Building relationships with suppliers is key in our increasingly complex industry.
By Bob Ward
In this business, when we talk about building relationships, we’re usually referring to getting to know our customers.
In order to serve them well, we must have a detailed knowledge not only of their vehicles but of their driving habits, service preferences, and long-term intentions. Anticipating their needs and meeting their expectations builds the kind of trust that leads to sales and great referrals.
But as important as that is, it’s really only part of the relationship picture. A truly successful business owner also develops strong relationships with employees and suppliers.
Unfortunately for some of us, we’re not as good at cultivating good relationships with our staffs. And we’re downright bad at building relationships with our suppliers!
Parts stores are too often underappreciated and under-utilized, which is a real shame because they’re also a part of our teams in a way. They can be as important to the success of our businesses as really great service advisors and gifted technicians.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told about the dangers of “putting all your eggs in one basket.” Presumably that means buying a majority of your parts from one place. What’s so scary about that? If you choose your partner well and develop a mutually beneficial relationship, you have much more to gain than you stand to lose.
Too many of us source part prices from multiple suppliers in search of the best price. But doing this puts a lot of pressure, not only on jobbers but on warehouses and manufacturers too. Everyone struggles to get the margins they need to run a successful operation. The end result is often a decrease in service and parts quality.
We all decry the poor quality of some aftermarket parts but we fail to see that quality is a function of the business environment we create when we insist on focusing on price rather than fit, form, and function.
Think about the time your service advisor wastes shopping for the best price, or trying to remember which store a certain part came from. And whether you have a warranty on what you’ve purchased. There’s so much waste built into this inefficient system!
Plus, if you’re basing your purchases solely on price, you’re pitting all of your many suppliers against each other. Those stores quickly get the measure of you. They learn that you’re not a loyal customer. They’re not going to go the extra mile for you. Why should they?
Yes, it’s true that suppliers need to earn your business… and they can do so with more than just cheap prices. The real benefits come with volume sales. More training programs, better delivery times, longer warranties, valuable business services… they can make your life easier in so many ways. As vehicles become more complex and parts proliferation accelerates, we’re going to need their help! But it requires a commitment on your end too.
I began taking my supplier out for lunch on a regular basis. This has turned out to be a great move for both of us. I’ve gotten to know him much better and learned more about his business, his goals, and how he runs his business. Our mutual comfort level has dramatically improved. We’re now working together to grow both of our businesses.
We should be the kind of customers we like to see come into our own shops. Strong relationships build good businesses. Treat your suppliers like good customers and reap the rewards.
Bob Ward is the owner of The Auto Guys in St. Thomas, Ont. He’s also a member of the CARS Advisory Panel.
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