Importer/supplier relationships matter. The way importers of old dealt with their suppliers has indeed come a long way from the humble medium of email correspondence.
Expectations were simply laid out, and promises were made of securing the lowest possible cost per unit and a compliant product, delivered in the fastest possible time.
The distant nature of the entire process meant that importers were often kept in the dark when the pressure of an increase in the demand of products hit. The factory often suffered setbacks and compromised on all of their promises purely to maintain the relationship, as long as the quota was met and the order was sent out.
Fact is, working within the confines of a relationship like this was high risk.
Luckily, times have changed, technology has advanced and smart importers have learned to bring their suppliers a lot closer into the fold from the very beginning. This type of engagement creates an open platform where expectations are communicated and agreed upon clearly, so that each partner can meet the needs of the other, and hold each other accountable when things go awry.
With the current volatility of global markets and increased amount of product recalls we are seeing, building a mutually beneficial relationship with your supplier to ensure product compliance has never been as important as it is today.
In this post we will share 3 tips to help you ensure improved product compliance by showing you how you can (and should) be building good supplier relationships for your brand today.
#1 IMPROVED PRODUCT COMPLIANCE STARTS WITH COMMUNICATION
As an importer you will have likely experienced the challenges of communication with your supplier, whether it be a language barrier or simply them not keeping you in the loop. What you may not have come to realize is that the manner in which you communicate with your supplier may be a part of your struggle.
“So how will you communicate? Email?”
Whilst this platform forms the basis of almost all business related matters with its easy access, it is a platform that keeps us somewhat at arm’s length and often misunderstandings happen, creating a back and forth flurry of emails that becomes incredibly difficult to keep track of, creating more confusion than any kind of clarity.
“If not email, then what?”
There are a host of other professional communication tools that you can use to your advantage, but before we dive into what those tools are, let's get old school…
Pick up the telephone.
As obvious as it may sound, a personal call will go a long way to helping clear up any and all confusion at once, freeing up your inbox and allowing your thoughts and expectations to be understood more clearly. Now, just jumping on the phone with no clear direction will not be a good use of your time, or your supplier’s time. Prepare a list of questions that you may have to address any misgivings you may have. This will save you both time and provide clarity going forward.
Let's take a look at some of the communication tools that are out there that can begin aiding a communicative relationship between you and your supplier;
Skype -This is an online messaging application that also has video and voice chat services.
Zoom - This application provides convenient video conferencing services for any meetings that you want to include your supplier in on.
Whatsapp -A mobile application that allows for instant messaging and in-app calling.
When it comes to clearing up product specifications, you may find that the above tools will provide an easier platform to discuss these matters in-depth, with absolute understanding and clarity. Personally I find Zoom a favorite for all conference calling, it has helped me stay in touch with a lot more ease than just relying on email.
Now that we have spoken about the means of communication, we need to address the frequency and manner of communication.
“How often do you phone your supplier to just talk about basic business operations?”
The more constant the flow of communication is, the more you will begin to get to know your supplier, and where your business sits in the grander scheme of their operations (and how much they stand to lose if they make mistakes).
This level of trust that you begin to build with your supplier will help to keep them honest and accountable if you happen to receive a delivery of products that are non compliant.
This kind of communication provides clarity and indicates to your supplier that you trust them to fix the problem to achieve the level of compliance that your company has set as the standard.
#2 IMPROVED PRODUCT COMPLIANCE STARTS WITH AGREEABLE PAYMENT TERMS (AND STICKING TO THEM)
Cash flow that affects the bottom line is a very real struggle. The margins for many suppliers is always very thin. So when you do not pay, it puts your supplier in a really difficult position, and not only for you (and how they treat your order of products), but for their other customers too.
This kind of behavior will break any form of trust. Suppliers will often take a note of importers that do not pay on time so as to avoid those kinds of risks for themselves in the future.
What is advisable with regards to payment is ensuring that you have laid out all your payment terms with your supplier. In doing this you create a level of transparency with your supplier which can prove to be invaluable.
If you have been in this position before, as I am sure you have, I would say that the best practice here would be the same as tip #1;
You need to communicate your situation immediately, creating an honest and open relationship with your supplier which will put you in good stead for future orders.
#3 IMPROVED PRODUCT COMPLIANCE STARTS WITH SETTING CLEAR GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS
Ensure that your goals are clearly communicated upfront. This can be done in the initial meeting with a potential supplier if you are able to visit their factory, or via correspondence.
You should draw up a document stating your expectations from the get-go, along with a set of achievable goals that need to be reached. A document like this will also need to be clear about the level of product and supply chain compliances that need to be achieved.
This goes for your supplier as well. They too will have expectations of you. Write these down to ensure absolute clarity between both parties.
The longer you work with a supplier, the more familiar they become with the way in which you prefer to operate.
This knowledge creates an improvement in their service to you as operational times and quality procedures are improved accordingly. If any issues arise, your supplier will also be able to handle them more effectively, and continue to stay in line with your brand's compliance standards.
While these tips may seem overly obvious, if you can perfect them you will be well on your way to building a strong, healthy supplier relationship that will have far-reaching benefits for you; from improved delivery times to high quality compliant products for your brand. This is only some of what you can do to begin aiding a trustworthy long-term supplier relationship.
Creating a high level of compliance and transparency has become crucial to business success. Today, consumers are more concerned and aware of where their products come from and the manner in which they were made than they ever were.
Better importer/supplier collaboration helps foster growth for your brand as your products are able to get to the market faster, and represent the quality you promise your customers. Your supplier will also begin to firmly recognize the importance of your business, and start to take real ownership of the end products and their quality.
“How has creating a good supplier relationship been of benefit to creating a compliant, transparent supply chain for you, and if it hasn’t, why do you think so?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.