Thursday, April 23, 2009

Working with Your Vendors

One of the things I've learned in my 20 years of marketing is how important it is to have a close, personal relationship with your vendors. I recently had a conversation with a vendor who told me that I had an old fashioned view of vendor relationships. While so many others view vendors products as commoditized, I maintain that it is just as important to have that human relationship. I am very loyal to good vendors, and I have found over time that they are loyal to me.

Here are some examples. A few years ago my tradeshow company had a dispute with our shipping company. I wasn't paying that much attention to that part of it and when my tradeshow person said he could save us some money with a new shipper I allowed him to switch. Biggest mistake of my life. The new shipper allowed some other exhibitor to put their materials into our shipment, packing carelessly and breaking the stair rail on our two story booth; their driver lied and cut the line at the next tradeshow causing our shipment to be moved to the very end of the line, and he then somehow managed to lose 2 of my very expensive leather chairs. When I found out I was beyond livid. I immediately searched the show for my old shipper, apologized profusely, rehired him on the spot, then hunted down the new shipper and fired him. I also itemized the costs of all the damage he had caused (we had to replace the chairs and stair rail and pay overtime to the booth builders because of his being the last one to the show) and deducted them from the half payment we were making to the "new"shipper for getting us to the show. Because my tradeshow people had always been good to me I forgave them but I forced the two companies to reconcile to the point where they would at least both support me. So I've learned that when you have a great vendor you stick with them - you may save a few dollars by switching but you can get burned on the other end.

Another example is our printer. They have dealt with a great deal of nuttiness on our part - especially last year - we gave them a lot of tight deadlines and they always came through. When other people send me solicitations or suggestions for other vendors they end up deleted - it is worth a penny or two a copy to know that everything will get delivered on time and in perfect condition.

On the flip side - I am also very willing to take care of my vendors - I make sure they get visibility with ads in our programs, invitations to our local events, etc. So many smaller businesses today are struggling I want to be sure that my vendors survive.

One story I've heard about a not good vendor. A friend went on a trip to a Skating event earlier this month. When they arrived they discovered that even though the tour group had prepaid the hotel through their tour coordinator the hotel had their reservations but no record of the prepayments. It turned out that the vendor had disappeared - taking the hotel deposits with her, plus all the prepayments for the next event in January. It served as a reminder to me that good vendors are like gold. Sadly my friend is out several thousand dollars, had to pay for her hotel room twice and can no longer attend an event she's been to every year for the past 15 years. She had the Bernie Madoff of Travel Agents.

So the moral is take care of your good vendors but always keep an eye on what's going on.

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