Barista Magazine

APR-MAR 2014

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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Which Vendors Are Right for You? Choose wisely, and they'll be a lot like business partners. By Tracy Allen FINDING THE RIGHT SUPPLIERS for your coffee business in- volves a lot more than scanning a pile of price lists. Your choices depend on a wide range of factors such as value, quality, reliability, and ser- vice. Ideally, vendors offer products or services that match or exceed the needs of your coffeehouse or roastery. Keep your specific business needs in mind along with what you want to achieve, rather than being tempted by sales pitches that don't match your requirements. Also, be attuned to the difference between a strategic supplier, who provides goods or services that are essential to your business (i.e. cof- fee!), and nonstrategic suppliers, who provide low-value supplies like business cards. You will need to spend much more time selecting and managing the former group than the latter. H o w m a n y v e n d o r s d o y o u n e e d ? Having fewer vendors is an easier situation to manage, and probably more cost-effective, too. Your business will be more important to them than one from whom you only order a few items. If you've got a rush or- der, your suppliers will be more likely to go the extra mile if you spend $1,000 a month with them, rather than if you spend $200. But it's also worth having an alternative supply source ready to help in difficult times. This is particularly important with regard to suppliers that are strategic to your business's success. Start the selection process by building a short list of potential sup- pliers from a variety of sources. Personal referrals, business advisors, trade shows, trade association lists—and, of course, trade press—can help you find them and begin the decision-making process. The saying, "a friend of a friend is a friend of mine," holds true in this case. Vendors who have worked successfully with and earned the trust of colleagues you respect are likely deserving of your trust, as well. Wherever possible, meet a potential supplier face-to-face and see how their business operates. When building your short list, ask yourself: t Can these suppliers deliver what you want (value, speed of service, etc.), when you want it? Remember that price isn't everything. If you buy cheaply, but end up letting down your customers, they'll look elsewhere. t Is this vendor well-established and financially secure? (A credit check can tell you.) t Do you know anyone who has used and can recommend them? t Are they on any approved-supplier lists from trade associations or government? t What are their ethics on labor and sourcing? (Your business may be judged by your suppliers.) S e t t i n g t e r m s a n d b u i l d i n g t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p Like any relationship, vendor partnerships are built on trust, respect, and communication. Both parties must clearly articulate themselves to arrive at a mutual understanding of wants, needs, and results. Once you've settled on the suppliers you'd like to work with, you can move on to negotiating terms and conditions. It's worth asking potential suppliers to give you a set price in writing, for say, three- month contract. You can also ask about discounts for long-term or high-volume contracts. While you want your suppliers to show how important your business is by their providing the best service possible, you have a hand in cre- ating this response. Too often customers relegate their relationships with vendors to a "do what we tell you" model. Time and time again, however, vendors identify their most valuable clients as those who keep the lines of communication free and clear, and provide them with timely information on decisions that will affect their services. Vendors often can make a valuable contribution to the decision-making process when it involves their area of expertise. Another behavior that can put you on a vendor's favorites list of cus- tomers is giving them some freedom to exercise their own judgment and experience in providing you with goods and services. After all, you hired them to do a specific task, something in which they are experts. Letting go of your need to be in control and allowing vendors to "do their thing" requires trust. If you can't build that trust, you and your vendors will both be running in place, rather than moving forward. One of the more obvious things vendors appreciate, but often don't get enough of, is returned phone calls and e-mails—sooner rather than later. It's understandable that you're swamped with the day-to-day du- ties of running your business, but delaying replies to vendors can put you lower on their priority list. If you're late in getting back to them, you're sending the message that they don't need to be quick in getting back to you. Of course, as the adage goes, trust and respect are earned. By the time you start actually working with your vendor, your mutual trust should already be established through preliminary meetings and re- views of the vendor's previous work. Building a vendor relationship may require some additional effort by you and your staff, but the potential benefits can far outweigh the extra time. When you have a great relationship with a vendor, they become an extension of your team, which can result in new opportunities, savings, and benefits. In essence, your success is your vendors' success. Well-selected, re- liable vendors with proven records of high performance certainly can help you succeed—but you in turn must put effort into building a solid working relationship with them, one that can evolve beyond the simple services rendered into a true business partnership. The ideal for both parties is a long-term relationship, through good and bad economic trends, and is based on communication and trust. 84 barista magazine B o o k 5 5 - 8 8 . i n d d 8 4 Book 55-88.indd 84 3 / 1 9 / 1 4 1 0 : 1 0 P M 3/19/14 10:10 PM

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