What kind of supply customer are YOU?

The 2021 Fabricare Canada Buyer’s Guide is a critical tool for your success. Lots of people ignore it but I use it all the time. Who handles a certain brand of machine? Where can I buy…? What is the phone number for that soap guy? The Buyer’s Guide is your source for information about anything in our industry.

How do you pick a supplier?

The Buyer’s Guide is your starting place. Does a particular company sell the equipment or supplies that you are interested in? Do they buy directly from the manufacturer or do they get it from another distributor?

Ask if you can talk to some of their current customers. Find out how they respond when there is a problem. What is the minimum order you must place? What is the delivery schedule?

The most important question is, how is their technical support? When you have a problem can someone help you? Will they come to your plant and look at your machine and the garments you are having trouble with?

The last question is, how do their prices compare? Some people jump right to the price question and don’t consider anything else. There’s a lot that goes into value that is not readily apparent from a price sheet.

Don’t expect to get everything — things are changing.

In years past, suppliers would handle multiple lines of spotting agents and detergents. Cleaners could mix and match products from several brands. Unfortunately, sales volumes have dropped and manufacturers’ minimum orders have increased. Freight costs have also jumped.

That makes it difficult to provide everything that customers ask for. “You want a special spotting agent? I have to order $2,000 worth of product to get it. And then you only want two bottles at $20 apiece.” Sorry that is not going to happen. There are lots of good products. You may just have to learn to use something different.

Some products require special shipping (by truck — not by courier) and that is expensive. Are you really willing to pay $200 for an 8-ounce bottle of Special Sauce?

It used to be that our suppler would visit our plant at least once a month to take our order and see how he could help. Bob Serniak in Edmonton was a great support. He wasn’t a technician but he could give technical advice. “Try this, if that doesn’t work the problem is probably __”. Plus, he could advise us on chemical problems. I learned a lot from Bob.

I am afraid for our industry. Most cleaners choose lower prices and no support. They don’t know what they are doing and they deal with a supplier that cannot help them. We are losing knowledge in our industry. You need to support those who support you.

Limited choices

Having told you how to choose a supplier was probably a waste of time. Most markets have one equipment company and possibly two supply companies. There isn’t enough volume to support multiple suppliers.

You have to learn how to get along with the choices you have. You need to support your supplier and keep him alive.

The other choice is to deal with the Big Box guy. The prices are great and there is a good selection. There are some things that you will have to buy from him, but don’t forget to take care of your local guy.

Your local supplier will get you a box of hangers this afternoon if you need it; the big box guy doesn’t even remember who you are.

Relationships

You need to actively cultivate your relationship with your local supplier. Approach this relationship with the understanding that this will be long term. If you want him to be around, you need to feed him once in a while.

Some plants will deal with one supplier until their account is maxed out, and then switch to the other supplier. They may do it intentionally, or it may just be poor management. Either way, when your account is past due, you don’t call to order more supplies. Your supplier is carrying you, plus he loses out on the current sales while your account is overdue. He’d be happier if you called and said, “I can send you $X but I need some detergent tomorrow.”

If you send a supplier something ($), he can see that you are trying and will try to work with you. If you just ignore him then he is not likely to help you in an emergency. For the most part, yours is a cash business. They pick up the cleaning and you get paid. You should at least be able to pay your supply bill.

Remember, your supplier doesn’t understand your accounting system. We get phone calls all the time saying, “How much do I owe you?” Don’t you know that already? Don’t you track your payables? We give you a copy of the invoice when we make a delivery. Some customers have no idea of their account balance.

If you want your supplier to reduce his prices, try to help him reduce his costs. Be smart in how you place your orders. Order ahead of time and order several things at the same time. Emergency/rush deliveries cost a lot of money.

Be the customer you wish you had

Supplies are critical to your business. You need to manage this area of your business. Pay your bills on time. Suppliers pay their sub-trades quickly — usually the same week. As a result, when they need something, they usually get it right away.

Margins are tight. If you don’t support your local supplier, he won’t be around to help next time. Multiple suppliers keep each other in check. When there is only one, he can do or charge whatever he wants.

Which customer gets the best service in your plant? The one who comes in every week or at least every month. What kind of a supply customer are you?

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