Sales Careers Background
Sales is a complex and diverse field. It involves the selling of all types of physical goods, such as automobile parts, pharmaceuticals, clothing, health care products, books, and food, as well as services, such as automobile repair or rug cleaning.
The selling of physical goods usually requires both a wholesaler and a retailer. The wholesaler is a go between, or person in the middle, between producers of merchandise and retail stores. The wholesaler buys goods in large quantities directly from producers, stores the goods in warehouses, takes orders from buyers (typically retail stores), and arranges for delivery of the merchandise.
The retail field consists of supermarkets, department stores, chain stores, specialty stores, variety stores, franchise stores, mail-order houses, and door-to-door sellers. Retail stores buy their goods from wholesalers, stock the goods, and resell them to individual consumers in small quantities. Retailers must know their customers’ needs and wants, and they must also advertise and attractively display the goods they sell.
Until a little more than a century ago, the buying and selling of merchandise was relatively uncomplicated. Industrial concerns usually acquired or purchased local components for the goods they produced. Retail store owners periodically would travel to major seaports and manufacturing centers to purchase products for later resale. Retail stores generally could be divided into two kinds: small shops specializing in one type of merchandise and general stores featuring a great variety of goods. In addition, itinerant peddlers served customers in outlying areas by selling goods from house to house.
The earliest wholesalers in the United States probably were the ship chandlers, or suppliers, in New England who assembled goods required by merchant and military ships. Ship owners found that a centralized supply source enabled them to equip vessels quickly. With the introduction of mass production and mass marketing techniques in the 19th century, wholesaling became a vital component of the buying and selling process. Individual manufacturers found they could sell more efficiently through the use of a wholesaler. Retail buyers found it more convenient to deal with a few sources of supply rather than hundreds of organizations.
In the 1850s and 1860s, U.S. retailing experienced immense growth. Chain organizations such as the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company were established. Such firms as Macy’s and Marshall Field’s grew into sizable department stores. The introduction of low postal rates gave rise to large mail-order firms, such as Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck. F. W. Woolworth organized another familiar type of retailing, the five-and-ten-cent store, better known today as the variety store.
Following World War I, self-service was introduced in the clothing and accessories fields and in the grocery business. In self-service stores, the merchandise and displays, rather than salespeople, were used to induce customers to buy. Horse-drawn streetcars and, later, electrified streetcars brought people to central locations in cities to do their shopping.
The movement of people to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s stimulated the creation of a new type of merchandising, the one-stop shopping center, smaller than but similar to today’s malls, where all types of merchandise were located in an easily accessible area. Ample parking space generally was available. At the same time, some large department stores, specialty stores, and mass merchandisers, aware that suburban customers no longer made frequent shopping trips to the city, established branch stores in the suburbs.
Today, one-stop shopping has been pushed to the extreme, with megamalls that include retail stores, food courts, and entertainment centers. Independent retailers in small cities and towns have been replaced by superstore chains that carry virtually every type of merchandise from groceries to clothing, hardware to DVDs, all under one roof.
In the past few decades manufacturing of products has declined and the service industry has increased. Printing, pest control, telecommunications, computer maintenance, lodging, and transportation are among a huge variety of services that employ sales forces. Originally, services sales were accomplished through individual contact with potential buyers. That method is still used today, along with direct mail, telephone, the Internet, and print and media advertising. Both product sales and services sales are closely connected with the advertising, printing, mailing, transportation, and broadcast industries.
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