Expert Tips for Cultivating Stronger Showroom Supplier Relationships

A supplier to a showroom is like food to a restaurant: without it, you simply can’t operate your business. Maintaining strong supplier relationships helps you command the most competitive prices and terms on best-selling products, which in turn makes it easier to satisfy your customers and increase sales.

For help with building strong supplier relationships in the bathroom fixture industry, follow these essential tips.

Conduct Supplier Research

When considering a new supplier, it’s important to brush up on all aspects of their products and business model. Strategic communications specialist Yuliya Dyrdyra points out that different types of suppliers command different considerations. A bathtub craftsman might offer unique designs, for example, while a franchise might have certain regulations regarding trademarks.

It’s also a good idea to think about the supplier’s position in the market. How might they be seeking to grow their business by showcasing their designs with you? Asking such questions also helps with alignment across the needs and goals of both parties.

Rice Insurance broker Chris Webb says that alignment is key to strong supplier relationships. It’s also important that you have an understanding of your supplier’s marketing, product development and purchasing teams. This will help ensure a clear, common goal that you can do your best to further and support.

Asking questions early on in the discovery phase can also help you determine how your supplier finds value in you. Since suppliers have many customers and multiple relationships to maintain, knowing what your supplier expects of you can keep everyone on the same page, writes ecommerce expert Armando Roggio at Practical Ecommerce. From documentation to signed contracts, preparing the right information and delivering it in the proper format can get your supplier relationship off to a great start.

Establish Two-Way Communication

Strong communication is the foundation for any type of relationship. To help both parties feel open about discussing conflict, feedback and successes, you might try establishing a designated method for communication. According to Paul Noël, chief customer officer at Ivalua, having the right tools in place allows both internal and external teams to share documents, exchange information, and facilitate even-sided conversations.

This eliminates confusion about whether to call or email when a hiccup occurs, and it also helps teams on both sides feel more confident in communicating openly. In fact, it’s a good idea to check in with suppliers and communicate even when something isn’t going wrong.

MOHR Retail founder Michael Patrick tells VEND that retailers should touch base with vendors frequently, even just to ask about the state of business, priorities and market planning. This helps keep conversations open, which revolving credit provider Pay4 notes as an essential aspect of effective communication. If you don’t talk to your suppliers, you can’t find out what they need or want from you.

An open communication policy with your supplier can also help you anticipate risks and threats before they become serious. According to HCMWorks CEO and President Julia Fournier, communication provides you with insider intelligence about your supplier’s performance, risks, patterns and service levels. This allows you to become aware of both problems and opportunities — and take proper action when needed.

Stay Positive

It may go without saying, but if you’re ever worked with a bad-tempered colleague, you know how important attitude is for a pleasant work environment. Maintaining a positive attitude with customers and suppliers alike is important. Enthusiasm is perceived as an attractive personality trait, so displaying this trait can make suppliers keener to work with you and possibly be more helpful than they would be otherwise, explains independent business operating system MBO partners.

Follow Rules and Expectations

Following through can help build a deep layer of trust with your suppliers. To lay the foundation for these relationships, it’s best to set expectations for payments, deliveries and communications. Retailers should always try to follow the contracts and rules set forth by the suppliers, Yaffa Klugerman at Feedvisor writes. Whether that means paying by a certain date or following rules for rush orders, sticking to the rules makes suppliers more likely to be flexible when you’re in need.

Not only are formal supplier agreements crucial, Todd Jackson, CEO of Jackson Design and Remodeling tells Sal Alfano at Professional Remodeler. Their key aspect, which is up-front pricing, allows both parties to strike a pricing deal that will benefit them both.

Another financial benefit of following rules and expectations is that it can enable your company to consider financing options when necessary. According to Bob Reiss, author of Bootstrapping 101, retailers might rely on suppliers for inventory financing during a major growth period or during a cash crunch. Whether it’s a loan, extended new purchase terms or postponed debt, there are many ways a supplier might potentially support your financial needs in the future.

Get Feedback

Knowing how your supplier feels about you and your company is key to improving your own operations. That’s why it’s so important to glean feedback often.

Relationship management app Koble suggests surveying your suppliers each year to get a feel for what’s working, and where there’s room for improvement. For example, Koble suggests asking questions such as “what does the market think about us?” and “what do suppliers identify as strengths and weaknesses when working with us?” to better understand your place in the market and serve your customers better.

Manage Conflict

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship, but learning how to manage those setbacks can ensure that it doesn’t affect your bottom line.

Entrepreneur Jarie Bolander explains at The Daily MBA that one of the most common conflicts between vendors and retail parties is product returns. If a product is damaged or defective, it’s important to notify your supplier right away. Being respectful can ensure the vendor corrects the issue as soon as possible. It also will make the supplier more likely to treat you with respect when there’s an issue at your end they need to discuss.

Revolutionary thinking is a core tenet in conflict management at this level, Resolution Works founder Stewart Levine says. An expert in supply chain conflict resolution Levine explains that revolutionary thinking includes the ability of both conflicting parties to acknowledge and solve the other person’s needs. As he puts it, “the most powerful form of negotiating is when I'm trying to meet your needs, and you're trying to meet mine. Then we can create something that works for the larger goal and the larger enterprise.”

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