Great Business Ideas: Set Up a Dealer Network

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Set Up a Dealer Network

Consumers are accustomed to buying cars, tires, and computers through authorized dealers – and other businesses can benefit from a similar sales model.

David Usher, who died in a kayaking accident in March 1997, was a brilliant entrepreneur. A former paper salesman, he began selling artists’ prints out of the trunk of his car. He traveled around the United States, establishing close relationships with galleries and framing shops, believing that direct distribution was the way to go.

Today Greenwich Workshop, founded by Usher, sells limited edition prints and porcelain collectibles through a net- work of 1,200 dealers across the country. Usher said the secret of the company’s success was treating every dealer like part of the family.

“We’re continually providing them with information, marketing, and resources, and helping them run their business,” said Usher, who served as chairman and CEO until his death.

“It’s a very close family,” said Fred Turra, co-owner of Art Works, Etc. on Brookhurst Avenue in Fountain Valley, California. Turra, who’s been a Greenwich dealer for twenty years, said the company helps attract customers to his gallery by sending noted artists to make personal appearances. One event, featuring a personal appearance by noted wildlife artist Bev Doolittle and two others, attracted nearly 1,000 people to his gallery.

“Greenwich provides us with turnkey materials so even the most untrained of art dealers can sound very profession- al when they approach the media,” said Turra. Although he carries other lines of prints, about 90 percent of his inventory is provided by Greenwich.

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Greenwich dealers buy the art outright at wholesale prices, but they can return unsold prints for credit. Usher said that limiting the number of dealers and assigning them an exclusive territory has been an element in the company’s success. In Southern California, for instance, there are dealers in West Covina, Sherman Oaks, Fountain Valley, and Corona del Mar. The dealers also keep in touch with each other, referring clients and sharing information and marketing hints.

The John Lane Gallery, located in Poughkeepsie, New York, was one of Usher’s first dealers. “I remember when he drove up with the prints in the trunk of his car,” said Erica Canevari, manager of the gallery owned by her family. “They are one of the best publishers to work with,” said Canevari. “They are always asking what we think, asking for our opinions and suggestions. They make a point to make sure we are happy and understand what’s going on.” Usher never wavered from his original plan of relying on dealers to sell his products. Based on his success in the art world, entrepreneurs should consider applying Usher’s model to selling their particular products and services.

Tips for a dealer network

A SUCCESSFUL dealer network relies on good communication and support from the home office.

Here are some ways to support the people who sell your products and services:

  • Keep people well informed via weekly e-mails and by posting confidential information at a password-protected area of your website. Create a monthly e-newsletter to share sales tips, success stories, and company news with your dealers.
  • Limit the number of dealers you sign up to serve a geo- graphic area. This honors the relationships you have and gives everyone a better shot at making more money.
  • Ask veteran dealers to mentor new dealers working in other areas of the country. Suggest the veteran and novice dealer schedule a phone call once a month to share information and ideas.
  • Ask your dealers to be open about what you can do back at headquarters to make their lives easier. Keep the lines of communication open and let them know you really value their opinions.
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