Business > Merchant Voice

A tale of two suppliers

The attitude of some suppliers amazes me. Recently, we have been going to trade shows to find new products. We have been looking for quality, niche suppliers that have higher-value goods, to increase our average sale and margins.

At the trade shows, there were two types of suppliers. There were the ones that spotted us at their stand and made us welcome. They offered us coffee and took the time to show their products. They listened to us and attempted to understand our needs.

Then there were suppliers that were too busy to look up from their phones, to engage with us or anyone else.

As a rule, I do business only with suppliers that show an interest. This year, however, I was persuaded to bend my rule.

At Spring Fair, a U.K.-based event for retail buyers, we found two new suppliers. One offered lovely Disney figures and the other offered Harry Potter wands. The Disney supplier was welcoming; the Harry Potter supplier less so.

Since then, in the last two months, we have ordered three times from the Disney supplier. The goods arrived the next day each time. One item was slightly chipped so we asked for a replacement. The representative apologized for the defect and informed us that the company was out of stock for that item. But, she visited another of her retailer customers and picked up one of the figures and delivered it two days later. It was outstanding customer service.

We have ordered once from the Harry Potter supplier. One item in the order had a slight chip, so we asked for a replacement. The company’s first response was that it was not chipped enough to warrant a replacement. We disagreed. The second response was grudgingly agreeing replace it.

Then, the next day, the company said that it would replace the wand only when it delivers our next order, which we had not placed. It was a startling difference in attitude from the Disney supplier.

I do not understand suppliers that treat their retailers poorly. It cannot be good for business. Some suppliers seem to think that it is good practice to play hardball with their customers. But a good retailer knows that it is much better to keep a customer happy, to get repeat sales.

When we have a unhappy customer, we look at the problem from her point of view and try to find a solution that is not just acceptable, but outstanding. Some customers are impossible to please — you have to know when to cut your losses. But most are worth investing in to keep. A happy customer is a repeat customer — one who may well recommend others to you. An unhappy customer will not order again and may also tell others to avoid you.

It is the same for the relationship between retailers and their suppliers. We are the customers here, and we should be treated in the same way as we treat our own customers. After all, if we sell a product with a hidden flaw, we have to stand by it and replace it when the customer complains. We would naturally expect the supplier to back us up.

This is why I was wrong to allow an exception to my rule of doing business only with suppliers that show an interest in us. The Harry Potter supplier showed little interest in us at Spring Fair. If that supplier is difficult regarding replacements when we first received the delivery, I cannot imagine it will get easier resolving problems in the coming weeks.

In other words, delivering outstanding service to your customers starts with demanding outstanding service from your suppliers. For my company, we will be looking for alternative suppliers of Harry Potter figures.

Richard Stubbings
Richard Stubbings
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