Troubled Times Demand Dynamic Supplier Relationships

by: Renée A. Varella

In a challenging economy, strong supplier relationships are more crucial than ever. According to Tom Stein in an article at AllBusiness.com, a recent study showed that more than 90 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses reported that solid supplier ties saved them time and money and helped them in this difficult business environment. Here, three sources in the trade bindery industry explain how they make the most of their supplier-bindery relationships.

Think Partnership

The most effective relationships start with the idea that suppliers and binders can form mutually beneficial collaborations. “We consider ourselves partners with our customers,” said Mark Hunt, director of marketing at Standard Finishing Systems, based in Andover, Mass. “Our philosophy is to create a value proposition in which we help trade binders increase efficiency, boost profits, and lower costs. If we can do that, our customers will be successful and so will we, because they’ll come back to us for more post press solutions.”

“We think of our vendor relationships as partnerships,” agreed Mike Seidl, sales manager at Seidl’s Bindery, Inc. in Houston, Texas. “Finding a company to put your trust in when you’re in trouble and need help out isn’t always easy to come by, so we commit our loyalty to a high-quality and dependable supplier.”

Understand Expectations

According to Hunt Nichols, executive vice president and co-owner of BindTech, Inc. of Nashville, Tenn., having clear expectations of your supplier-bindery relationships can facilitate rapport and minimize misunderstandings. “We look to our vendors to provide quality products at a competitive price with on-time deliveries,” he said. “We work with vendors who stand behind their product when issues arise and respect confidentiality with regard to special products and shared client information. We look to partner with companies that can respond quickly to all requests and help us to better service our customers.”

Seidl understands that suppliers long for binderies to demonstrate purchasing loyalty. “Our suppliers want us to lift up their product by using it regularly and exclusively because we believe in its performance,” he said, “and they want us to convey that to our customers so that their name is known outside of the bindery.” In turn, he added, binderies expect suppliers to work with them in every way possible to meet customers’ expectations. “Suppliers should expect to be called on to answer performance and technical questions about their product and stand behind their product with explanation and financial liability should it fail to work as advertised.”

Nichols added that suppliers deserve to be paid promptly, to be treated fairly when problems arise, and to have an opportunity to compete on all projects that fit. “If a supplier provides superior service in all regards, it can expect that the bindery will be more likely to showcase and recommend their products to other companies and to gain market share,” he said.

Tap into Vendor Expertise

In addition to providing high-quality products and services, the best suppliers help customers solve problems and compete effectively. For example, Hunt noted that Standard Finishing’s key advantages include applications expertise and a comprehensive product line.

“We have 10 field sales managers and a support team of subject-matter experts who each have more than 20 years of experience,” he said. “Our field team is made up of veterans of the finishing space who understand the emerging technologies and know the cost pressures and tight turn times that trade binders are under.” He noted that the team takes pride in helping customers to identify the most appropriate solutions, adding, “If another company has a better way to do something, we’ll be the first ones to tell you.”

As for products, Standard Finishing sells a broad line of bindery and paper handling equipment from such suppliers as Horizon of Japan and Hunkeler of Switzerland. “Our integrated feeding and finishing solutions fill a real vacuum in the marketplace right now,” Hunt said. “We’ve worked hard to position ourselves as a source for application-appropriate solutions – whether you need hardware, integration, software, or inspection systems that do verification and tracking.”

Pay Attention to Pressures

Inevitably, there will be times when a binder wishes his suppliers better understood his challenges. “Unfortunately our industry has become very much an on-demand, ‘fast-food’ type of industry, in which speed is just as important as quality,” Seidl said, adding that binders now get days to produce projects that used to take weeks. Vendors with a basic knowledge of the machines on the bindery floor can predict what the demands for supplies will be – and expedite material to the binder, if necessary: “The biggest help from our suppliers is for their products to be on our floor the moment we need it.”

Nichols agreed that a supplier’s promptness and accuracy of information can be as important as the product provided. “The industry moves faster every day, and it takes the bindery’s plus supplier’s best joint efforts to meet customer demands,” he said. “If BindTech’s needs are met, our suppliers can count on a long-term relationship. We recognize and appreciate superior performance by both old and new suppliers.”

Seidl noted that binderies face the additional challenge of higher shipping costs now that many suppliers have reduced their number of storage facilities. “With the market today, we battle big shipping costs on material for ever-faster-moving projects that we rarely get advanced notice of on arrival,” Seidl said.

Hunt noted that top suppliers can be an asset, especially in uncertain times. “Ultimately, every binder has a different problem to solve – it might be to knock down labor costs or increase productivity,” he said. “We’re in the problem-solving business, so we’ll work with you, try to understand your needs and your pain point, and help you to succeed.”

Consider the Competition

Suppliers able to provide strategic information on the marketplace can be an invaluable resource. “Trade binderies are in a tough spot right now,” Hunt said. “There’s significant downward price pressure and runs lengths are dropping, so binders need to find their profitable niche.”

Hunt acknowledged that it can be easy for a trade bindery to look at a vendor as someone who’s just trying to sell equipment. “Some trade binders are deeply wedded to their post press equipment and sometimes ask, ‘Why should I invest in a new saddlestitcher when what I’m using has worked fine for 30 years?’ The alternative view is that the guy up the street or across town – who has highly automated systems and is able to do ultra-short runs – will creep into your market and steal business away.”

If binders don’t invest in new technologies they’re destined to be left behind: “The reality is that some binders today aren’t able to be as competitive on short-run work,” Hunt said. “Our niche is highly automated, quick-changeover equipment geared to more extreme turn times, because that is what the market demands.”

Keep Communicating

Strong bindery-supplier relationships require frank communication about needs, goals, timelines, and quality improvements. “We thrive on an open dialogue,” Hunt said, adding that some of Standard Finishing’s best solutions have come from its best customers. “We’re always looking for clever ways to help customers be more productive and competitive. That’s why we like to stay in touch, keep an open mind, and be receptive to input.”

Those same qualities also work for BindTech’s vendor relationships. “We want our suppliers to be flexible, creative, and open to ideas,” Nichols said. “Our preferred vendors can help us succeed by being able to provide products and solutions, when and where needed, to help us satisfy customer demands.”

To ride out the recession, spend some time thinking of ways to get the most from your bindery/supplier relationships. By maximize every advantage, you can survive the rough spots, embrace competitive challenges, and plan for growth.