Supplier Service


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| December 14, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Dan Vedda

Today, our customers demand more from us than ever before. We’ve always had to be price competitive. Before the Internet, some guy across town took out full-page ads in the entertainment weekly that screamed, “We’ll beat ANY price!!!” Customers have always expected us to service the goods we sell, back up manufacturer warranties and show them how to get the most out of a product. But now, they also want it instantly. They want their cake, plus a fork so they can eat it on the spot.

In itself, this isn’t necessarily bad…just a corollary to the age of the Cloud. Today, Moses would bring down the commandments on an iPad, in the form of a PowerPoint presentation with embedded video, and it would be a streaming download from the Firmament.

So we adapt, tweeting and posting and e-mailing while still doing all the stuff we’ve done forever. Except, now, they expect meatspace to run at Cloud speed, even for non-merchandise transactions. Can we get the repair done not just today, but before 5pm? Better yet, now? Can we give their child a loaner horn for the lesson, plus repair his horn by the time the lesson is over? Can we text them with the open lesson times, and can we contact the teacher so he or she can start in two hours? Done, all of it. In this cranked-up world, we have ramped up our level of urgency to meet our customers’ ever-growing expectations. And where we control the results, we’ve done a good job of it.

But here’s my gripe: The results we don’t control are in the hands of our suppliers and, with a few exceptions, they suck at urgency. I realize that many of them suffer through the same crunch as retailers: lack of credit options, slow-paying accounts, reduced personnel, etc. That’s why my rant isn’t about fill rates. What bugs me is the lack of urgency on their part.

First, let me preface my screed by exempting two companies that, in my experience, have never subjected me to the things about which I’m soon to complain: D’Addario and Hal Leonard. I certainly can’t speak for all of retail, but, in my opinion, they prove that what I need can be done—if the intent is there.

Some suppliers make it obvious that the tumultuous years since the Internet got its first coat of paint have passed them by. I feel like I should call them on a rotary phone so they’ll be more comfortable. There are several companies that let every call go to voicemail, it seems. Some of those never return my call the same day. Faxed orders go unacknowledged and seem to be processed by that big-haired lady at the grocery store who always takes time to chat with every customer.

I have dealt with suppliers seemingly unaware that the continental U.S. spreads across four time zones, because they close as early as 4pm Eastern time—still lunch time in California. I have companies with damaged-shipment procedures more damaged than the shipment itself. UPS destroyed a box from one of them. The warehouse received it back, and there it stopped. Had I not inquired about it and pushed for a solution, I’m sure the credit department would have been after me when the invoice was overdue.

Can we get the repair done not just today, but before 5pm?
Better yet, now?
Can we give their child a loaner horn for the
lesson,
plus repair his horn by thetime the lesson is over?

Some suppliers in this industry can’t tell me if they have an item, or when it might ship. I have several that can’t give me an order subtotal so I can keep to budget. And, some charge my card days before the order ships. Some over-authorize my debit card, tying up funds I need. Sometimes, they even initiate a brand new authorization, effectively charging me double until the hold expires days later.
Why don’t I get other suppliers? As you might remember, a couple of paragraphs back I mentioned only two companies in our industry that share our sense of urgency. I’m sure others may exist for you, but the problems are endemic to our industry and seem to be growing. Suppliers might be saddled with many of our cash issues, plus many of their own (including customs, tariffs and currency exchange rates, to start the list), but it seems their solution isn’t better service; rather, it’s containing cost and loss. Unlike retail, they don’t seem to worry about capturing every customer possible. As dealers, we are flayed every day for failing to meet ever-growing expectations. We know that Amazon is only the most obvious of the many other sources consumers have for the goods we sell.
In fact, many suppliers seem to think they’re better off just serving large accounts that will buy huge amounts and capture the bulk of the market. They open high-volume Web dealers, chains and mass merchants for improved bottom line. Where would retailers be if we required minimum purchases to get a good price, high annual volume and a credit card on file from our customers? It often seems that we work at cross-purposes.

To be fair, we do deal with a lot of companies that are trying to partner with dealers, and sales reps themselves understand our plight. My gripe is against archaic or misguided policies coming from management, as well as a lack of departmental coordination and, in some cases, plain old sloppiness. I wish both sides of this equation could realize how much we have in common.

There are a relatively small number of suppliers in our industry, and a similarly small number of dealers. Efforts to grow dealers outside of our industry have been fleetingly successful but short-lived, because the outsiders don’t have passion…just a hunger for profit. The truly passionate are few.

Here’s where we get to the chicken-or-egg part of it. Suppliers will say they could do more if dealers bought more and paid their bills. Dealers can assert that we’d buy more and pay faster if we could get orders efficiently and with fewer profit-sapping glitches. The reason I side with the dealers on this is that, if we took the supplier position with our customers, we’d be dead wrong.
We have to provide properly to profit. And that’s where the urgency comes from.