How to choose the right suppliers for your business

Dave Jarvis, MD of Albion Bathrooms Kitchens Electricals, offers his advice on how retailers can choose the right suppliers that align with their business

When I started my business 17 years ago there was far less choice of supplier than there is today. I used my industry knowledge to choose the suppliers for my fledgling business, with some success and some failures.

Fast-forward to today’s market and how things have changed. Not only are there more suppliers but each one claims to have competitive advantages over the others. Choosing a new supplier is a minefield.

This article could run to several pages trying to factor in all the different reasons for choosing a particular supplier, so forgive me if there are some missing, but this is my view on ways to choose a supplier as an addition to the range of items you already sell with space already or to replace a non-performing supplier.

Do your research

A potential supplier may be giving you their ‘best’ prices but see if their product is being sold on the internet or through other retail outlets and whether you can compete and make a margin. Are they supplying another showroom close to you with the same product, or can the product be bought through a distributor, thus rendering your ‘exclusivity’ by dealing with the supplier direct null and void? 

Ensure the range of products within a supplier’s portfolio covers all of the bases you need for your target audience. Also, importantly, consider the length of warranty the products have and exactly what the warranty covers. Also, bear in mind how easy it is to get spare parts for these products.

Depending on your business model, check the delivery time from order to supply and whether there is a minimum order value. Then check their after-sales service, how long does it take for them to answer the phone or send out spare parts? Also, ascertain whether their technical department will call your fitter on-site if there is an issue? If you can use a credit agency to peruse their finances, it may give you an insight into how much resource they can muster.

And, don’t just take their word for it, speak to other retailers who already deal with the suppliers you’re considering, to gain valuable understanding of how they operate. 

Secondly, examine their offer. Are the display criteria realistic? Will they fit the displays for you? Do they have plentiful brochures that you can give out to customers? Do any of their ranges overlap with your existing suppliers? Are they keeping up with the latest trends? I’ve also found that the offer must not be too complicated, furniture suppliers with two depths of plinth or myriad handle/basin choices are two that come to mind. 

Thirdly, if you can, visit the company to check their credentials. Meeting the staff at a supplier can be a real eye-opener. Happy, cheerful staff tend to give better service. I’ve also found that during a business tour you get to meet the upper management and learn a bit more about their business, their plans to develop and where they see themselves in a few years’ time. This is most helpful to be able to dovetail them into your expansion plans.

Let supply and profit ensue

Finally, let supply and profit ensue. Will you make the right choice every time even if you follow all or any of the above? The truth is, no, but by completing due diligence you can’t blame yourself if things go pear-shaped. I have made good and bad choices over 17 years and have seen suppliers come and go. You get better with experience, some suppliers still blindside me with their naivety, but we are all human and “let he who is without fault cast the first stone”. 

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