Reliability is the key factor to look for in suppliers. Good suppliers will steer you toward hot-selling items, increasing your sales. If you build a good relationship and your business is profitable for them, suppliers may be willing to bail you out when your customers make difficult demands.
Remember, though, that suppliers are in business to make money. If you go to the mat with them on every bill, ask them to shave prices on everything they sell to you, or fail to pay your bills promptly, don't be surprised when they stop calling.
As a new business owner, you can't expect to receive the same kind of attention a long-standing customer gets right off the bat. Over time, however, you can develop excellent working relationships that will be profitable for both you and your suppliers.
Once you have compiled a list of possible suppliers, ask for quotes or proposals, complete with prices, available discounts, delivery terms and other important factors. Don't just consider the terms; investigate the potential supplier's financial condition, too. Ask for customer references; call them and find out how well the supplier has performed. If there have been any problems, ask for details about how they were reconciled. Every supplier relationship hits bumps now and then; the key is to know how the rough spots were handled. Was the supplier prompt and helpful in resolving the problem, or defensive and uncooperative?
Be open, courteous and firm with your suppliers, and they will respond in kind. Tell them what you need and when you need it. Have a specific understanding about the total cost, and expect delivery on schedule. Keep in constant communication with your suppliers about possible delays, potential substitutions for materials or product lines, production quality, product improvements or new product introductions and potential savings. Suppliers often establish a minimum order for merchandise, and this minimum may be higher for first orders to cover the cost of setting up a new store account. Some suppliers also demand a minimum number of items per order.
Excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the Staff of Entrepreneur Magazine