Practical Ecommerce

Pros and cons of meeting with suppliers

As I write this, I’m traveling to my home in Austin, Texas from a weeklong trip to visit suppliers. Some are in the U.S. Some are in China. My friends know how much time I spend meeting with suppliers. They often ask why don’t I hire someone for these meetings and these trips.

For me, part of it is the enjoyment of travel — doing exciting things in the places I go. But there are other reasons to visit my suppliers.

Let’s start with why I should not visit my suppliers.

No supplier visits

The primary reason to not visit my suppliers is I do not care about them. I don’t mean to sound harsh. For example, if I am drop shipping from a supplier that is significantly larger than FringeSport, there may be no need to cultivate a relationship. There is presumably little benefit to my business.

This also extends to suppliers that produce off-the-shelf products. If you are buying only from original equipment manufacturers, it doesn’t make much sense to visit them. You can easily send someone on your behalf if you do anything at all.

Another reason to not care much about your suppliers is if you buy mainly on price, such as a commodity or something that has little brand recognition and many options. If you have many potential suppliers and your principal concern is the lowest price, it makes little sense to build an emotional connection with any individual supplier. You’re likely going to switch to another supplier anyway.

Finally, if you don’t care to travel, or to visit with your suppliers and build connections, then you should not do it, or hire someone to do it on your behalf.

Now, why should you visit your suppliers?

Visits are helpful

The main reason to visit suppliers is to build relationships. If you treat suppliers like you’re doing one-time deals, they’re going to treat you in the same way. They will assume there’s no potential for a long-term arrangement, only “How much can this company order? How often? Can it pay?”

However, if you visit the supplier, you can take advantage of emotional bonds. You can cultivate a relationship that may pay dividends. Perhaps the company will work with you on developing a custom product. Perhaps it has an item that you can sell exclusively.

Moreover, if you’re working on complex projects with a supplier, such as developing a product from scratch, it makes a lot of sense to visit. If you’re going to interact over an extended period, a bit of human connection can show the supplier that you take the project seriously.

Another reason to build emotional connections is for what happens down the road. For example, when I was an employee, I built a relationship with a gentleman who sold products to my employer. I worked with him closely for five years.

When I left the company to launch FringeSport, this person came to me and said, to paraphrase, “Peter, you treated me so well throughout all these years. I know you’re going to be successful in your next venture. I’d like to be involved in some way.” His support helped me start FringeSport and make it successful in the early days.

What do you think? How do you manage relationships with your suppliers?

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