Suppliers and vendors are critical to the success or failure of a drycleaning operation. They are the source of your equipment and its longevity; your vehicles and their roadworthiness; and your point-of-sale (POS) systems, cleaning solutions and packaging materials. They represent your company’s second-largest expense after employees.
Suppliers include equipment companies, third-party maintenance companies and consumable-supply companies. You can even consider external professional-services companies such as trainers, advertising consultants, accountants, lawyers and bankers part of this group. The importance of these companies and the relationships you maintain with them can’t be taken lightly.
However, your expectations of these businesses may not be well established or well communicated. Operators enter into business with many of them due to convenience, or through a recommendation, similar to the ways in which customers select your plant. A drycleaner is either a convenient stop on the way to work, or has been recommended by a friend.
You may be able to learn how to work better with your suppliers from your customers. You understand their expectations, and yours — as a customer — will be similar. You customers demand that their orders be ready on time, that their garments be ready to use, and that they be delivered with an expected level of customer service.
These expectations are not unreasonable. Customers enter an unwritten agreement or partnership with their drycleaner to ensure that their garments are ready when they need them. When drycleaners can’t meet these expectations, they will complain, request an alternative resolution, or perhaps leave without any further contact.
Expectations for external suppliers are no different. Products and services must be delivered on time. They must be delivered correctly. They must be ready to use. And business must be conducted at an expected level of service. You have an unwritten agreement with your vendors that your business will be completed in an appropriate and timely manner so that you can then serve your customers.
To ensure you deliver a minimum level of service, you check your quality and service standards with mystery shoppers and quality checks; you don’t take your results for granted. Similarly, you must have an internal process for tracking the delivery, receipt and payment of your suppliers.
First, you send an order to the supplier with an established price and quantity. Next, you take delivery of the item or service. And last, you get an invoice for the proper quantities and services received, and schedule a payment.
Owners who implement a process for this activity often discover errors, save money and help suppliers manage their business better. Having a process in place helps verify that day-to-day activities meet minimum expectations.
Have you noticed that your 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 presented with a smile, and still complain that you’re too expensive.
Expectations are also rising in supplier relationships. Drycleaners are demanding shorter turnaround times, lower prices, more “environmentally friendly” options and excellent customer service — without higher prices. Suppliers who can step up to this level of expectation will survive and thrive in a competitive environment, while the others might not.
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 a distinct advantage? Do they provide better terms for financing your purchases? If they do, they’re a true partner who understands your challenges and provides real solutions to meet your needs.
Some vendor relationships develop into strong alliances. They’re there for you in the tough times — like now, for example. They work with you 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 your suppliers, but you can usually work through the issue instead of dropping the relationship. It’s okay to have high standards for your 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 for it.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].