Finding good suppliers is just half the battle. New business owners must learn to be good customers to develop a strong relationship with vendors.
7. Get acquainted. Lauer doesn't just buy products from a sales representative who visits his business. "I like to visit the [supplier's] plant, meet the people I'm going to talk to on the phone on a daily basis, and get a tour of their operation so I understand how their work flows," he says.
Daigle visits his suppliers, too, and they visit him. "A lot of trust and loyalty is gained. It becomes a friendship," he says. "Two basic things I do with suppliers: I tell them how much I like doing business with them and pat them on the back. I also give them feedback, just like I get from my customers."
8. Pay on time. Paying your bills promptly is the best way to ingratiate yourself with suppliers. This establishes trust that pays off in other ways, says Lauer: "I had good credit when I started [my business], and as I continued to pay on time, my credit lines with suppliers got bigger, and they dropped the [requirement for] personal guarantees."
9. Be selective. Lauer deals with just four cabinet manufacturers, each handling one product and pricing category. By keeping his number of suppliers low, he can order more product from each, which gets him volume-pricing discounts and special deals.
"If I order more product, I become a more important customer to them," Lauer explains. "They might give me free display merchandise, I might qualify for free or reduced-price literature on their products, and, of course, I get a better price."
10. Communicate. Communication is vital to your relationship with suppliers. "If a problem arises, we talk--my customers to me and me to my suppliers--and work it out quickly," he says. "If you don't keep communications open, things can go wrong and you won't even know it."
Communication is especially important when dealing with service suppliers, says Katherina Van Tuyl, owner of Behind Your Front Door Inc., a company that owns and manages homes for visiting executives in Columbus, Ohio. "I hire people all the time to do repair and remodeling work," she says. "If the work is poor, I have to tell them. So often, people don't [complain] about poor service because we're all so busy, we let the matter drop rather than pursue it."
11. Keep the good ones. When Van Tuyl finds a good supplier, she hangs on. "There's one man [I've hired to] refinish hardwood floors. He does a great job, he's responsible, and the job is done without my having to check up on him," she says. "He's continually busy because everyone goes back to him again and again." Good suppliers deserve that kind of loyalty.