Make Friends With Your Office Supply Store

Forging strong relationships with your office supply store can be essential to the success of your company. Like any relationship you need to build and strengthen that relationship. You may only see yourself as a customer and them as a supplier but your relationship can be much more than that. You may say that there are other suppliers out there and that may well be true but will starting all over give you more value or less. Also if you do a lot of business with other small office equipment suppliers will a larger company appreciate you as much as the smaller supplier?

Relationship building – an evolving process

Relationship building in business is never ending and it starts on the first day of your business. Whatever business you are in you will need office equipment suppliers of one sort or another. Everyone you purchase something from regardless of whether it's a product or service is a form of supplier. Now obviously some office suppliers will only require limited contact, and going to your local office supply store and buying something won't provide opportunities to build a meaningful relationship but plenty of opportunities will present themselves.

Opportunities to build relationships present themselves in many forms

Many opportunities will come through phone calls with your sales representatives. This can turn into sit down meetings with them. Many times they'll come to the office for a visit. It helps to get friendly with the sales reps that come to visit. And whether you need something from them or not ask them to drop buy. The better they get to know you the more they might appreciate the business you do with them. Especially if they've worked for the same company for many years.

Always make it a point to show them around your office. This will familiarize them with what you do and where you are going. Let them know how much you appreciate working with them and how they are important for your business. Suppliers are your partners and with their help your business can thrive.

You do need to remember that you're still their customer and they will look out for their own best interests first just as you would yours. So when you are on the lookout for new suppliers especially in the first months of your company's existence you need to be diligent in making your choice. Especially if they're going to be critical to your existence by supplying something you have to have that few companies offer.

So you need to realize that just as your relationship with your customers is important so to is the relationship with your suppliers. Because when you need something in a hurry, or you need to stretch a payment out a little, or you have a large job that won't pay for awhile and you need special terms they'll be more willing to listen to you if they know you by more than a customer number. In business every relationship is important.

Clearly define your supplier relationship goals

The best place to start on building a solid vendor relationship foundation is to know what you want to accomplish with your office equipment supplier and their relationships. Define your approach to supplier relations clearly within your business organization through your strategic plan development. A thorough iterative strategic plan for your business organization that includes initiatives necessary to promote good supplier relations is a must. Don't stop there! Cascade your strategic initiatives into ethical policies, procedures and practices throughout the organization so that you build a culture around good relations. Make sure everyone knows, understands, and is committed to adopting and practicing the strategic concepts supporting good vendor relations. Consider using a documented positioning statement requiring attestation such as a Office Supplier Code, Supplier Affirmation, or Supplier Ethics publication.

Evaluate your supplier selection process

Once your business organization's strategic intentions are clearly defined and cascaded throughout the organization, evaluate your office supply store selection processes. Vendor selection processes should be driven by selection guidelines and methodologies divided into two components, general and specific criteria. General criteria apply to any supplier and would include evaluation components such background reviews of financial performance, references, litigation history, principle leadership, and industry information.

From a relationship standpoint, here are a few key points to remember during your office equipment supplier evaluation and selection:

  • Does the supplier have a clearly defined strategy for client relationships that goes beyond an organization chart and hierarchical account executive and sales representative assignments?
  • Do key executives for the supplier make their contact information available to you in addition to the assigned account executive or sales executive?
  • Does the supplier have a mechanism to periodically evaluate customer satisfaction and remediate any areas of concern?
  • Does the supplier make an effort to know about your business and your industry?
  • Is the supplier willing to go beyond the scope of your agreement to provide meaningful recommendations to your organization that can help build revenue or cut costs?
  • Does the supplier extend an open invitation to visit or tour their home office and or remote locations?

All of these are questions designed to help you determine if your office equipment supplier is "vested" in the business relationship beyond the clinical terms of your agreement and willing to embrace the opportunity for a healthy business relationship.

Negotiate and agreement

The next step is to negotiate an agreement with the business office supplier. Never accept their standard agreement at face value. Negotiate the basic terms of your agreement and let the legal staff's of both organizations build a binding contract that includes the basic terms of your negotiated agreement and reflects each organization's values toward vendor/client relationships. Many of the contract terms are customary, mechanical in nature, and include NDA's, cost schedules, prescribed duration of service(s), SLA's, performance rewards and penalties, and specific deliverables. Too often, the sensational wording of the mechanical and legal aspects of a contract take precedent and relationship tactics place second - if at all - to the necessary legal tedium required to pin down deliverables. Each of the mechanical and relationship agreements are equally important to a defining a healthy supplier/client relationship.

It always helps to define and commit to initiatives that cultivate the business relationship on an ongoing basis. Don't wait until there is trouble to begin this effort. Invitations to be involved in supplier sponsored user groups, slotted invitations to supplier/client annual meetings, and advanced notice on product developments. These agreements represent a forward looking and proactive effort toward client satisfaction and healthy vendor relations. Taking preventive actions like these can prevent difficulties and reduce costs. Contract language should also delineate constructive and cost effective approaches to problem remediation including supplier/client negotiations and structured arbitration options as a means to civilly resolve problems and preempt costly and damaging litigation. A litigious solution is the absolute last resort and can signal the end of any hope at restoring vendor/client relations.

The real value of being friends with the supplier

Why bother putting so much effort into forming a great relationship with your office supply store? The reason is that the investment is worth more than the cost of a bad decision. It only takes one explosive ethical issue or one costly litigious engagement to realize the value represented by investing in good vendor relations. Treat your relationships as valued partnerships in the pursuit of accomplishing your business organization's strategic mission. Include language in your business organization's value statements that respect and embrace vendors as well as your industry, your customers and your community. You and your suppliers are a mutual extension of each other. So, be careful to enter into relationships that represent a good alignment of values, business objectives, and mutual cooperation which will reflect well on both the office supply store and client.