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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.

Entrepreneur

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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.

 

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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How to Guides

The 10 Commandments of Social Entrepreneurship

How does a business, with a definitive social drive, practically draw the tricky equilibrium and make a difference without sacrificing the bottom line? by Lisa Illingworth, CEO and co-founder of educational start-up Futureproof and Development Sector Consultant for Evolve, Silvia De Jager.

Silvia De Jager

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social-entrepreneurship

The emergence of social enterprises on to the business landscape of the South African economy is often a point of contention due to the seemingly conflicting driving factors of philanthropy versus profit. However, there are many businesses that are underpinned by solving problems for the benefit of society at large and out of this has arisen this area of entrepreneurship.

The Gibbs Social Enterprises in South Africa Report released in 2018, give interesting insight into the growing application of this business model in the South African context but they note, as most social entrepreneurs will have first hand experience of, there is a subtle but very real balance to be struck between purpose and profit. How does a business, with a definitive social drive, practically draw the tricky equilibrium and make a difference without sacrificing the bottom line?

1. Do your research

Ensure you know your market, understand their needs and don’t make assumptions. Social enterprises are much more complex than your regular business and require a lot more research. They have various customer sets, that are either direct or indirect and blending those in operations that meet those expectations is a delicate dance.

“In FutureProof,” comments Lisa Illingworth, CEO and co-founder of FutureProofSA. “We don’t define our customer sets based on what they are prepared to pay for, but rather on what problem we are solving and for whom. This means that the children, their parents, the schools and the management, our coaches as well as those in the corporate space all have various needs and expectations of how those are met. Thus, we have 5 different types of customers and we sell a variety of solutions to each of these, even though some are paying directly for our services.”

2. Remember it’s a business

You want to achieve social impact, but your priority is to ensure you make enough revenue to not only sustain the social enterprise, but to also allow for growth. As a business, you should instil good business practices such as processes, financial planning, legal structures and governance.

A social enterprise is a lot like the human body, if you feed it only enough to survive, growth will be stinted. Give the body more than what it needs to function for the day and growth will be proportional. Don’t sacrifice your profit at the altar of purpose.

3. Allow for flexibility

Have a flexible mindset. When the market is changing, you won’t survive staying the same. If your solution is no longer addressing the problem you are trying to solve, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. How you adapt is important and getting regular feedback from those you are serving as well as those who are paying- whether they are one in the same person or not.

Just because you are doing good work in your own mind, creating a transparent feedback loop, will prevent your business from being infatuated with the vision despite the market losing interest in your solution.

4. Take calculated risks

Be prepared to take risks but do your homework first. This is how you learn and grow both as a business and as an individual. Which means having the mechanisms and people in place to collect the data necessary to take informed steps towards opportunities aligned with the purpose of the business but not at the expense of still turning a profit.

You will never know every risk and it’s potential upsides or downsides, but having enough information that is unbiased can help make better business decisions and maintain both impact and shareholder value.

5. Focus on sustainability

sustainability

Keep your eye on remaining sustainable at all times. Keep in mind that sustainability is not only financial, it includes your operations and programmes. Socially minded entrepreneurs often make head decisions with their hearts and end up with an operationally capital-heavy structure. Hiring people based on contract positions and keeping overheads flexible will ensure that as your opportunities fluctuate, so the business can adapt accordingly and weather the famine times but grow in the seasons of abundance.

6. Have a clear mission

Have clarity on your purpose and how your business will achieve it. Ensure you have a strong Theory of Change for how you will create and deliver your social impact and develop an ability to clearly communicate it to everyone, both inside and outside of your business. This will also keep you, your team and your business from getting sucked into solving all the social sicknesses that exist in the area that you practice.

7. Network

Widen your circle. Support can include conferences, business networks, fellowships, mentorships, workshops, training, incubation and shared workspaces. Don’t focus on simply expanding your social circle into those in similar fields but look outside to those with varying perspectives, yet aligned in values and culture with your organisation.

8. Build a strong team

There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Don’t ever assume you can do it alone. Invest in a team that can support you, both on a personal and professional level and ensure that they are not only focused on the purpose of the business, but the way in which the purpose is achieved.

Ensure you are being coached in both a personal and professional capacity so as to maintain the momentum for yourself and your team.

9. No Grit – No Pearl

pearl

You have to possess grit — perseverance and passion is essential and will get you a very long way. The refining of this business model is more complicated as the numbers may not be the only measure of success. Know what good looks like for your business and be prepared to have the hard conversations to refine your offering to meet both an impact measure as well as a profit measure.

10. Enjoy the journey

You chose this journey because you wanted to make a positive difference in the world. It’s not going to be plain sailing, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun. Learn to enjoy the process and glean as many lessons as you can, from all sources, in the shortest time frame possible. Entrepreneurship is too hard, not to learn from the mistakes of others.

Finding that healthy tension between serving a purpose and making a profit is complicated and yet possible. One of the major benefits of running a social enterprise is that people are drawn to working in these types of businesses over those strictly increasing shareholder value. Employees feel as though they are serving something more than just making themselves and others rich, as long as the balance can be maintained with a constant activity of business introspection.

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How to Guides

How To Start A Car Dealership

Below are some tips on how to start.

Amy Galbraith

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car-dealership

If you are passionate about cars, then starting a car dealership might sound like the perfect business opportunity for you. You will be able to be your own boss and you can spend time around products that excite you, such as Nissan Qashai used cars, or luxury pre-owned cars, and used cars for business owners. But, you might not know where to start when planning your car dealership business.

If you want to open a franchise there are steps to follow. All car dealers need to have the correct documents in order when applying for buying and selling rights of cars, and you need to have the service history of all cars for sale on your lot. Interested in opening your own dealership or becoming part of a franchise?

Do your research

Before you jump right in to finding the perfect location for your car franchise or business, it is important to perform some market research into the industry. The first step is determining the demand for your particular service, which is providing used or second-hand cars for sale to the public.

Look at how many cars have been sold in your town recently, assuming that most people are willing to travel up to 16km to find a car. This might show you that in your area, up to 100 000 cars have been sold in a year. This is a significant demand, which will mean that your business model is a viable choice. Find out which people prefer used cars over the pre-owned vehicle options to further help your decisions.

Create a business plan

Once you have performed your research, it is time to create a business plan. You need a business plan to show any prospective franchisees and franchisors or for explaining to your lender exactly what you want to do with your car dealership business. It should include your initial and ongoing costs as well as what your working capital is.

The most important part of your business plan will be the cars themselves. For example, will you be selling new, used, or pre-owned vehicles? Will you be focusing on one brand or offering multiple brands? Answer these questions first and remember to include costing for salaries, lease agreements, and other business costs. Another important part of your business plan include how you will raise money to repay any loans or finance agreements you might have.

Have the right documents

After finalising your business plan, you should do some research into what documents you need to continue. In South Africa, this includes a dealer’s license which allows you to legally buy and sell cars to the public. It ensures that all of your business activities fall under the consumer rights and protection act.

You will also need to have documentation showing that you are leasing or own the property you will be operating from. You should look into a surety bond, which will protect you from any damages to the property. Speak to your lender about the other documents that you need for a franchise agreement, as these might be slightly different from what is required for a normal dealership. Also be sure to provide the correct documents to those you are purchasing used cars from.

Investigate inventory opportunities

The most important aspect of owning a car dealership is, of course, having cars to sell. This means that you will need investigate inventory opportunities, such as going to bank auctions to find cars that you can bid on and then resell at a fair price, or you could offer to purchase used cars from people who need to sell them and then resell these after much needed repairs and sprucing up.

You should always keep your budget in mind when purchasing inventory, as it can become costly if you are continuously running over-budget on purchases. This is when it is important to keep your business plan in mind as it will show you exactly how much you have to spend on inventory so that you can stick to this budget. If you would like to appeal to those who have discerning taste, you should remember that luxury vehicles might cost more than others.

Don’t forget about marketing

Once you have done your research, drawn up a business plan, and found all of your inventory, start working on marketing your business. Invest your money in a company that can help you to reach your audience by using modern digital tactics as well as traditional techniques of marketing. Remember to have the right documents together so that everything is legal and above board before you open your doors. Soon your car dealership will be booming and you will be helping people to find the cars of their dreams.

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How to Guides

Got An Awesome New Business Idea? Here’s What To Do Next

If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, the first step is to focus on two questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘Who?’

Syed Balkhi

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Business Idea

Do you constantly have great business ideas which fall to the wayside because you just don’t know how to turn those daydreams into reality? If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, that’s probably because you don’t know what to do next.

Around 550 000 people, according to the Kauffman start-up index, become entrepreneurs each month and you could be one of them. While there’s no guaranteed formula to starting a successful business, there are steps to take in the planning phase that will not only help you determine if your business idea has what it takes but help you get the ball rolling, too.

Sound like you? Here’s what to do next.

Determine the “why” and the “who”

The first step to take after you’ve come up with a new business idea is to concentrate on the “why” and “who” of it. You may think you’ve thought up an awesome idea, but your business won’t be successful if you don’t know the real reasons behind why it’s a good solution, and whom it would be a good solution for.

Start to really think about what problem your business idea solves. Your business may solve a problem for you, but does it solve a problem for others? If nobody else has the problem that your business proposes a solution for, then who will buy that solution?

After you’ve taken a deep dive into why your business is needed in the first place, determine who will be the target audience of your business. Think about the demographics of your target audience, what’s important to these people and how you will reach them. You can use a free tool like Hubspot’s Make My Persona to get detailed about who your ideal customers are. A business isn’t a business without customers, after all.

Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!

Search for similar solutions

No business idea is 100 percent unique; there will always be businesses out in the world that are similar to yours. So, don’t sweat it if there are companies doing what you do; in fact, that proves there’s a market for what you do. What you do have to think about is who your competition will be, what exactly they are providing and what you will do differently or better than they do.

To stand out from the competition, you will need to know what sets you apart. Start doing research on the companies that could become your competition. Look at how much they charge, who their target audience is and how they market to them, to name just a few research points. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but do look at what these companies are lacking in and how you can improve upon those areas in your business, so that you capture their customers.

Talk to your potential customers

Similar to your efforts to study your potential competition should be your effort to study potential customers. Get out there and start talking with your target audience. See if your product or service is something they would use, find out how much they would pay for it and ask what comparable product or business they’re using now to solve the problem.

You could even get super in-depth and ask people to fill out a survey providing answers that will help you get to know your audience even better. Even negative feedback about your business idea can help you refine your idea.

Lock down the details of your business

Coming up with a new business idea is exciting; your mind is probably buzzing with lots of plans and designs – maybe too many. So, sit back and lock down the finer details of your business. Will you be offering a product or a service? How much will it cost? How will you be marketing your business? You need to know your new business concept inside and out before you launch. A great and easy way to organise your thoughts is to use a business plan software like LivePlan.

Also, if you haven’t named your business yet, now’s the time to do it. Do some brainstorming and come up with a name that no one else has already taken.

Related: 20 Quick Money-Making Business Ideas

Determine the “how”

After you’ve worked out all the details of your future business, the next step is to figure out how to turn your dream into a reality. Obviously starting a business costs quite a bit of money, so that’s one of the major “how” factors you need to consider. Decide if you’ll talk to investors, take out a loan, or maybe even start a Kickstarter campaign.

Determine everything you’ll need to get your business up and running. For instance, if you’re offering a product, how will you build it and how much money will it cost? This last step is one of the most important in order to take your business from out of your head and into the real world.

Over to you

What are you waiting for? By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to starting your very own company. If you take the time to plan out your new business idea, you won’t just build a business, you’ll build a successful one.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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