The economic maelstrom has changed the way everyone in this business plays the game. Every segment of the supply chain continues to examine and improve strategies. Retailers and vendors are creating new efficiencies each day and continue to do more with less. We are all finding ways to refine our businesses and be better positioned for the coming recovery.
Everything that can be done is being done. Or is it?
Whether you are a manufacturer, a distributor, a rep or a retailer, the people you do business with have a major impact on your sales, profitability and overall execution. Today, more than ever, it pays to build solid relationships with those people.
The downside of the once booming economy was that many of us lost sight of the value of business relationships. The upside (if you can call it that) of the downturn is that there will never be a better time to fix that. Communications is a two-way street; cooperation always beats dictation. There is no issue that cannot be resolved by working on it together. People won’t think twice about not doing business with a company. They will rarely walk away from a friend or trusted associate. That’s why it’s so important to be an "associate" as opposed to an "account."
Relationship building in business is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. The process begins with contact. In-person meetings are best, but the telephone also works. Maintaining contact does not mean there is always an order attached. Building relationships involves learning mutual needs and goals. Share the current goals and initiatives of your business. What kind of promotion is being planned and how can all parties benefit from it? Explore opportunities to capitalize on respective strengths and find ways to minimize risks. The more conversations you have, the better you get to know each other.
This should seem like common sense. Yet many retailers and manufacturers have been quite vocal about the lack of trust and understanding between the stakeholders in the supply chain. Independent retailers believe that manufacturers don’t care about their opinions unless they are a multi-store, multi-million dollar business. The result has been product that is not fulfilling the needs of consumers and frustration over supply and other issues. Most manufacturers simply do not have the time to approach each and every retailer individually. The result has been lack of retailer support and excessive problems in the field. No one profits when no one communicates.
Let us set the record straight. Manufacturers want to know what retailers are thinking. The more retailers that give manufacturers feedback the higher the probability of effecting change. Retailers DO want to know what manufacturers are thinking, especially in terms of new products, marketing and promotions.
Manufacturer reps and distributors can help play a role in improving communication. The first and most obvious point is to be sure that you have consistent and continuous communication with these vital links. In many cases they are the main conduits for communicating throughout the supply chain.
As the "middlemen" in the supply chain, they see to the needs of both ends of the supply chain. Retailers must form a relationship with them, but shouldn’t depend solely on them to establish relationships with a manufacturer. A helpful rep or distributor may provide an introduction, but they are not responsible for the relationship building that is necessary.
If attempts to establish more consistent communication with your business partners are met with indifference or resistance, it may be time to re-assess the people you do business. In difficult times, professionals come together and find ways to succeed. Those that are not pro-active and engaged find themselves wondering where their business went.