Rep Speak

Josie Leavitt -- April 10th, 2009

The summer buying season is in full swing at bookstores all over the country. Whether your sales reps are in-house, commission, come to you or you do it over the phone, there are certain things that don’t change, and I call these things “rep speak.” It’s the subtle, mostly non-verbal cues reps use to try and get us to buy more, or to steer us away from making some pretty bad mistakes. I’d like a share a few that I’ve noticed.

The first kind of rep speak isn’t speak, it’s the use of silence. There is something about total silence after you say, “I’ll get two of that,” that makes even the most seasoned buyer start thinking, “Hmm, three. I’ll get three.” Silence is unnerving. When we first opened 12 years ago and I would pass on a book from a certain publisher, the rep would slowly pick her head up and just ever so slightly, with no malice intended, stare me down until I capitulated and bought the title. It was on-the-job training. She doesn’t do that anymore and I know better what to buy and what to pass on.

Then there’s the hmm that’s quiet, almost just a hum, a somewhat thoughtful sound with just a hint of judgment. They’re just letting you know that they know you’ve just made a mistake in quantity. And this can work both ways: when they think you’ve under-ordered or when they think you’ve taken too many. 

The hmm is related to the cluck with an ever-so-slight nod of the head. Take tongue and gently, but quickly flick on the roof of mouth. This noise I call the gentle cluck of disapproval. Usually this is followed by a rep saying something like, ”Are you sure?” Once my rep clucked very loudly and said, "Are you kidding? That’s horrible. Don’t get it." Okay, maybe not the best way to work for your company, but a great way to work for the small store whose owner sometimes likes books about bears a little too much.

One other thing goes with the cluck is the "skip." We don’t sell a lot of mass merchandise-y stuff at our store, so that means we can pretty skip dozens of pages at a time of certain catalogs. "Skip, skip, skip, skip" is a little like music to my ears: I don’t have to decide and I’m being told it’s pretty yucky. This engenders trust when a rep is pushing hard on a title that I’m on the fence about.

The part of me that likes approval always enjoys the nods of agreement with an ordered book. I particularly enjoy the “good” that has a hint of surprise in it. Confirming what I already know, that this book is an undiscovered gem.  I always love the real joy on a rep’s face when they talk about their favorite book of the season.

One thing I don’t care for, and I suspect most picture book buyers will agree, is when I’m looking at the sample and the rep is telling me the story at the same time. I can’t listen, read and call up my inventory in my head to see if I need another book about a duck who’s afraid to swim. So, hand me the F&G and let me read, quietly. 

Most buyers would say there is a rhythm to every buying session, but who knew it was a really just a bad song: Hmm, cluck, cluck, good, hmm, cluck, good. It can also be a very long song with some publishers, so at least now we can tap our toes and sing along.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *