A supplier’s perspective

Ripples managing director Paul Crow tells how he invited one of his suppliers to give their perspective on their relationship

We tend to push our suppliers quite hard and often remind them that the demands we place upon them are significantly less harsh than our own customers would place on us.

We have always seen ourselves in partnership with our suppliers and I do hope that, in our quest to deliver a high-quality product and service, we maintain the right professional and personal relationship with them.

It was therefore only right that we sought a supplier’s view of the world at our recent conference at Cliveden Hotel in Taplow – and who better to ask than managing director for Hansgrohe UK, Martin Mongan.

Everyone in the industry has heard of Hansgrohe, most know Martin, and generally the view is very positive about the company, the product and the people. What we were interested in though, was how it does it, what it is doing to get better and what we could learn from it.

It would seem its starting position was to quite simply ask the customer what they wanted. Seems straightforward, but I will admit it is the only company ever to have asked us formally what it does well and what it could do better.

Martin wouldn’t thank me for sharing the specifics, so I won’t, but he was very open on its strengths and weaknesses and opened up the book to all our franchisees on what it was doing about developing both.

Off the back of one objective, it identified how it needed to invest more in training its staff differently, so that they in turn could train their different types of customer better. It even resorted to methods and practices used by the New Zealand All-Blacks (read the book Legacy by James Kerr was the advice).

Hansgrohe has also invested in a new showroom. All Ripples sales people have visited it and all have commented on the quality of the training. For those not able to get to the training centre, or even the factory, Hansgrohe put a training vehicle on the road and took it to them. It went back to basics with traditional ‘employee of the year awards’ and made sure the team had some fun and didn’t just push KPI targets.

When asked what it didn’t do well, we received a brutally honest answer – consumer marketing. Ripples spends more money telling consumers to visit our showrooms than Hansgrohe – and that’s not right. What was refreshing, though, was that significant sales growth had been achieved through the culling of dealers that were not supporting the presentation and sales of the product, so that they could get a committed customer base. There is now a significant investment planned in driving Hansgrohe brand awareness through cycling. This is great news. Not just because I’m a personal fan of its chosen partner, world road race champion Peter Sagan, but because with a £6 million a year salary, it’s an indication of just how popular the sport is.

What we most learnt from all this was that, despite being a small company, Ripples does a lot right too. We have annual awards for employees, we train well, put in place career paths for our team and we try to foster an environment where the brand is really our personality as a company and not a description of our products and services.

We’re still learning and will continue to benchmark ourselves against bigger and better businesses, but as we sat reflecting on our annual conference and achievements in 2016, the conclusion was that we haven’t done too badly at all.

Martin’s advice? Just keep inspiring the customer with your specialism and they will reward you with the sale. I couldn’t agree more.

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