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Supplier, Vendor or Partner?

Diana Vollmer |

Suppliers and vendors are critical to the success or failure of a drycleaning operation. They are the source of equipment and partly responsible for its longevity; vehicles and their roadworthiness; point-of-sale (POS) systems, cleaning solutions and packaging materials. They represent your company’s second-largest expense after employees.
Suppliers include equipment companies, maintenance contractors and consumable supply companies. You can also consider professional services such as trainers, consultants, accountants, lawyers and bankers part of this group. The importance of these companies and relationships can’t be taken lightly.
However, your expectations of these businesses may not be well communicated. Operators often enter into business with suppliers because of convenience or a recommendation, similar to the way in which a customer picks a drycleaning plant.
You may be able to learn how to work better with suppliers from your customers. You understand their expectations, and yours as a customer will be similar. Your customers demand that their orders be ready on time, that their garments be ready to use, and that you deliver them with a certain level of customer service. These expectations are not unreasonable for customers to have.
Your expectations of suppliers aren’t much different. Products and services must be delivered on time. They must be delivered correctly and ready to use. And business must be conducted at an expected level of service. You have an unwritten agreement with vendors that your business will be completed in an appropriate and timely manner, so you can best serve your customers.
You don’t take your results for granted, and neither should you take suppliers’ service for granted. Establish an internal process for tracking supplier deliveries and payments to verify that day-to-day activities meet expectations. You send an order to the supplier with an established price and quantity, you take delivery, you get an invoice and you schedule a payment. Owners who implement a routine like this often discover errors, save money and help suppliers manage their businesses better.
Have you noticed that customers’ expectations are rising — that they continue to expect more while you struggle to make do with less? They might want their orders faster, better, more environmentally friendly and with a smile — and still complain that you’re too expensive.
Expectations are also rising in supplier relationships. Drycleaners demand shorter turnaround times, lower prices, “environmentally friendly” options and excellent customer service — without higher prices. Suppliers who can meet these levels of expectation will survive and thrive in a competitive environment; others won’t.
Rising expectations demand that suppliers offer new options to meet your needs. Do they introduce alternatives that can save you money? Do they introduce you to new products that might give your plant an advantage? Do they provide better terms for your purchases? If they do, they are true partners that provide real solutions.
Some vendor relationships develop into strong alliances. These companies are there for you in the tough times — like now, for example. They work through technical and financial struggles — theirs and yours. They improve their offerings to address the issues you face. They listen to your concerns and respond to them. You rely on them, and you’d miss them if they disappeared.
You might have the occasional conflict with a supplier, but you can usually work through the issue instead of ending the relationship. It’s okay to have high standards for vendors, just like your customers have high standards for you. If you’re unsuccessful with current suppliers, others will step up. Support the ones that support you — you’ll both be better off for it.
 

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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