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How to Find and Work With Suppliers

Whether you’re looking for raw materials for manufacturing or finished products to resell, this guide will help you find and forge great relationships with suppliers.

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Suppliers are essential to almost every business. Without raw materials to make what you sell or manufacturers to provide what you resell, you will have a tough time growing. There are also many supplies and services your business consumes as part of general overhead, from paper clips to Internet access.

Suppliers and vendors-the terms are used interchangeably here-can do much more than merely supply you with the materials and services you need to do business. They can also be important sources of information, helping you evaluate the potential of new products, track competitors’ actions and identify promising opportunities. Vendors can turn into partners, helping you cut costs, improve product designs and even fund new marketing efforts. If you don’t make selecting good suppliers and vendors a part of your growth plan, you’re likely to regret it.

Evaluating Your Supplier

Suppliers can be divided into four general categories. They are:

  1. Manufacturers. Most retailers buy through company salespeople or independent representatives who handle the wares of several different companies. Prices from these sources are usually lowest unless the retailer’s location makes shipping freight costly.
  • Distributors. Also known as wholesalers, brokers or jobbers, distributors buy in quantity from several manufacturers and warehouse the goods for sale to retailers. Although their prices are higher than a manufacturer’s, they can supply retailers with small orders from a variety of manufacturers. (Some manufacturers refuse to fill small orders.) A lower freight bill and quick delivery time from a nearby distributor often compensates for the higher per-item cost.
  • Independent craftspeople. Exclusive distribution of unique creations is frequently offered by independent craftspeople who sell through reps or at trade shows.
  • Import sources. Many retailers buy foreign goods from a domestic importer, who operates much like a domestic wholesaler. Or, depending on your familiarity with overseas sources, you may want to travel abroad to buy goods.

What Makes a Good Supplier?

A lot of growing companies focus on one trait of their suppliers: price. And price certainly is important when you are selecting suppliers to accompany you as you begin growing your business. But there’s more to a supplier than an invoice-and more to the cost of doing business with a supplier than the amount on a purchase order. Remember, too, that suppliers are in business to make money. If you go to the mat with them on every bill, ask them to shave prices on everything they sell to you, or fail to pay your bills promptly, don’t be surprised if they stop calling.

After price, reliability is probably the key factor to look for in suppliers. Good suppliers will ship the right number of items, as promised, on time so that they arrive in good shape. Sometimes you can get the best reliability from a large supplier. These companies have the resources to devote to backup systems and sources so that, if something goes wrong, they can still live up to their responsibilities to you. However, don’t neglect small suppliers.

If you’re a large customer of a small company, you’ll get more attention and possibly better service and reliability than if you are a small customer of a large supplier. You should also consider splitting your orders among two smaller firms. This can provide you with a backup as well as a high profile.

Stability is another key indicator. You’ll want to sign up with vendors who have been in business a long time and have done so without changing businesses every few years. A company that has long-tenured senior executives is another good sign, and a solid reputation with other customers is a promising indicator that a company is stable. When it comes to your own experience, look for telltale signs of vendor trouble, such as shipments that arrive earlier than you requested them-this can be a sign of a supplier that is short on orders and needs to accelerate cash receipts.

Don’t forget location. Merchandise ordered from a distant supplier can take a long time to get to you and generate added freight charges quickly. Find out how long a shipment will take to arrive at your loading dock. If you are likely to need something fast, a distant supplier could present a real problem. Also, determine supplier freight policies before you order. If you order a certain quantity, for instance, you may get free shipping. You may be able to combine two or more orders into one and save on freight. Even better, find a comparable supplier closer to home to preserve cost savings and ordering flexibility.

Finally, there’s a grab bag of traits that could generally be termed competency. You’ll want suppliers who can offer the latest, most advanced products and services. They’ll need to have well-trained employees to sell and service their goods. They should be able to offer you a variety of attractive financial terms on purchases. And they should have a realistic attitude toward you, their customer, so that they’re willing and eager to work with you to grow both your businesses.

Changing Your Supplier Relationships?

You may not need to find new suppliers to get a new deal. You can usually get discounts, obtain improved service and receive other features you need by making a request of your current suppliers-although it may not be as simple as merely asking. Here are some of the options and negotiating strategies for turning mediocre suppliers into top-shelf ones.

  1. Getting discounts. If you walk into a department store and purchase a pair of shoes, you’ll pay the same price any other shopper would. But business-to-business commerce is more complicated. Businesses that sell to other businesses commonly have a whole range of quoted charges, offering discounts of 50 percent or more depending on the quantity purchased, the terms, the length of the relationship, and other considerations. You may be able to comfortably conform to some of these requirements, qualifying you for a lower price. To find out, ask about discounts and what is necessary to earn them. You may be able to get anything from an interest-free loan in the form of trade credit to a substantial discount for paying early.

  2. Improving service. It is the rare businessperson who knows exactly what is happening in all parts of his company at all times or what is going on with all his customers. You probably don’t, and you shouldn’t assume your suppliers do, either. If you have a service-related problem with a supplier, bring it to someone’s attention. If you don’t get satisfaction, move up the chain of command until you get what you want or are as high in management as you can get. Odds are, someone will be concerned and possess enough authority to remedy the situation. Only if you ask for better service and don’t get it should you sever the relationship.
  3. A better relationship. Not every customer wants to buddy up to suppliers, so the fact that your suppliers aren’t offering to work closely with you to improve quality, reduce defects and cut costs doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to. They may be under the impression that you are the reluctant one. So if you want a tighter working relationship with suppliers, let them know. You may also drop a hint that those who don’t want to work with you may see some of their orders being diverted to those who are more agreeable. Either way, you’ll know whether it’s your supplier’s reluctance, or their perception of your reluctance, that’s getting in the way.

Making a Change?

Having fewer suppliers is usually better than having many vendors. Reducing the number of suppliers you deal with cuts the administrative costs of working with many. Closer relationships with fewer suppliers allow you to work together to control costs. Getting rid of troublesome vendors can quickly increase the efficiency of your purchasing and administrative staffs. So how do you decide when to change vendors? Here are keys areas to consider:

  1. Unreliability. When a vendor’s shipments start arriving consistently late, incomplete, damaged or otherwise incorrectly, it’s time to consider looking for a new one. Every company has problems from time to time, however, so check into the matter before dumping your vendor. Vendors can experience temporary difficulties as a result of implementing a new product line, shipping procedure or training program. If you stick with a vendor through a rugged interval, you may be glad you did. They might be more willing to see you through a future cash flow crunch.

 

  • Lack of cost competitiveness. Sometimes vendors fail to change with their industries. When your vendor’s rivals start coming in with bids for comparable goods that are lower than your existing supplier’s, you need to investigate. Point out the issue to your existing supplier and ask for an explanation. If you don’t like what you hear, it may be time to consider taking some of those offers from competing suppliers.
  • Insularity. Some suppliers will let you visit their plants, talk to their workers, quiz their managers, obtain and interview references, and even examine their financial statements. These are the kinds of suppliers you should seek out. The more you know about your suppliers, the better you can evaluate whether you should continue to do business with them. If they shut you out, perhaps you should cut them off.
  • Extra-sale costs. The number at the bottom of the invoice is only the beginning of the cost of dealing with suppliers. You have to lay out money beforehand to draw up specifications, issue request for proposals, evaluate them, check references, and otherwise qualify your suppliers. You have to place the order, negotiate the terms, inspect the goods when they arrive, and deal with any shortages, damage or other errors. Finally, you may have to train workers to use the newly arrived goods or purchase more equipment and material to make use of them. While some of these costs are inevitable, some are traceable to individual suppliers. If too many costs are being tacked onto the sale prices, check out some other suppliers.

 

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How to Guides

Enterprise Supplier Development (ESD) Provides Opportunity For Entrepreneurs

LFP Training offers ESD support services such as the implementation of sustainable supplier development programmes, profiling and analysis of your supplier database, enabling procurement opportunities for EME’s through collaboration and partnerships and promoting the upskilling of EMEs and facilities the quality of services provided.

Jacolien Botha

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LFP Training’s team spends a lot of time educating businesses on the benefits of BEE. As an entrepreneurial venture, the company understands that you have worked hard to build your brand and as such, BEE should strengthen your position the market.

AJ Jordaan, LFP Training’s National Sales Manager says that while Skills Development remains the most cost-effective, productive and mutually beneficial way to gain points whilst improving the performance of your staff, ESD is too a critical component of the scorecard.

“By partnering with a BEE compliant business, companies can claim additional points towards Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD),” says AJ.

Both ESD and Skills Development initiatives cover large portions of the scorecard in total so it’s vital to score well overall. “Furthermore, ESD is one of the priority elements of BEE and failing to comply with the subminimum requirements will result in your company being discounted a level”.

In a country where entrepreneurship is recognised as a catalyst for growth, ESD helps small businesses to thrive by gaining access to opportunities through its attractive BEE status. “This in turn helps to ensure the sustainability and success of such businesses in South Africa”.

ESD is a combination of preferential procurement, supplier diversity and development and enterprise development programs used to service a business’s needs.

Trading has never been more attractive and ESD contributions can take on many forms. “While some people are still very cynical about BEE, ESD is not based on the value of a contract given to a black business but rather the contributions towards technical help, the transfer of knowledge and skills, operating cash flow, loans and/or investments.”

AJ does warn that while this is a great benefit of being compliant, in an instance where two companies supply the exact same service, the company with the higher BEE recognition will most likely secure the business. “Here, a customer will partner with the company with a higher rating as they earn more points towards preferential procurement under ESD.”

“Today we are seeing some companies penalising a supplier when dropping a level as it influences their scores on ESD so its once again vital to maintain your current BEE level or to improve” AJ continues.

“There are a host of benefits to making sure that businesses align their efforts to compliant businesses, these include; an improved BEE rating, gaining a competitive advantage and reducing costs, supporting a compliant business, a strong and positive association for your business with a compliant business” says AJ.

LFP Training offers ESD support services such as the implementation of sustainable supplier development programmes, profiling and analysis of your supplier database, enabling procurement opportunities for EME’s through collaboration and partnerships and promoting the upskilling of EMEs and facilities the quality of services provided.

Read next: Enterprise Development Programmes For Black Entrepreneurs

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How to Guides

Three Things You Need To Do When Starting A Business

Like a good game of chess, starting a business will challenge you to think about your long-term strategy and also make sure you’re moving the pieces one step at a time in the right direction.

Stacey Ferreira

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Starting a business is a dream job for many people who have a great idea, are willing to tolerate some risk and are looking to be their own boss. While start-ups are often glorified in the news – as some reach extremely high valuations – starting a company is a big undertaking that typically requires grit, perseverance and a little bit of luck along the way.

Over the past few years, I’ve started two companies, sold one and raised over $4 million in venture capital from some of Silicon Valley’s top firms. These companies haven’t been without their challenges, so here are the top three things I wish I knew when I was starting out:

1. Talk To Prospective Customers Before Starting Your Business

The biggest time killer in a start-up is building a product you think a customer needs, only to find out, after you launch your product, that the customer actually needs something else. Before starting my second company, Forge, I recorded over 50 conversations with prospective buyers to learn about their top three problems, how they define success and how much they’d be willing to pay to have product or solution that successfully helps them navigate their problem. These conversations helped me narrow in on building a product I knew customers needed and gave me my first few customers.

Related: Crucial Skills You Need To Be An Entrepreneur

2. Reference Check Investors Like You Reference Check Employees

Sometimes raising money is necessary to get a capital-intensive business off the ground or as a way to spur growth. But raising capital, as with anything, comes with a cost. The cost is giving up future value of your business in the form of equity. Who you give this equity and other rights to – such as a board seat, which is often paired with financing rounds – can have a massive impact on the long-term business outcome.

It might seem daunting to ask a lot of questions of someone who is willing to write a cheque for a few hundred thousand or million dollars (or rands), but it’s extremely necessary.

  • Have they invested before?
  • Who did they invest in?
  • What value did they provide to those entrepreneurs?
  • Do they understand that most start-ups fail and that they might not get their money back?
  • Can they introduce you to a few people they’ve invested in previously – business founders who went through both good and tough times?

Since most successful businesses are around for more than 10 years, it’s important to know who you’re going to be working with.

3. Do Whatever It Takes To Make Sure Your First Three Projects Are Successful

If you decide to raise pre-seed or seed capital for your business, take the money and spend 100% of your time working with your first three clients. I often see entrepreneurs who accept capital and then worry about how they’re going to rapidly grow their company.

In reality, in the early days nothing matters more than making your first three clients extremely happy, so you can use their success stories as case studies. Their testimonials will help you sell to client numbers 4-10, which will in turn help you sell to clients 11-100. Focus on your first three customers and tweaking your product or solution experience. Your company will grow organically from there.

Related: 21 Steps To Start-Up

Bonus: Passion Doesn’t Help You Make Payroll

The first time I had to let go of someone from my team, very early on in my career, my dad said to me, “Passion Doesn’t Help You Make Payroll.” You can have an employee who is extremely passionate about the work you’re doing, but if they can’t contribute to making it a reality, it’s better to let them go and get back to building the business.

Whether it’s conducting customer research, pitching to investors or learning from your first clients, starting a business gives you unmatched flexibility and the ability to truly learn every day.

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How to Guides

Tips On How to Build Your First Ecommerce Business

Starting an ecommerce business is really important in this day and age because everything and everyone is online. With the sheer number of people populating the internet, only an online business can reach out to them.

Megan Harris

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However, having an online business isn’t just about trying to sell things on the internet. There is necessary groundwork needed to avoid any pitfalls.

Making an online business is extremely lucrative because it can tap markets that can hardly be reached by traditional mediums of marketing. In a study by CMO, it was revealed that 72% of millennial shoppers shop online before they go to a mall or store and these people, who are in the age range of 25-34, are heavy smartphone users when it comes to shopping.

With this kind of information, you can really see how effective having an online store is. So, the question here now is how do you start an online business? Here are a few tips on how to go about.

Decide through market research

Like all businesses, you have to fill in a need or a want. Having an online business is no different. You must first ask yourself what is something that people need and want. Next, you have to ask yourself if you can provide that need or want. After that, you must research if your target market can be found on the internet or not. Once you have all of that down, then you can start.

Related: Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

Develop your online presence

The website will always be the frontline of any online business because this is where all customers will end up. Think of your website as like your store but on the internet. If your store is good and accessible, then your customers will like it there.

In order to build a good website, you’ll need two essential things: a website design and a server. For the website design, you may just design one and use a back-office program like WordPress to manage it. If you want to have a nice design, you may hire a professional website designer for it. Next, you have to think about the server. You’ll want a server that performs well because your server will determine how fast your website moves.

If your service provider is not very efficient, then your website won’t load quickly and smoothly. Before deciding which web host to use, be sure to read reviews about it to get more feedback. Once you have these two things, you just need to learn the process of creating your website then you’re good to go.

Develop a content strategy

So after you’ve built yourself a nice looking website, the next step is to fill it up with information. You have to write well and make sure that your text will cater to the market segment that you are targeting. 

Get found through SEO

SEO techniques are directly related to content as SEO relies heavily on modifying text. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and they are techniques used to give your website a good slot in Google or Yahoo. SEO would primarily make use of keywords that people would often search in search engines. If you know how to make use of these keywords, your site will earn top billing on Google if a person searches for something relevant to your site.

Related: 3 Types Of Ecommerce Business Models

Utilise email marketing to find leads

Using email marketing services along with highly targeted database, is a power tool for pushing your website since email marketing is personalised. People, in general, like to feel special so if you send them an email promoting your online business, you may get them to becoming buyers. The best way to go about with email marketing is to find leads and shoot your emails out. 

Make use of paid channels

PPC ads, or Pay Per Click ads, are quick to drive traffic to a website because advertisers pay a fee each time the ad is clicked. In a sense, the advertiser buys views so that traffic will go into the site faster. This is a quick way to get views and eventually single out the target market.

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