Get the lowdown on what you can do to improve your relationship with your supplier.
For more than 10 years I have worked with and for independent distributors in the professional turf and ornamental business. Most all of them derive a good part of their revenues from selling to the green industry, which means dealing with owners and their staff.
This is not an easy task, particularly at a time that revenues have been contracting. On the distribution side, similar stresses have surfaced. The downturn in the economy and the commoditization of the business has made top line revenues harder to come by and margins drop precipitously. Under those conditions, relationships get easily strained and calm and consistent planning and decision making becomes more the exception than the rule.
Yet, the parties involved better understand that they are part of the same supply chain that depends for success and profitability on how well the customer, e.g. the homeowner or property manager, gets serviced.
Distribution of lawn and landscape products and services is a business that thrives on personal contact between the distributor (representative) and the contractor or LCO. The quality and sincerity of that relationship is key to achieving a smooth, uninterrupted and cost effective supply of the products required for proper and timely course maintenance. A supply chain becomes dysfunctional when the links in the chain work at cross-purposes or become adversarial in their attitude.
The seven things distributors wish that contractors would understand and always keep in mind come in large part down to variations upon the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
We are all business operators in the same industry and subject to the vagaries of the same marketplace. It is counterproductive if we try to outsmart or get the upper hand over the party on the other side of the fence. We need to keep our eyes on the end user and satisfy his/her needs. After all, he/she is paying all of our bills.
1. We truly appreciate your business. We try very hard to re-earn it every year and we never take it for granted.
2. You want to have your properties at all times weed free, insect free, disease free, wear tolerant and aesthetically pleasing. Leave it to me to provide you the “solutions” for these challenges, so that I can brand my business, keep you on budget and keep my company profitable.
3. Where are your supplies coming from when you need them after you have squeezed me and all the other independents out of business by putting everything up for bid without regard to the ultimate supplier’s capacity to service the business, deliver on time and with the right equipment and be there for emergency needs and technical support? Just like in the restaurant business where there is a growing awareness that working with local food sources makes good sense for all living in a community, including the customer, so does access to a distributor in your own backyard, who is part of the same community you belong to. It provides a solid base for great service and a reliable and sustainable supply relationship.
4. With the patent expiration of almost all plant protection products and the resulting commoditization of the business, margins have been squeezed out of each transaction level in the supply chain process. Perks like golfing trips, logo wear, catalogs full of luxury items to be redeemed for “points” and sponsorships of all kinds have been replaced by the “everyday low price.” You can’t have it both ways. You and your spouse may feel that you are missing out on a good thing, but isn’t the current way of doing business fairer to the people who write your paycheck and better for the end-user customer?
5. Treat me like you want to be treated. Don’t mislead me about what you truly want and need and don’t mislead me about my chances to earn your business. Not showing up for an appointment is unprofessional and a waste of my time. If you use me for information and technical support, but buy from someone else, you will quickly lose my interest in being there for you when you really need me. You surely realize that there is an opportunity cost to visiting with you if it does not result in business at some point. In times of high pressure, my first allegiance goes to those who patronize my business all through the year.
6. With a little advance planning, all needs can be met in time. If you leave me in the dark about what you need when, chances are that you will have to wait a few days before I can get you what you need. I’ll be glad to work from dawn to dusk for you as long as you keep me in the loop about your anticipated needs.
7. If my bills do not get paid on time, my capacity to service you is jeopardized. Be candid with me even if the news you have to share is not what you would like to communicate. If you are forced to do more with less, I will understand that. It happens to me too. In an open communication, we can surely find a way to keep your property in good shape without breaking the bank. Believe me, I’m on your side. I don’t want to see you lose your job. That would force me to start all over again building a relationship with a greenhorn who might be gun shy because of what happened to you.
The author is principal of Castnet Corp., a business consultant for the green industry and an executive coach.