Opinion: Are Agents An Endangered Species? Maria McKenna, South East agent shares her 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 – Maria McKenna, who covers the South East – to find out about life in their habitat over the last year.

Territory: South East agent Maria McKenna represents Blue Eyed Sun, Coulson MacLeod, Dandelion, Deva, Lucilla Lavender, Molly Mae, Portfolio, Rosanna Rossi, Rosie Made a Thing and Eco Chic.

The 2018 trade terrain: “2018 was certainly a tough year for everyone. Survival instincts came to the fore on many fronts. It has been ever more crucial to maintain communication with customers, ensure I see them as and when needed, know your product inside out, keep on top of trends and basically doing whatever is called for!

I managed to maintain my level of business in 2018, which I am delighted about, and am lucky to have some brilliant ranges to offer my customers.

Above: Maria McKenna (right) with Tracey Gasson, the buyer at Camelia Botnar Homes & Gardens in West Sussex.
Above: Maria McKenna (right) with Tracey Gasson, the buyer at Camelia Botnar Homes & Gardens in West Sussex.

Buying patterns are definitely changing, with seasonal orders being placed later than ever. I was still taking Christmas orders in November and a lot of customers haven’t yet committed to Spring orders as they were waiting to see how Christmas sales went.

Some customers have fared badly, and sadly I already know of some casualties who will be closing early in 2019.  When it’s a customer you’ve known for 20 years, this is very sad as it’s like losing a friend. But life for an agent goes on. Thankfully some customers have fared better and managed to hold business levels on par with the previous year. It seems that card sales are strong, both everyday and Christmas, which is great to hear. Customers in 2018 definitely preferred to place smaller orders more often, and a lot were supremely conscious of keeping best sellers in stock and replenishing quickly if something was successful. Footfall has been a challenge with most customers; it’s definitely been down, and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of trading pattern any more.”

Above: Maria feels a donkey is most akin to an agent in the animal world.
Above: Maria feels a donkey is most akin to an agent in the animal world.

What’s your hunch for 2019?: “I think the media is painting a very gloomy picture of retail for 2019. It certainly won’t be an easy year and there are many unknowns on the horizon, which are out of our hands, but with a lot of hard work I really hope that for our greeting card retailers’ trade continues to tick along in line with the previous couple of years. Fingers, paws and hooves crossed for that!”

If you were an animal, what would you be?: “I think a donkey is most appropriate!  Loyal, hard working, dependable, reliable, and able to carry a lot of stuff around!”

Top: Maria McKenna (far right) with her husband Paul and retail customers Angela Thomas and Jane Hunnam,, co-owners of Zest in Crowborough at Blue Eyed Sun’s offices.

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