Move past rivalries
Casual Living Staff -- Casual Living, April 3, 2013
Mongoose/cobra, Hatfields/Mccoys, buyers/vendors - these are some of the most notorious enemies on the planet. Buyers and vendors seem to be on opposite sides of the sales process, with seemingly the buyers being on the arrogant, hurried and stressed side and the vendors being the sneaky, uncaring and pushy other side.
I'm not sure when these two sides started to oppose and take advantage of each other, but I feel it's been happening for a long time before we started in this industry. I have been reading a book, Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh of Zappos. com. I really enjoy hearing of success stories about businesses of all types. Inside the section on customer service is a small portion about buyers and vendors. Zappos is very intentional on how they treat their vendors as a valued part of their team. Here is a snippet from Fred Mossler, senior VP of merchandising, on vendor relations:
"The typical industry approach is to treat vendors like the enemy. Show them no respect, don't return their phone calls, make them wait for scheduled appointments, and make them buy the meals. Scream at them, blame them, abuse them ... anything to get as much as possible and squeeze out every last dime." He goes on to say, "It's a wonder people don't realize that business doesn't have to be done this way. Ultimately, each party is out for the same thing: to take care of the customers, grow the business and be profitable. In the long run, it doesn't behoove either party if there's only one winner." Here is the result that they wanted to achieve: "We wanted Zappos to be different by creating collaborative relationships in which both parties share the risks, as well as the rewards. We found it much easier to create alliances when partners align themselves to the same vision and commit to accountability, knowing we'll all benefit from achieving our goals."
I have had the pleasure to be on both sides of the buying/selling coin. My business career began right out of college as a music buyer of a retail chain in Denver. I was visited throughout the year from various vendors selling their music and clothing lines. I quickly recognized the vendors who were just trying to "sell me" and the ones genuinely interested in my company and customers. I was able to create some friendships with vendors that are still going on today.
From my experience as buyer, I accepted a position of sales and marketing at one of the vendors that provided product to my stores. I moved to Nashville, Tenn., and worked at a record label with a sales territory of four states in the Midwest. The more customers that I spoke with showed me how uneasy many buyers are when dealing with vendors. I believe vendors have themselves to blame for some of these apprehensions. Some vendors are very pushy and add a classic "used car salesman" mentality.
I believe buyers and vendors can break out of the routine that we have all accepted as the norm. Buyers are put under a microscope daily as they are pressured for higher margins and finding the "best-seller" for the upcoming season. It's a very difficult position to be in for anyone and so in turn many buyers take out their frustration on the vendors. The vendors in turn feel pressure to sell in this unbalanced economy. They call and email and then call again. They appear pushy and as a nuisance to the buyer.
Want to change the adversarial relationship?
As a buyer, look for a vendor/partner that achieves the following:
1. They go all out to find you the product that you desire.
2. Provide the quality level your customers expect.
3. Price that allows your margins to grow.
4. They respect and want you to succeed.
5. Someone that you genuinely like to work with on an ongoing basis.
A quality vendor in turn is looking for the following:
1. Good communication with a buyer.
2. Mutual respect for each other and their time.
3. Seeking a win/win for both sides.
4. The buyer also wants to see success for the vendor.
If vendors are given the information needed from the buyer, they can offer real solutions to "your specific customer base" and not just push the "hot item" that every huge box store is buying.
Speaking for the indoor/outdoor living category, I have hope for our industry to continue to grow and find new solutions for customers to enjoy their lives using our products. There are a lot of great buyers and sellers out there, but there is a lot of work to accomplish before the system really works smoothly and is beneficial to all.
Roger W. Garringer