Beyond the Spreadsheet
It’s easy to be blinded by love and to bark up the wrong tree. At times a supplier will look like a dream come true in terms of responsiveness and track record, and will even produce great references. However, you don’t want it to produce what it has done in the past, but something similar. Watch for verbal and nonverbal clues that indicate you might be pushing the envelope for it.
Consider this apparel example: You may find a shirt maker that you like on every level. It makes men’s shirts, but you really need women’s shirts. When you ask about this, the vendor uses the phrase “we could” or “that should be no problem.” These answers are your cue to do more homework. Have the vendor make some samples. Lay out your concerns head on, and ask the vendor to address them point by point.
Another common mistake is often referred to as “loving a supplier to death.” When a brand-new supplier executes flawlessly, it’s a very happy day. Your natural inclination is to reward its good performance with more business. But be careful — it’s not uncommon for a supplier to go from superstar to problem child in a matter of months by being overloaded with new product development.
In one case I recall, an apparel company was ecstatic with the performance of a new supplier that produced three styles, exceeding expectations on all levels. The next production season, this supplier was “rewarded” with orders for 20 new products, but failed spectacularly. Be good to yourself and your new star supplier by developing business deliberately.
Finally, once you’re using a supplier regularly, keep the relationship healthy by sharing more than just sales figures and inspection reports. Intimate details can be very powerful tools to reward or change performance.