The life of an independent sales rep: Kurt Smith tells all

Independent sales rep and owner of Top Gun Sales, Kurt Smith explains the sacrifice and dedication it takes to become one of the industry's most widely respect reps.
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One of the hardest-working (and most popular) reps in the industry, Kurt Smith drives 40,000 miles a year selling Sterling Rope, Salewa, Evolv, NEMO Equipment, Meridian Line and Skratch Labs to retail shops in the Southeast and Great Lakes regions. As a new dad, he says it’s hard to be away from his young family. But the travel is also what keeps him going. He sleeps in a decked-out Mercedes Sprinter van roughly 180 nights a year, and just made Delta Gold status. Next goal? Platinum.

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Photo courtesy of Kurt Smith.

1. How did you start out as a rep? 
I started repping in 2004 after being a professional dirtbag climber for 25 years. I began climbing in Lake Tahoe before it became mainstream. Instead of going to college like all my friends, I went to Yosemite. I always knew I would end up as a rep or working with a brand. Sterling Rope was the first brand to hire me, and for two years I also worked with an agency that represented Mountain Hardwear and Montrail.

2. There’s talk that independent reps are somewhat of an endangered species. How have you had to innovate? 
I’m not sure if we’re endangered, but things are changing fast. I’m fortunate to work for brands that are family-owned and privately held for the most part. These brands still feel that an in-territory, independent rep provides the best face for the brand. I hope it stays that way. I’m lucky and picky about which brands I work with, and that’s the key; we’re partners in this endeavor to provide the best service, support and data to help our retailers grow and stay healthy. Innovation comes in many forms, but at the end of the day, you do what you say you’re going to do, show up to support the stores and climbing gyms with events, clinics and marketing. We wear many hats in our job and the road time reflects the dedication that my agency and right-hand man, Chaz Warren, and I provide day in and day out.

3. Are you looking for more clients? What’s the ideal number of brands to handle? 
Right now we have five brands, and that’s just about perfect. Some require more pre-selling, which takes up more time, so having a variety of clients is smart. All our partners are core, innovative outdoor brands. Innovation is a word tossed around a lot, but to me it is the center point of who you are. I want to work with brands that think outside the box and are not held back by the bean counters. I’m inspired by design and the endless hours that a design team or individual will put into their creation. When I have products that bring that to the table, it makes my job easy.

4. What’s the toughest part of being an independent rep? 
Being away from my family. As a new dad, it is hard to leave in the early morning, sometimes when Peilee, my wife, and Milo, who’s just 18 months old, are asleep. But having said that, my job is incredibly rewarding because I have an amazing family to support. Chasing preseason orders is always the toughest part. It involves making sure retailers see the whole line early, having the data from national sales reports to help them make informed decisions, and then being there to guide the final buy to create a winning mixture for that particular store. It’s a dance that is part punk rock and 100 percent Black Sabbath!

5. What do you love about it? 
I know it sounds crazy, but I love the road, the travel. It gives me time to think and reflect on past adventures, plan my business for that season and dream about my future. It gives me the motivation to keep growing my business to continue building these relationships with retailers and staff each season. I am a dirtbag climber through and through, and the call of the road is in my blood.

This story first appeared in the Day 3 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily.

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