Creating a solid relationship with suppliers and vendors is considered crucial in any business, but it may be even more so in the landscaping industry. The quality of a supplier's products directly impacts the contractor, since your clients will blame you for new paving stones that change color, or flowers that die a week after planting.
Building that trust can sometimes be a challenge, since your business may have needs that the vendor can't address. This is why regularly evaluating your suppliers and making sure everyone's on the same page can improve your overall business goals.
With so much at stake, here are some tips from industry pros on how to keep and establish good vendor relationships:
Communication is number one.
In marriage, we're told that it's a big mistake to read your spouse's mind, and it's just as big an error to think they're able to read yours. The same advice applies to your suppliers.
"They might have an idea of the kind of projects you're working on but they're not in your head," says Jevard Hitch of Ascend Landscaping & Irrigation in Commerce City, Colorado. "They'll guide you to something new in the market, but the contractor knows what the customers are looking for. So, a good two-way street of communication is essential."
Suppliers, for their part, work better when knowing how much product to get from their distributors, which is why you may be getting calls from your rep for fall items in April. Getting a handle on your long-term needs can help keep your costs down (buying at low-season prices) and give your supplier a cue into what you may be needing later.
You're not the only one.
In the same way that you have lots of different customers, so does your landscaping supplier. The fact that they probably also serve your closest competition means you may get suspicious about who's getting a “better deal.”
Understand that your rep is likely to be busy at times and won't be able to return your call right away, but if you're getting longer and longer wait times for the callback, it may be time to find someone else. A good sales rep will listen when you do talk and be responsive to your needs, but you'll have to decide if it's better to be patient with a company you see value in doing business with, or see what others have to offer.
Is that the best you can do?
It's likely that your customers ask for deals from you; are you asking for enough from your vendors? If you've been doing steady business with a company for a good period, and you know someone else is selling a particular product cheaper, there's no harm in seeing if you can get the same deal. There's also the advantage, once you build up a good relationship, of the “unadvertised special.”
“When some of my suppliers are clearing inventory, especially of products I use regularly, they'll give me a good deal on it,” says Mike Garcia, who runs EnviroscapeLA in Los Angeles. “They'll also get inquiries from the public about what they sell and they'll forward me the contact information. I wouldn't be getting that from them if I was just an occasional customer.”
If shopping solely on price is your strategy you may not get these extra benefits, but it pays to seek the best deal possible from a supplier you like.
The right words.
If you have an operation where landscapers in the field place orders directly with your suppliers, making sure a language barrier isn't hampering orders can help move things along.
“Most big suppliers do this, but it really pays on the supplier side to have a large bilingual staff,” says Jason Paulson of Ewing Irrigation in Riverside, California. “Roughly 75 percent of the landscapers we work with are Latino, so we make sure that we've got people who can speak with them about their needs, on the phone or at the counter, and get them going on with their day.”
Fixing a problem.
When problems and misunderstandings occur, which they inevitably do, be sure to try and stay cool. "We were doing a project where we needed to install artificial turf at a job site within a short time frame," says Lauren Bloom of Bloom Concrete & Landscaping in Lakewood, Colorado. "The vendor showed up with the delivery on time but it was the wrong turf."
A quick call to her rep got an over-the-top response. "He loaded the turf into his own truck and raced to the job site," Bloom says. "We got it installed in time and his extra work was very appreciated."
Making sure you know who to call, a rep and/or manager, when something goes awry can ensure a positive experience. If you're a long-time customer, there's a good chance that the individual in charge will pay a visit to make sure you're happy.
Become a partner.
In an ideal situation, your supplier is right behind you to serve the customer. “I recently had a lighting project where the customer wanted these new outdoor LEDs that changed color,” Garcia says. “I checked in with my supplier and not only were they able to get me expedited delivery, they sent a representative to show how best they should be installed and who worked with the customer, walking him through their operation. That really impressed me and the customer, I wouldn't have received that level of service if I hadn't been a buyer from them for years.”
Getting that kind of assistance happens regularly in good business relationships. Talking with suppliers about difficult projects can result in ideas or help. “A big part of what we do is education,” says Paulson. “Whether it's showing a professional a new product or tool, or a new way to do a job, that's what we expect to do daily. If you have any kind of question, feel free to ask.”
The bottom line, spending time on your suppler relationship is probably worth the effort, the same as in marriage.