Making – and breaking – supplier relationships

Little Voices franchisor Jane Maudsley reveals the tough decisions she's had to make when it comes to her supply chain - and the reason why she's hitting the road to visit her suppliers

Making – and breaking – supplier relationships

Last month, I talked about how I’d reaped the rewards of visiting my franchisees all over the country. And I’m going to be travelling again – only this time I’ll be paying my suppliers a visit. After all, it’s often up to the franchisor to maintain an effective supply chain and keep those relationships in good shape. Equally, it’s important to know when a relationship has come to a natural end.

I’m a very loyal person but there have been times when I’ve had to leave certain suppliers because it’s been what’s best for the business. Our supply chain has gone through several changes over the years, often because we’ve been growing and suppliers haven’t always been able to keep up. What was right for us ten years ago isn’t right for us in 2017, so we’ve had to – often reluctantly – find alternatives. This means I’ve had to develop brand new relationships from scratch.

For example, we used the same uniform provider for nine years and the quality was outstanding. The company was a small, local and family-run firm and we didn’t have a single complaint in all the years we’d been using them. But despite the fact that the quality was impeccable, we needed to look for another supplier because the lead times weren’t quite fast enough for our franchisees and the cost per item wasn’t as competitive as it could have been.

However, while it made sense from a financial standpoint, I have to admit that there have been times I’ve wished we were still with our old providers: building new relationships from scratch can be tough. In this case, the teething problems that my franchisees and I have experienced while getting to know a new company have at times been tough. At first, the switch ended up costing us in terms of quality – an area I’m not willing to compromise on. Thankfully, we did manage to iron out the niggles and we’re now running full steam ahead. Most problems can be overcome when you put your heads together.

We’ve also streamlined all of our printing suppliers this year, which has been a somewhat painful process. The company we’d used for nearly ten years knew us and our brand inside out and they would never let anything leave their office without it being up to our standards. More than that, they’d helped us solidify our brand guidelines and had become a trusted partner. However, there came a point when their lead times were just too long and the ordering process was too time-consuming. And while their costs were competitive, as our network grew we needed a supplier that could also offer us bulk-buying discounts for multiple franchise territories – something they couldn’t do at the time. So once again, I had to make the painful but necessary decision to transition to a new supplier.

What I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes short-term pain means long-term gain. Trust takes time to develop and you need to invest energy into a relationship if you want it to serve you well. And that’s why I’ve decided to go back on the road to visit our suppliers in person.

Suppliers are critical to any business and the relationship is two-way: we need each other. For instance, if you’ve got a problem or need their help, life is much easier if you know the other person at the other end of the phone. I also want to make sure we have suppliers that get our business, want to grow with us and have the capacity to keep up with our growth. Nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting and I’m hoping that by getting to know the people behind the businesses, we’ll be able to develop lasting and fruitful relationships.

Jane Maudsley
Jane Maudsley