When you think about your business and its success, are you also thinking about who your suppliers will be and what part they will play in the success of your business? If you aren’t, then you should be. In a successful business, the bottom line is sales. If you aren’t making sales, you won’t be in business for long. The right suppliers play an important part in making those sales.
Whether your supplier is a food service provider, an apparel manufacturer, or even the person or company supplying your to go bags, suppliers are important. So how do I choose the right supplier? Some basic questions that you must ask:
1) Who is local?
Don’t sacrifice quality for keeping business local, but when it makes sense, support the other businesses that are in your community, plus you have the added benefit of easier access when you need help.
2) Who are your competitors using?
This is not to copy what they are doing but to consider that they may know something you don’t. If you own a restaurant, maybe your competitors have identified the best produce supplier, and you can benefit from a relationship with that same supplier. Of course, there may be the possibility that you don’t want them to know anything about what you’re buying, so you make sure you don’t use the same supplier.
3) Who can provide you the best quality, price, value, and customer service?
This one sounds like a no brainer, but this one means you have done your research. You want the best quality product because you don’t want to compete against a better quality product, so find the supplier who can provide you with that best first piece of the puzzle. Also, when it comes to price, you must consider the value. It’s not who can get you a product the cheapest, but who can give you the best price for the best product. Finally, great customer service is critical to keeping you up and running, so make sure that your supplier wants to help you succeed.
4) Do they have in-house support for their staff and for you?
Have you ever had a question for a supplier that they couldn’t get an answer to? If they don’t have the means to support their own sales force, they probably don’t have the means to support you either.
5) What days do they deliver, and will they work around your best times?
If your busiest days of the week are Monday and Tuesday, but they only deliver on Wednesday, then, depending on your business, you probably need to find another supplier. If you’re a restaurant owner that means your fresh produce has been sitting in your walk-in for 5 to 6 days before you plate it for your customer. Your fresh produce isn’t that fresh anymore.
6) How long have they been in business?
This is not to say that the newest supplier out there hasn’t got something to offer. They may have figured out something another supplier couldn’t. But before you put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket with the new guy, have you looked into the company with 50 years’ experience in the industry? Someone with a solid history has clearly figured something out that you could benefit from, so make sure you do your homework.
7) What are their credit terms?
Are they willing to invoice you and you pay them on a specific day every month? Do they offer a discount for paying invoices in 10-15 days? Will they take a check? Do they only do C.O.D.?
Okay, so now I have identified an ideal supplier, what next? If you want to have a good working relationship with your supplier, you must communicate:
- Be up front with your needs and expectations.
- Tell them where you feel you need to be pricewise, and see what they can do to help you.
- Don’t sit and stew on a problem, talk to your supplier rep. If something isn’t right, they need to know. This will help your business and most likely theirs.
- Respect the relationship, pay your bills on time.
- Set aside time to talk with your rep, that relationship is the best way for them to understand your business and help you with new products and any issues.
Remember, your suppliers are your business partners. They might not be getting a share of the profits of your business, but if you succeed, they succeed. If your sales increase, their sales increase. If you’re happy, chances are they are happy. It’s a relationship, so work with your suppliers, and they will work with you. They play a big role in the success or failure of your business, so value the relationship and get to know them the same way you would get to know any other partner in your business.
Rob Martin, UGA SBDC Business Consultant – Albany, GA