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Opinion: Are Agents An Endangered Species? Grant Gibson, Scottish Agent Shares His Views

We all hang on Sir David Attenborough’s every word when he highlights a gorgeous creature that is close to extinction… are independent sales agents next?

Prompted by the retirement of two of the company’s long serving agents, during his talk at The Ladder Club at the end of last year, Ged Mace, md of The Art File suggested that such is the paucity of sales agents and that so few are coming onto the scene, that they are something of an endangered species.

PG Buzz tracked one of these wonderful beasts – Grant Gibson, who covers Scotland – to find out about life in their habitat over the last year.

Above: Grant is now of the ‘new’ agents, but has been very successful.
Above: Grant is now of the ‘new’ agents, but has been very successful.

Territory: Grant has been an agent for four years and as such is one of the ‘new boys’. He covers the whole of Scotland representing The Art File, Canns Down Press, James Ellis Stevens, Lagom, Louise Tiler, Portfolio and Thomas St Candles. He also co-owns Gibsons in Haddington with his wife Joanne. It is a half gift shop half cook shop that also sells cards.

The trade terrain?: “2018 was a great year for me and for most of my customers too. Trade was pretty consistent throughout the year and Christmas orders were very strong with lots of reordering right up to the last minute. We are all under pressure as not just as agents or retailers but suppliers too as yes these are particularly challenging times ahead with Brexit looming and any uncertainty tends to put the squeeze on spending. I think we will all get a feel for confidence levels after Top Drawer and Spring Fair.

The constant media coverage of the demise of the High St and how retail is down is very frustrating. I personally feel that yes no doubt the big boys are suffering but I see a glimmer of light for the independents as I feel that people are shopping local and appreciate the personal service that they receive as well as the choice of different products that would not get at the retail parks. They also don’t want to see their High Street ending up with empty units everywhere and so they are making the effort to shop local.

Above: Gibson’s just before Christmas doing a roaring trade.
Above: Gibson’s just before Christmas doing a roaring trade.

Independents do now have to work harder than ever before but if their buying is right, if the products are presented well, if customers receive a warm welcome and if social media is maximised then the business is still out there. Our own shop has been trading since 1995 and 2018 was its best ever. We look for further growth in 2019 and we are pretty confident that we can achieve that. Greeting cards, which we introduced five years ago, are a big part in our growth, with our sales of them increasing every year. It amazes me some days when you look at the takings and see what percentage cards have commanded.”

What’s your hunch For 2019?: “As to how 2019 going to go, well, until we all know what the outcome of Brexit is going to be it’s a difficult question but going on the prosperous Christmas we have had I don’t see any reason why 2019 can’t be a great year too. It’s been so refreshing over the festive period with Parliament on holiday we have not been subjected to the doom and gloom all day every day from the media about Brexit!” The sooner it is resolved the better.”

If you were an animal, what would you be?: “Looking at my Boxer dog sprawled over the sofa fast asleep I am pretty envious of his life and he gets way more attention from my wife and kids than I do so I would say I would be him if I was an animal.”

Above: Grant’s dog enjoying life!
Above: Grant’s dog Floyd, enjoying life!

Are agents endangered?: “While last year has seen a couple of agents retiring, there are still lots of us about – but just not enough for the number of companies who want to work with us. I am approached regularly from different publishers to work with them but there is a limit as to how many ranges you can carry. I have an employee starting with me to help out and free up more of my time for growing my business further.

Territories are all different and mine [Scotland] is the biggest in the UK with possibly the smallest population. Which means lots of miles and hours of driving in between appointments, the job is not for everyone but I always think to myself whilst driving round one of the most picturesque countries in the world that it could be a lot worse!! I enjoy it very much.

Above: Being a co-owner of Gibsons means Grant knows what customers want.
Above: Being a co-owner of Gibsons means Grant knows what customers want.

Anyone considering becoming an agent needs to accept that a lot of their work goes unnoticed. The amount of prospecting and getting a company’s brand name out there is done all at an agent’s own expense, undertaken as part of the job as if you didn’t do this you won’t grow the business.

It is an arrangement that works in the ‘greeting card animal world’ – for the publisher, the retailer and the agent, as long as they all do their bit!

My wife (who runs our shop) admits that often an agent will just pop in but end up leaving having taken two or three orders that she otherwise just wouldn’t have placed if it wasn’t for that agent. Many of my customers want to see samples too; getting that new product in front of buyers is essential. A lot of retailers in Scotland don’t go to trade shows largely due to the expense and so without agents out they would risk missing out on the new fresh products.”


Top: Grant’s dog Floyd, enjoying the Scottish fresh air.

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