Your employees may be your best assets, as the expression goes, and the customer may always (or usually) be right. But don't neglect your supplier relationships.
The fact there isn't a famous and pithy saying for how important suppliers are may suggest that they aren't that important. But imagine for a moment that your company lost all of its suppliers. Your business could theoretically come to a full stop.
And it isn't just important to have supplier relationships.
The better you and your suppliers work together, the more TLC you give them, the healthier your company can be. Fortunately, if you're looking to improve your supplier relationships, there are a lot of fairly easy strategies that you might want to try.
In fact, most of them involve simply being human and treating others the way you'd like to be treated.
1. Remember that your supplier has a different goal than you do.
“A relationship goes two ways," says Elliott Jaffa, a behavioral and marketing psychologist in Washington, D.C.
The supplier and business owner have competing goals, he adds: The supplier wants to get the order at the best price possible, and the business owner wants to place the order for the lowest price possible.
So you have to think of your supplier, or your contact there, as a human being. And, as Jaffa points out, it'll help if you like each other.
“We tend to do business with people we like," Jaffa says.
We believe strongly in bringing our partners into the why of what we are doing and want to do, so that they can begin to think for us.
—Lee Mikles, co-owner, Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen
So don't be afraid to make small talk, like asking how the weather is or what they thought of the most recent baseball or football game. You aren't wasting time—you just may be eventually saving money.
2. Communicate frequently with your suppliers.
Your supplier is busy. You're busy. Obviously, nobody's suggesting that you call your supplier every few hours to shoot the breeze.
But an once-a-month meeting is a good idea. And if you can meet in person or on video chat, even better, says Ryan Sim, managing director and head of marketing and new business for We The People, a multi-channel crowdfunding retail chain and community that's headquartered in Singapore.
“Face time is key," Sim says. “This builds trust and provides a good opportunity for high-level discussions.
“The benefits of this are simple—more trust," he continues. “Trust means that you'll have better access to stocks. It may even mean that you get priority. Credit terms become more flexible and this helps with cash flow. Once you have these in tandem with good sales, even margins become easier to discuss."
But, he adds, “There are no tricks. There are no fake personalities. You've just got to mean it."
3. Think of your supplier as a team player.
Lee Mikles is a co-owner of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, a restaurant that has three locations—two in Delaware and one in Pennsylvania. (His co-owner and co-founder is Jim O'Donoghue.)
“We believe strongly in bringing our partners into the why of what we are doing and want to do, so that they can begin to think for us," says Mikles.
There's a lot to unpack in that sentence.
Notice that Mikles thinks of his suppliers as partners. If you think and treat a supplier as a partner, rather than just some company you do business with, your supplier may be more inclined to brainstorm and offer suggestions that are more customizable.
That type of thinking, Mikles says, “has worked very well when working through new menus and specific food challenges."
He offers an example.
“We fresh squeeze all of our fruit behind the bar for our drinks. As you might imagine, market and seasonal fluctuations can create real variations in terms of price and quality," Mikles says.
“We mentioned our frustration with the smaller size of the oranges for our Orange Crush and the extra time required for the bartenders to complete a drink," he continues. "The vendor asked to see how we are using them. He then proposed a change in product that is not only juicier, but is less expensive.
“Because we took the time to really understand the problem," Mikles adds, “and the vendor felt we were worth taking the time, we got a much better solution all around."
Speaking to your suppliers about how they can assist you advances their needs, too. It isn't like you're going to continue working indefinitely with a supplier that offers little to your business, and they know that.
That point was driven home to Mikles one day when a vendor told him, “Selling you [a] case of wine that gets dusty doesn't help any of us."
4. Bring up issues quickly.
Don't wait around for a supplier to fix an issue on their own. Supplier relationships can suffer quickly if your contacts are unaware that there is an issue on your end. And this can breed resentment on your side.
Tell your vendors quickly and directly if there's something they need to fix, Mikles urges.
“If you have to refer to the contract terms, you are frequently too late to do anything about it," he says.
5. Do a lot of business—and be successful.
Sure, that's every company's goal. But on the plus side, your success may help improve your supplier relationships.
“Your suppliers are also supplying to other sales channels," Sim points out. “If you want a bigger piece of that pie, make sure that your own sales strategy is super strong and is always constantly evolving."
The more you sell, the happier your suppliers are to work with you. And as Sim observes, if you're constantly chasing down your supplier to buy more, the easier it'll be to negotiate for better terms.
So if you want really strong and robust supplier relationships, the good news is that you can get that by working on making your business the best possible business you can.
And pick up the phone and give your supplier a call every once in awhile. Maybe send over a holiday fruitcake. It can't hurt.
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