Choosing the Right Supplier for Your Business
By Emmariah Holcomb
For me, the most important factor is how long the company has been in business offering the product or service that I need from them,” says Kyle Owen, owner of Clear Bra Indy, as he highlights key points to look for while you’re supplier-shopping. “If the company is relatively new with a product or service, I look at how long the service or product has been around. I have a strong reputation in this industry and I want to make sure no product or service is going to diminish it.”
Whether you’re new to the industry or a long-time pro it’s important to know the qualities of suppliers and decide which will best benefit you and your company. In this article, you’ll learn some of the top assets to look for as well as questions that suppliers often answer when working with prospective clients.
If you’re looking at a number of suppliers it’s important to take notice if certain issues arise. According to Owen, product availability should be high on your list.
“Be sure to ask how often the company has run out of stock or has been backed up with their service,” says Owen. “I haven’t always thought about that and have been in a position where I’m booked out and needed product they couldn’t deliver.”
But not everything falls on the supplier… “You need to hold yourself accountable for any decisions you make,” says Chris DiMinico, president of AutoNuvo in Holliston, Mass.
After you’ve spent time researching and have narrowed your supplier list down how do you know they will be a good fit?
“Usually it comes down to the relationship that has formed with that person or company,” says Owen. “Do I feel good about doing business with them? Or do they have a history that they have to apologize for?”
According to DiMinico, working with a company that is consistent brings benefits beyond the additional costs of the product. “Geographic area doesn’t play too much of a role, and suppliers are all over the place with pricing. So assuming quality is where it needs to be, consistency and customer service trump price,” says DiMinico.
Once you’ve made your choice there has to be something you wished you could’ve known sooner.
“I wish potential suppliers would tell you where they have failed before and what they did to prevent it from happening again,” says Owen.
Mistakes can happen—yes, but there’s one thing that DiMinico says will make him search for a better supplier. “Poor quality product combined with no solution (poor customer service) would prompt me to look elsewhere,” says DiMinico.
According to Elizabeth Dillon, sales and marketing executive vice president for Maxpro Window Films in Whiteville, N.C., it takes a couple of weeks on average for a company to settle on a new supplier once their research is done.
“With Maxpro we have an initial discovery meeting to determine what our prospect’s real needs are,” she says. “Then samples ultimately are sent with a follow up planned according to the conversation that was had, then it’s a matter of making sure we are a fit on both sides.”
This can vary significantly, according to Dan Birkenmeier, Eastman regional marketing leader – North America. “Sometimes the combination of their current experience, along with your reputation can lead to a process that literally takes a matter of days to start supplying them,” he says.
Dillon says many prospects that contact her company already have completed research, taken a look at its website, or have gotten a referral.
“So they already know more about us than they may let on, but through our questioning process we can clear up any confusion regarding who or what we are,” says Dillon.
“If a potential client can align their needs with a supplier’s strength, it obviously is a good fit,” says Birkenmeier.
Overall customer service is a top priority for suppliers, as keeping clients happy contributes to overall growth. Dillon finds that when a new prospect comes to her company it is usually because they were upset with their current supplier. She says it comes down to having quality and consistent customer service.
But according to Birkenmeier, many potential clients focus on the strength of the company’s brand to consumers as the most important factor. “Without a doubt that is extremely important,” he says. “I would suggest more should be asking about the operations side of the business up front with equal importance. Take a very structured approach in evaluating all aspects, and considering the operations side is an area too many take for granted.”
While you’re discussing different options and comparing companies it’s alright if you don’t ask every question up front during an initial meeting. In fact, Dillon says it’s not so much about the questions that are asked by potential clients, but rather it’s about the questions suppliers ask their potential clients.
“We ask a series of questions to better understand their needs and wants to see how we can best serve them or make a decision if we are a fit,” says Dillon.
Of course once you’ve made your decision on a supplier and have a relationship with the company you might think it’s over – but it’s not. There are important things that need to be done in order to keep you loyal to that specific supplier.
“[The supplier should] NEVER take their business for granted … The top factor is not allowing that to ever happen,” says Birkenmeier.
“We’ve found that customers are looking to be taken care of across the board and this again starts with customer service,” adds Dillon.
Emmariah Holcomb is the assistant editor of WINDOW FILM magazine. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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