Opinion: Are Agents An Endangered Species? 

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 Macemd 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 – Derek Shirley, who covers the South West – to find out about life in their habitat over the last year.

Having returned to live in the UK, Derek has recently started out as an agent in the South West of England (also covering Gloucestershire and South Wales for two of his agencies). The companies he represents include BrownTrout Publishing, Design Design Paper & Gift Products, Jean Barrington, Potters Crouch Candles and Saddler Leather Goods.

Above: Derek Shirley on the BrownTrout stand at January’s Top Drawer.
Above: Derek Shirley on the BrownTrout stand at January’s Top Drawer.

“For me, 2018 was a year of planning, reorganisation and consolidation! Although I was in the industry for a number of years before my move to South Africa in 2004, having returned at the end of 2017 after several months I took the decision to set up as an agent. Having spent my final eight years in SA as the Western Cape agent for luggage company Samsonite, and having also run two companies where my sales teams were agents, means I have the knowledge from a company perspective too.”

What’s your hunch for 2019?: “I know that 2019 will present me with a number of new and exciting challenges. I still have a lot of doors to open and much pavement bashing to complete in the process. That said, I am confident that my background and experience will help me achieve my goals, despite the concerns over Brexit. We may see more retail casualties along the way but I am quietly confident that, for the best part, it’s going to be an excellent year all round.”

If you were an animal, what would you be?: “I would have to align myself with the rhino. You need a thick skin to be in sales! On a serious note, I find it so upsetting that this extraordinary animal is constantly under threat by unscrupulous poachers who simply bludgeon this majestic creature to death and cut off its horn so it can be sold on to be used in Asian medicines as a supposed cure for illnesses. Having lived in South Africa, this story is constantly being reported and thousands of rhino are killed every year.”

Above: Derek has a thick skin, like a rhino!
Above: Derek has a thick skin, like a rhino!

Are agents endangered?: “Ged Mace may have had a good point when he said there is a paucity of agents for the number of publishers wanting them but I don’t believe we are an endangered species – after all I am an addition to the species!

Small to medium size companies are unlikely to have the capacity to recruit their own sales teams especially as it’s becoming more and more expensive to do so. However, it’s equally costly to operate as an agent so it’s important that the relationship between the two parties is effective. The principal needs to treat the agent as a vital cog in their business plan and the agent needs to represent the brand in a well-organised and professional manner – this is what the customer expects, and rightly so!”

Above: Agents, principals and retailers are all inter-connected cogs.
Above: Agents, principals and retailers are all inter-connected cogs.


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