Your Product Bag

by Ken Sturm

   I believe that ISO agents tend to fall into three distinct groups:

  • One hit wonders who lease a piece of equipment for 48 months and probably never see the merchant again. They may or may not be interested in residuals.
  • The agent that sells or leases equipment and services to the merchants that he/she sells. Servicing defined as supplying paper to the merchants when they run out, and have the proverbial "terminal in the car trunk" in case of emergencies.
  • The agent that has a portfolio of actual products that they utilize to sell value-added solutions for merchants. If they can't sell a merchant one item, they can change gears and lead with another.

   If you fall into one of the first two categories, this article isn't for you. If you are part of the growing legion of Independent Sales Agents that are adding products that compliment bankcard processing, then you may find some relevance here.
   Years ago, I remember my father's first restaurant in New York City. Back then, the company that sold him paper party supplies used to schedule the paper salesman once a week to stop by the store. The salesman would come into the restaurant, say hello, then go downstairs and do a paper inventory. He would prepare a sheet with what was on hand, and what needed to be ordered for the next shipment. He would leave the order sheet and place the order himself on behalf of the store. In the retail grocery section next to the dining area, the Entemann's delivery person would rotate stock on the display rack, remove pastries that were past their expiration dates and set up the occasional promotional signage. The WISE potato chip guy did his straightening of the racks and lined up his bags, coordinating all the colorful bags uniformly each week. Joe the "Pepsi" guy managed his piece of the gondola, writing orders as he saw fit.
   The visual that I am trying to portray here is of four different individuals managing a particular category for the operation. Many retailers today rely on just such individuals as their Category Managers to help maintain and grow particular profit centers within a retailer's operation. The retailers absolutely need this because most small retailers simply don't have the staff to manage the hundreds and thousands of stock keeping units or SKU's.
   Big National retailers such as Rite-Aid, CVS or Walgreens have Category Managers on the payroll that make critical decisions such as marketing expenditures, pricing, promotion, and product placement. These Category Managers may have titles such as greeting card manager, smallwares manager, photo finishing manager, snack foods manager and even pre-paid Category Manager (a new title popping up in many bigger chains today). Corporate headquarters of these chains have complete stores set up in their headquarters where every SKU is laid out on a store Plan-O-Gram; a product-by-product, shelf-by-shelf blueprint for every store in the chain. Uniformity is the key so that you the consumer will have the same store experience whether you are in a store in New York City or San Francisco.
   Let's assume that you have a particular merchant's bankcard and check guarantee processing accounts. Let's suppose further that because the merchant has been happy with the service that you provide they allowed you to introduce them to another new potential revenue center. The new revenue center could be pre-paid cellular, or a phone-in-the-box product, or any new POSA product that works with a terminal. Maybe it is a rack with music download cards, pre-paid Internet, universal cellular long distance, residential dial tone, roadside assistance, prescription drug benefits, etc. For the point of discussion here, chances are that unknown to you, you just became a Category Manager for that merchant.
   Congratulations. You just increased your work-load, because the stuff doesn't sell itself.
   The guys that were servicing my father's restaurant had competition, and if yours was a product next to theirs on the shelf, don't think for one minute that they wouldn't put their packages in front of yours - and you can imagine worse. Before the days of reusable static cling window posters, I remember Joe the Pepsi guy complaining that the poster he gave us for the window got thrown away because we washed the window, ruined the paper and threw it out. But because Joe was at the store almost every week, he would notice when the promotional poster wasn't in the window and he'd replace it and keep his product moving.
   When the WISE chip salesman started distributing the chip dips and salsas at retail, believe me I was impressed when I saw him set up a demonstration table in the grocery section on a Saturday giving out sample tastes of dips on chips. Marketing types would say he induced trial. Bottom line was he sold a lot of jars.
   And of course, everyone talked to the managers. They kept the lines of communication open. Questions like how's this product doing for you, or do you think I can move the display over here to get a better sight line, or let's give away some product two for one on such and such week.
   Our business is no different. Remember, the products that we are selling other than bankcard have not been around a long time typically. People are not sure as to what their benefits may be and how they work in the real world. Merchants are desperate and need people to manage a category for them. We have to educate, promote, induce trial, display, monitor and of course service both our merchants and our prospective end-users.
   After making the initial sale, selling requires servicing.