Beyond the Spreadsheet
Whether you pursue a small niche or the broad mass market, there are few decisions more vital than choosing your merchandise suppliers.
Often businesses treat sourcing as an arm of product development; something to be simply spreadsheeted out by a team of analysts who report back to managers on which suppliers will be best for the lines the company plans to offer.
That’s not to say a spreadsheet won’t come in handy, but it’s no substitute for digging deeply to figure out what you need from your suppliers and what they can do for you.
First and most importantly, define the critical factors that will make your company successful. Hint: If your answer is price, quality and service, you aren’t digging deep enough. Instead, ask this: “For product X to succeed, what does it need to do extremely well?” Your supplier criteria should unreservedly mirror these things. Most of that criteria will probably be versions of price, quality and service, along with an “other” category in some cases. But take the time to distill them to specifics.
For example, in my experience in co-launching a fair trade apparel catalog, we decided quality criteria included expertise in ultraconsistent fit control, which is more important than it is for a store retailer. We also needed access to fabric that could be communicated in written words rather than through touch. For example, Pima cotton communicates softness.
While it’s critical that your supplier works with lower minimum order quantities if you’re a small business, it’s less important for your supplier to chase fashion trends quickly because this isn’t a competitive advantage for the company. The “other” criteria in this case are fair trade standards of worker living wages.
Since price will never be the primary reason for market success in this business, don’t include it on your supplier search radar. A fair and reasonable price is of course important, but don’t lead with it or you’ll divert the supplier search away from what’s truly important to succeed.