Choosing A Supplier

Advantages University - Tips For Choosing Quality Suppliers
(Source: Tonia Cook Kimbrough, June 2009)

Every time you choose a supplier you put your reputation on the line. Here are some tips for picking a product partner that will make you shine.

Know Your Vendor Personally
Put the same amount of time and concern into choosing suppliers as you would any important business partner. Meet with them at trade shows, via multi-line reps or by visiting their showrooms. Suppliers that take time to sit down with you personally will give focused attention to your orders as well.

Take advantage of open houses or seminars offered by suppliers you’re considering. Many provide factory tours. Transparency is important if you’re concerned about quality and compliance issues related to safety or workers’ rights. Suppliers that don’t want you to visit may be hiding something.

Sign up to receive supplier newsletters, podcasts or blog updates so that you know what new services, ideas or innovative products the vendor offers. Take note if the supplier ever surveys customers for feedback. Those who ask for input, show a willingness to improve on distributors’ experiences.

Avoid Mistakes
In her presentation “8 Biggest Mistakes Distributors Make,” Rosalie Marcus of promobiz coach.com says “not choosing suppliers wisely” is fifth on the list of distributor pitfalls. Her tips for making better choices:
• Don’t try to know every supplier line.
• Pick two to three suppliers in each product category as your core group.
• Choose by industry reputation, capabilities, inventory, location, customer service and guarantees.

Checklist for Evaluating Suppliers

• Phone skills
– Does the supplier return calls promptly (within two hours or by the end of the day)? Does a live person answer or, if not, is the voicemail system easily navigated?

• Quotes – Does the supplier quickly provide quotes when asked? Is the pricing clear and complete (no surprise charges) and honored when the final invoice appears?

• Innovation – Does the supplier stock creative, useful and unusual products with regular clever new product introductions? Are there exclusive items the supplier offers – products not found elsewhere?

• Quality – What quality and safety guidelines does the supplier follow in production, imprinting and fulfillment? Are there any quality standards/certifications that the supplier can point to proving its adherence to strict oversight?

• Confidentiality – Will the supplier take care to keep your ideas, proposals and client list confidential?

• Crisis Management – What happens when you have an order crisis? Perhaps it’s a last-minute change submitted by your client or an imprinting error. Is the supplier responsive and responsible in how it handles orders gone wrong? Are there reps on call to answer questions or make changes to your order at any time?

• Distribution – How many warehouses and what are their locations? Be sure that a supplier can efficiently fulfill your orders or warehouse products for company store programs, if required.

• Samples – Are samples shared freely and regularly to help you sell to your client? Is the supplier technologically enabled to create virtual samples?

• Support Materials – Does the supplier provide end-user-friendly catalogs, case histories, flyers or other presentation materials to make selling their products easier?

• Inventory – Make sure the supplier keeps sufficient stock on its popular products so that you aren’t caught empty-handed when it’s time to re-order. Also, ask about longevity of product. Does the supplier keep popular colors, for example, for months or years so that program replenishment will be consistent?

• Turnaround – What’s the average turn time for order fulfillment? What rush services are provided and how much extra do they cost?

• One-Stop Service – Are there additional services to make the sourcing experience easier for you, for example packaging, art creation/correction, on-site imprinting, warehousing, kit assembly, etc.?

• Online Support – Is the supplier’s Web site helpful, easy-to-use and interactive so that you can search for product availability or track an order’s progress?

• Pricing – Judge a supplier by more than the lowest price. Consider whether the supplier’s pricing is fair, does it offer a range of price points and what does the price cover (are their extra charges for set-up, etc.).

• Experience – How long has the supplier been in business? Does the vendor specialize in a certain product, making it the “expert source” for the item?

• Knowledge – Is the supplier knowledgeable about how products are manufactured, the materials used and the life-span of the items it carries? You want a partner that can answer your questions with authority.

Places To Spot Good Suppliers
A supplier’s track record is one of your best clues to a quality vendor. Thankfully there are several sources for supplier insight.
• Industry organizations like ASI that list suppliers require they meet stringent criteria to become members and remain listed. For example, applying suppliers must demonstrate their use of price-coded product literature. Look for suppliers with an ASI number.
• ESP, a product research tool, enables you to regularly check a supplier’s performance ratings and distributor references and/or comments.
• Awards programs reveal winners. Suppliers typically list their accolades on their Web sites or in their literature. Consider winners from Counselor’s Distributors’ Choice Awards, which honors suppliers with the highest ratings when voted on by distributors in individual product categories. You can get a list of current winners at www.asicentral.com.

What Are ASI Supplier Performance Ratings?
ASI-listed distributors can rate their suppliers after every transaction. They complete a short questionnaire that allows them to indicate their “overall satisfaction” and then rate the supplier’s performance in five key areas:
1. Product quality
2. Communications
3. Delivery
4. Imprinting/personalization
5. Problem resolution
6. Ratings range from 1 (very poor) to 5 (excellent).
Distributors can rate suppliers through ESP Online (from the supplier detail screen or the tools menu); by downloading the form posted at www.asicentral.com/supplierratings and faxing back to 1-800-839-3969; or by clicking the link in the left column of http://www.asicentral.com/ for the online form.

Definitions
An Acceptable Quality Level (AQL) is the specified number of defects found to be tolerable in sampling. The lower the number, the fewer defects are accepted in any given lot of merchandise. For example promotional apparel supplier Vantage publishes a strict AQL standard of 2.5 on its Web site. The general apparel industry AQL is 4.0, showing Vantage to hold higher standards. Ask your suppliers about their AQL and how it compares to the average in their product category.
 

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