Round 'Em Up

Wanted: Impressive First Impressions

The firm: Computer manufacturer Gateway Inc., based in North Sioux City, South Dakota

The slice: This year, the company will increase the dollar amount it sets aside for small, disadvantaged and women-owned businesses by 16 percent. Last year, Gateway awarded contracts totaling several million dollars to more than 1,000 small businesses.

The criteria: "Whether it's a product or service, we require high quality, on-time delivery, very good service and [a good] warranty," says Bob McMaster, manager of materials process improvement. Gateway also looks for competitive pricing and a drive to achieve customer satisfaction.

The hook: There are a few, actually. First, you must have an attractive, professional-looking brochure describing your products and your company. Second, you need to make a positive first impression. Third, Gateway seeks small-business owners who are aggressive, who follow through on commitments, who respond quickly to requests for information, and who can demonstrate their superiority over the competition.

The spin: "Know what you're up against as far as competition goes," McMaster says. "And I think it's a real advantage to do some research on the company you're trying to sell to."

The connection: Gateway does the approaching--so don't barrage the company with phone calls and letters. To find subcontractors, the company regularly peruses publications such as the Try Us Directory, a publication of small, minority-owned businesses, and the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers. Gateway also relies on local SBA offices and Small Business Development Centers for leads.

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Round 'Em Up.

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