Keeping Suppliers Sweet

Yesterday a number of my suppliers came for a sumptuous afternoon tea at our offices. Not all – some work at a considerable distance - but I try to get as many of them together as I can so we have a personal face-to-face chat at least once a year. I also like my team to get to know each their. It can help their businesses too. This Christmas is the first year we have been at Clare Stables and as we have a beautiful meeting room we decked it with boughs of holly and a six foot Christmas tree, invited the outsourced team and served some very scrummy cake.

My dear old dad, who was no slouch in the management department, told me many years ago that the secret to success at work is having the right team round you. And he was absolutely right. It takes time (and quite a few rejects along the way), but having the right people working with you makes all the difference in the world. My team aren’t just suppliers. They are part of the extended team. I see them as business partners who look out for me and my business. And they do. Treating them well is simply good business. Why?

  • Good suppliers can positively or negatively affect the quality of your service or product.
  • Suppliers who deliver reliably and on time are critical to the view your customers have of you.
  • The right suppliers can give you the competitive edge based on their pricing, quality, reliability, technological breakthroughs and knowledge of industry trends.
  • Suppliers who know you and your product well can make major contributions to your new product development.
  • There are times (and I’ve certainly had them) where you need a bit of extra time to pay. If you've proven to be an honest and loyal customer your suppliers will cut you some slack.

This year has had some truly horrible moments. I won’t bore you with the details here. The point is that I couldn’t have got through it without the brilliant support and loyalty of my outsourced team. Being a business owner is quite lonely and unless you’re a business owner too it’s quite difficult to understand the angst peculiar to us. More than once I thought about throwing in the towel but they helped me stay on track and the towel remains unthrown.

How do you build the sort of kindness and loyalty my lovely team have given to me? Here are my top tips.

Number one has to be pay on time. I actually pay ahead of time in most cases. Very occasionally I have a blip and forget or the invoice gets mislaid. But as soon as I’m reminded I apologise and do it. I am fortunate that I haven’t had a cashflow problem (touch wood!) for a while now but when I did I explained the issue, paid as much as I could and paid the rest in the shortest possible period. Because I was open and honest I was trusted and that has stood me in good stead more than once.

Cash flow is every bit as important to business as sales. A customer who pays on time as promised is a trusted and respected customer. And customers with a good payment history may get better terms. I expect to be paid on time and I extend that courtesy to my outsourced team.

Recognise that your supplier has other customers to serve as well as you and be patient if they can’t give you immediate service. You don’t own your supplier so don’t act as if you’re the only person on the plant (that’s not pretty as well as childish). From time-to-time your representative will be busy but the right supplier will get to you in a timely fashion and is worth a short wait.

To get the best service suppliers need information from you. This might be a one off or it might be ongoing. We have worked with a superb answering service for 13 years now (Star 21 in Milton Keynes in case you’re wondering). In the early days of my business it was just me so they knew that if I diverted my phone to them I was unavailable and there was an agreed script. Now our main phone goes straight to them and we regularly tell them what’s going on and what our movements are so they’re in the loop and know who will be covering office calls that day. At yesterday’s tea party, Ethel, Star 21’s MD, said that only about half of their clients had responded to the request for information about Christmas hours and closedown. It means that for those clients they will have to assume the office is open between Christmas and New Year and feel their way. It’s a bit difficult for them as you’ll appreciate.(Yes, we have given them full details!)

From time to time there will glitches. Everyone occasionally makes mistakes and suppliers are no exception. Work with your supplier to find a solution and hopefully avoid the problem arising again.

There’s no reason why you can’t be demanding, but you can also make friends with your suppliers. Be courteous and communicate your needs clearly and in a timely way. Be reasonable with your lead times. Tell them of your needs and standards. Treat them fairly. Be loyal, and pay them on time. It really is that easy.

Every business needs good and reliable suppliers and there are many who aren’t worth their salt. I am famed for sacking accountants. It took me nine years to find him, but the one I have now I cherish tenderly. Not only does he actively look for ways of reducing my tax liability, he and his team organise me well ahead of time. Subject to me submitting information, my accounts are always done quickly and it gives me time to get organised. They help me with my financial planning so we have all our tax payments set aside well ahead of time, reserves in the bank for a rainy day and all suppliers all paid on time.

When you find them great suppliers treat them well. They are as important to you as your clients.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

Subscribe to our free monthly HR newsletter. Russell HR Consulting employment law newsletters are emailed automatically to our ever-growing number of subscribers every month.