As a retailer, one crucial fact you’ve learned, perhaps the hard way, is the importance of creating and maintaining good relationships with your vendors, big and small. Without them, you’d have an empty shop!
Vendor relationships aren’t always the easiest to foster, and the dynamics can be quite a balancing act. Sometimes the relationship is short-lived, lasting only as long as you carry a vendor’s products, but often it can become a long-term, mutually supportive partnership that endures the many ups and downs of retail and product life cycles. Ultimately, this arrangement is about growing and sustaining both businesses, playing on the same team and cheering for the same goal.
A successful vendor-shop owner team is built on three core requirements: respect, trust, and mutual benefit. Without those elements, the relationship will not only falter, but the game could grind to a screeching halt. Your goal is to create a place where vendors want to showcase their goods, trusting that you will display them well, price them fairly, promote them widely, and reorder quickly. Without exaggeration, this relationship can make or break your business.
Here are five ways to foster this important relationship:
1. Pay on time every time
It goes without saying that the number-one way to maintain good vendor relationships is to make sure vendors can rely on receiving their money when it’s due. They count on this, just as you count on your customers to pay you. If something comes up and you can’t pay on time, explain why and reschedule the payment ASAP. Don’t just ignore a deadline or think it doesn’t matter.
2. Show your support
Show your support for your vendors by referring them to other (noncompeting) shops. Also, if a vendor does something upsetting, discuss it with them rather than going to their competitor. Mistakes happen, and you can help them avoid making the same mistake twice.
3. Plan orders in advance
You are not a vendor’s only customer! Respect their time and resources. Unless a vendor explains otherwise, last minute orders, changes, or cancelations affect their profit margins and are a definite strain on the business relationship. This is especially true of smaller or independent suppliers.
4. Tell them your needs
Make sure to discuss things openly and honestly so there are no surprises. For example, if your store only carries products made in the USA, tell them how important this is to you. Explain to them if it’s crucial that their line be exclusive to your area. If their territory policy doesn’t fit your philosophy, let them know in advance. Never assume a vendor knows your specific needs.
5. Create rapport
Although this is a business relationship, it’s okay to be social and less formal at times. Beyond developing lasting friendships, building camaraderie with your vendors can pay off in the form of discounts, longer payment arrangements, and other perks. Little gestures go a long way: Reply with a phone call rather than an email (however, follow up conversations in writing so there’s no confusion); meet at a local coffee shop to place your next order and spend time catching up; send a handwritten card thanking them for being your business partner; gift them a bottle of wine for going over and above for you.