The Bed Expert talks supplier relationships

Vic Smith, owner of independent beds retailer Vic Smith Beds, talks about the relationship between retailer and suppliers, and when to know if a relationship has turned sour.

We sell beds, but in this instance, it really doesn’t matter if it’s beds, furniture, carpets or washing machines. What I’m going to talk about this month is to any shop or retailer.

To set the scene, you’re selling a product to a customer in one of your stores and for this to work well you need to have a good relationship with your suppliers or manufacturers. If your suppliers and manufacturers do not work with you, then you need to knock them on the head and find someone else – in my case, that’s beds.

If manufacturers keep letting you down with a bad drawer or forgetting to put the casters in the bed, don’t get funny or throw your toys out the pram. The first time this happens, and it does happen – it’s the real world, you should aim be ahead of this and have some spares, so if a caster breaks or a customer misplaces it when they move house you can give them a spare one. Problem solved = happy customer and they will remember you when they’re buying another bed or product.

Admittedly, in my field you might have to wait 10 years but what we do if a customer needs a replacement part, we will get them to email us a picture then this reaffirms that we have their email and that they have bought goods from us and they have opened up a dialogue with us. Of course, we will email them to come and collect the castor – the castors are all well and good but we will also email other offers too.

What do we do if a manufacturer gets funny or awkward and we’ve all definitely come across this in our industry where you have a manufacturer with a broom up their rear end and gets petty. Well, my answer is you give them two chances. After the second, if it’s not sorted out, then you should drop them like a hot cake and you don’t give them a third chance. Meanwhile, you look at who else can supply you the same goods at the same price and the same delivery times. Do your homework and remember you work for your company not theirs and that you sell their goods to your customers backed by you!

Without naming names, let me give you a great example. We sell a certain bed from a certain company that has recently been bought out and has new management. I’ve been dealing with them for so many years I’ve lost count but now the finance person has the same finesse as a pit bull being stung by a bee and when you pay a bill out of sync, they are so aggressive, which is unnecessary.

Now, you have to remember they represent their company and if they are overstepping, you need to politely tell them, and then once you have someone else’s product in place, drop them. But be sure to tell them why you have dropped them. Not because you’re getting revenge, not because it will make you feel better with a big smile while drinking an extra cup of coffee. Tell them why are you dropping them so that hopefully they will learn a valuable lesson because if all the customers do the same, they have no business – nothing, and that may be a little bit unfair on the rep or agent and definitely the staff that have been there for years. My old boss used to tell me to ring round other people in the industry that sold their goods. I think that’s a little bit underhand and unnecessary. You just need to focus on your business and that your suppliers are treating you the right way – it is a two-way street. They are not God and neither are you. Every retailer needs suppliers but every supplier needs retailers so when they get it right, thank them because they’re helping your business if they do their job properly. If they’re not, then you are actually hampering your own business.

Remember, it’s a two-way street – so at Christmas we very often send chocolates to all of our suppliers and personalise it to the person on the work bench making our goods, from sales, right down to grass roots level. It doesn’t go unnoticed either and goes a long way to strengthening relationships too.

What are your supplier relationships like?

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