Meet the Agent: James Leach

In the next instalment of our series of interviews with agents across the furnishings industry, we spoke with James Leach who highlights what would help agents more and how social media platforms are impacting stores.

Meet James

James Leach, owner of JRL Agencies and co-founder of Passage House Agency, and represents Cattelan Italia, Mattsons, Staingard and Enchanted House.

How long have you been an agent in the industry?

I’ve been in the industry as an agent for the last six years, but also 18 years in the world of furniture.

What drew you into the life of an agent and what’s the day-to-day like?

I remember when I started out as an agent, I was barely 21. I was an agent in the electrical sector and I found it really difficult, I had some challenging products to sell to the electrical wholesalers in the North West, I barely understood the art of the sale, let alone what lumens are. Needless to say, it didn’t last but I remember being in a wholesaler in Manchester and walking in and seeing this other agent who was instore. He’d bought a bunch of bacon sandwiches; I mean there must have been at least 20 on the counter for the wholesalers and their customers too. And I saw the relationship between him and the wholesaler and the simplicity of the gesture went a long way. But the story is about relationships, how to create them and how to develop them. It stuck with me since that day, so too did the taste of that sandwich, which he insisted I had. I knew then how to progress in the world of sales and one day I would make a career in it.

After the brief spell as an agent, I begin my furniture career as a salesperson in a retailer, Stocktons in Manchester, where I started to carve my journey. I had found a product category that I liked, not light bulbs! After eight years with Stocktons my next step was to experience the other side, so I worked as a sales rep for Harrison Spinks for the North West, now I’m understanding factory processes, and seeing multiple retailer stores. I forged some great relationships, one to this day I still have. After a successful four years with Simon and the team, it was my time to complete the circle and re-enter the world of agencies, but with a category I enjoy and I’ve never looked back.

Day to day life can be pretty hectic and the days, weeks and months fly by. I’m sure we all experience the same challenges; can we slow it down? I’m mean we’re in sales, it’s push, push, push. I can be across the country seeing clients, at factories or in meeting. The phones calling, messages popping up, emails coming in. It can be a juggling act but I wouldn’t change it. I just enjoy spending time people in the trade and sharing stories.

What is the best part of your role?

Introducing a product to a potential client and seeing it working instore. From the sales team getting excited to the end user placing their orders. It’s rewarding when it all comes together.

What is the most difficult?

Being reactive to client queries as the travel time involved in the role makes this challenging.

Do you have any particular highlights so far?

Being nominated (and winning) the Area Sales Agent of the Year in 2023 in the Big Furniture Awards.

What challenges do you think currently face agents in the furnishing industry?

The associated costs in selling a product for agents and also retailers, are increasing at a time when our industry is feeling a downturn.

What would you like to see change?

Autonomous vehicles, so I can process the administrative duties whilst driving.

What would help agents more?

More satisfied customers?? No, I’m joking, but maybe if the end user could understand why a product costs what it does. We live in a throw away society and now consume products more than ever. We as manufacturers and retailers have a duty to try to educate the end user to make purchases that we can live with for a longer period of time. Value furniture can be disposed of without a thought for what happens to it. Of course, there are many charities that can reuse the furniture but we must do what we can to ensure that our furniture doesn’t end up in Landfills. A better made product will last longer and we would have less waste which is better for generations to come, the challenge I guess is to how to educate the consumer to spend more. I’m a big believer in seeing how and where products are made to enable salespeople to see the value in a product. I never get bored of a factory visit!

What would you say to someone considering becoming an agent?

Enjoy the opportunity but be prepared to keep moving!

What is the most important attribute to have as an agent and why?

Empathy and diplomacy if you can’t understand your customers or suppliers, then the role becomes challenging.

Can you share something that irritates you the most as an agent?

Diary planning is a big part of what we do and you can plan your week/ day and unfortunately there are things out of your control that disrupt your well-made plans. Sometimes it can be those peaky little family members who just don’t want you to go. Then the number of vehicles on the road these days is increasing, traffic too can be a disaster with more cars, and reduced routes in cities making travelling around much more challenging to the detailed plan you have constructed. And then once you arrive at a retailer it’s that awkward moment when there is another sales agent or representative instore. It’s one of those challenges we must overcome but it’s always good to catch up with people in the trade. I guess it’s difficult to manage multiple daily visits but all it’s part of what we do and I thoroughly enjoy these constant challenges.

Can you share an insight into your plans for the year ahead?

Absolutely, I’m looking to continue to work with and grow relationships with the sales people instore. And there are some really interesting factory visits coming up.

What’s the next big thing you are seeing in the industry and why?

Technology and clearly the social media platforms such as Instagram are reaching out to end users and taking away potential clients from visiting stores.

Final thought?

I’d like to thank Dan Squires and The Big Furniture group team for bringing an insight into the world of interiors from all angles. Understanding all aspects of our trade is always a great read and whilst it’s important to see the commercial side of our trade, it’s just as good to hear about the people who are in it. / 07779335801 /

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