I've put together a to-do list for those thinking of going the rep route. This includes things you need to do and things you need to discuss with your potential rep.
1) Ask for references. Who else have they worked with? Can you call those artists to ask a few questions such as: What are they like to work with? Do they stand behind their artists and help them get paid if the account is slacking? How does your work fit in with their other lines? Are you the highest end or lowest? Is there a competing line or complimentary one?
2) Make sure you are clear about your policies with your rep and they can convey these to the customer. Make your line sheets and your boards very very easy to read so there is no confusion and alienation of potentially good customers down the line when you have to fix prices or you send the wrong piece because the style #'s are confusing.
3) If there is a monthly showroom fee how long is the contract? Can you get out of it if your line isn't selling? What kind of commitment are they looking for? What promotions do they do each month to get customers in? Get a list of the market/event dates to make sure you have new materials to hand out and any new pieces from your line.
4) Turn-around time. If it takes you 4 weeks to produce, make sure your rep knows this and calls you if the customer wants it earlier. I say 4 weeks even though I can turn things around much faster. It's better to under promise and ship early looking like the hero than it is to have to call with excuses on why their order is late.
5) Do you turn over all of your accounts in their territory? Can you keep one or two as a "house account"? One that you service that you don't need to pay them a commission on? If you do a trade show and you have a rep in the Texas area and a new store comes in and orders, are you expected to pay a commission to your rep and to turn that account over to them? If an account that your rep has opened sees you at a trade show and they order, do you pay a commission? Many reps have different policies on this one... some work with different % for different scenarios. Best to talk about it first and then get it in writing.
6) Which leads me to my next point: Get a contract. So you're both on the same page. If it doesn't include the points above, either write an amendment or have them included in the document. This is not so much to protect you in a court of law, but it's to protect your well being so you are both on the same page. Everyone knows what's expected, so if questions come up you can refer back to what was originally discussed.
7) Can you cover the rep fees? Figure out how much you'll have to pay on a $500 order- a $1500 order.... sounds daunting? Do you have enough wiggle room in your wholesale price to pay them 15-20% and still make a profit. If not, you will have to increase your prices.
And most importantly, trust your gut! Sometimes I don't listen and then regret it. Those little warning prickles at the back of your neck were trying to tell you something. If someone is promising you the moon, well... it's probably too good to be true.
And, trust your gut. How do you feel about them? Do you think it's a good fit? Are they excited about your line?