices for handling of Organics, GORP.  She was an original board member of Citizens For Health and worked actively in the passage of DSHEA.  Currently, she serves on the board for INFRA.