As more digitally-native brands look to go wholesale, more startups are trying to modernize the business-to-business selling experience.
One such case is The Main Tab, which officially launched in April 2022 and describes itself as a “premium wholesale marketplace.” Through The Main Tab, independent retailers and buyers can place wholesale orders with a curated selection of luxury brands like skincare company Ursa Major and candle brand L’or de Seraphine. But as The Main Tab was building out its business, the company discovered that there was an important party they hadn’t yet accounted for: independent sales reps, who often act as an on-the-ground liaison between brands and boutique owners.
In turn, the company has been building out a sales representative program since last fall, which officially goes live this week. Historically, luxury brands that depend upon gift shops and boutique sales often hire sales representatives through agencies. These sales reps pitch shop owners who are looking to diversify their inventory on new brands to carry. Now, through The Main Tab, these sales representatives can create instantly create orders to send to retailers, and manage brands’ presence on The Main Tab. The Main Tab believes that this human touch is necessary in order to target the luxury brand space — it’s also a way to differentiate itself from other wholesale marketplaces like Faire.
The marketplace currently has about 200 brands — 20% of which are exclusive to the platform — and 2,000 retailers using the site, many of which are independently-owned boutiques; The company is in the process of onboarding 30 to 50 more brands this year.
The Main Tab is free to join for brands, retailers and reps. Brands are charged a commission by The Main Tab when they receive orders from retailers. However, brands and retailers don’t pay a commission on orders from retailers they refer to the platform or ones they already work with. Meanwhile get access to a rewards program and a buy now, pay later checkout option.
When The Main Tab was testing out this sales reps program in beta last fall, it posted a free application on the website seeking out sales representatives with experience and a roster of clients. According to the company, many of these reps either work for an agency or own their own businesses helping local boutique owners find and source new products from new brands. Many of them worked with a minimum of 10 brands. Some also come recommended by brands who sell through The Main Tab. About 50 sales reps joined the program while it was still in beta.
Liseda Shelegu, founder and CEO of The Main Tab, told Modern Retail that in the process of building the marketplace’s platform, she noticed how prominent the role of sales representatives is in the wholesale-boutique industry.
“There are millions of reps in the country across all categories,” she said, with many of them working for agencies. “Those in the high end lifestyle and gifting market that we’re focused on often forge close relationships with store owners in their regions.”
The program offers members digital tools and a database of brands and retailers to work with. The reps receive 15% to 20% commission on orders, along with perks like instant payouts.
Shelegu said that the reps program is already helping close more deals on the marketplace. During the second half of 2022, 80% of retailers placed at least one order on The Main Tab. The company ended 2022 at 133% quarter-over-quarter growth, which Shelegu said she expects to grow with the help of the new reps network.
Currently, the majority of brands on The Main Tab don’t have their own regional sales reps, she said. But many have expressed they’re considering hiring a few to best reach independent retailers. “There is a big opportunity in building a network of verified reps that brands can view and potentially hire,” Shelegu said. “They [representatives] also help bring new brands to our platform, so it’s a mutually beneficial program.”
One of the program’s early sales representatives is Carrie Maher, a Connecticut-based sales representative who specializes in luxury interior design sourcing. Maher runs her own brand representation company, called House of Habitation, and joined The Main Tab’s pilot reps program to streamline relationships with retailers.
Maher represents several home and bedding brands like Signoria Firenze and Bovi & Graccioza. The Main Tab doesn’t currently have a bedding category, but plans to start the section with the brands represented by Maher.
According to Maher, some of the biggest challenges in working as a brand rep is the lack of automation in the backend. “I don’t always have the ability to see what the retailers have ordered, and it’s so important for understanding the thought process behind what the client is ordering and why,” she said. “So being able to write orders and instantly share them with the retailer is huge.” This also makes it easier to predict the client’s future behaviors and know what to recommend next, Maher added.
After the orders are created, they can be edited and submitted by the retailer, which Maher said is quicker than the traditional invoicing process that requires reps to make the changes and resubmit it. As soon as an order is marked as shipped, reps receive instant payouts through direct deposit from The Main Tab.
“Most of my business is in home and linens, but I can certainly take on complementary brands, such as home fragrances and accessories,” Maher said. “They would work well with my retailers and not compete with my other existing brands.”
The Main Tab’s Shelegu noted that the rep tech tools are especially relevant for The Main Tab buyers and sellers right now, given the economy’s pending outlook. “These types of stores are taking less risk by placing smaller orders, especially from unknown or emerging brands,” she explained.
“We wanted to empower reps by digitizing their process and allow them to manage all their business in one place,” Shelegu said. “Even with all the new B-to-B technology, we’ve found that there will always be a need for the human touch.”