This article originally appeared in the Nov-Dec 2014 edition of INVISION.
What I've learned my first few months on the job as an optician-turned-traveling-frame-saleswoman
I’ve been an optician for 19 years. I can heat and mold an acetate frame into a pretzel-like shape to fit any head. I can repair almost any glasses. I love challenging prescriptions. Bring on the -18 with 8 diopters of cylinder!
At my next-to-last job, for a large practice in Palm Springs, CA, it took me three months to learn all the doctors’ names and refracting styles. I felt challenged and stayed almost five years. Next, I had the opportunity to move to Ellensburg, WA, where the doctor and manager completely trusted me to revamp the frame inventory.
Yet I eventually found myself bored with everyday opticianry. I had met many great reps via the Facebook group Luxury Eyewear Forum, and several encouraged me to become a rep. One rep friend told me of the potential income and encouraged me despite the obstacles I’d encounter. Would I be OK without a guaranteed paycheck? Could I handle the travel, with only myself for company? What would I do with my pets when I was traveling?
I wasn’t sure if a frame company would take a chance on an optician with no outside sales experience, but I decided to find out. I started quietly looking at independent frame companies that support small practices. Sooner than I expected, I was offered an amazing opportunity in an excellent territory. I moved back to Palm Springs (where I was born and raised) to cover Southern California for Ogi Eyewear. Everyone will tell you the first year of being a rep you are completely disorganized. This is 100 percent true. I’ve learned a few other things I didn’t know about being a rep — and maybe you didn’t know them, either. For example:
A good car with great gas milage is important. And good music is essential. I drive a Scion XB, and my favorite playlists include Mary Lambert, the Lumineers and James Bay. But no matter what, you can never trust your GPS 100 percent.
Most rep positions are commission only, so when you do a return, we are docked the same commission amount for the return. On top of that, many reps have no expenses reimbursed. They pay for their own gas, lodging and any Starbucks they bring you. So respect your reps’ time. If you need to discontinue a line, say so. Professional reps understand and respect it when you say, “We are going in a different direction.”
Being a frame rep is physically hard work, too. Load 50-pound sample bags into and out of your car and onto a cart five times a day or more. I promise you a good night’s sleep and sore muscles the next morning. But the good of being a rep far outweighs the bad. I get to live wherever I choose, and when I tell an account I’m from Palm Springs, they often gasp.
I always ask for restaurant recommendations from accounts. Most love to share their favorite food spot.
The hardest part of my job is that I’m working — not sightseeing. But when I find a hotel like the Leucadia Beach Inn in Encinitas with a programmable coffee pot, no less, it feels a little bit like I’m on vacation. Bottom line: Be nice to your reps, and take time to talk with us. You may not want what a rep has to offer now, but the time may come when they have exactly what you want.