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Everything you read, no matter where you turn, is a story about a retailer cutting their workforce or closing their doors. The latest cuts include Home Depot, Starbucks and Macy’s. The reasons are largely due to the disappearing cusotmer, but a large part is simply a lack of vision and an understanding of one's core customer.

For these companies, the problem is not knowing how their "bread gets buttered” or who butters it. Survivors will be those who can move, turn on a dime and embrace new technology. The good ones know if they don’t take care of their customers someone else will.

Even good retailers are having to “bare bones” it and many find themselves back on the sales floor, in the warehouse with little time left to think about growing their business. They're in survival mode.

It’s always about supply and demand. In tough times, threre's less demand and more supply. Fewer customers and more products. If you are a supplier and want to win your customers over you will have to get smarter and change the rules. Everyone gives lip service to relationships but most of the time that’s a cover-up for selling more products. Selling more products is the name of the game but if you’re desperate the customer will get an uneasy feeling, not trust the message and ultimately not trust you. Forget the sale.

Today, if you are a supplier of products, you have two problems: there's more of you and fewer of them. Even more important, as a supplier you have to rely on your customer to sell your products to the end user. When times were great and there were more end users — if you were a supplier — you didn’t have to worry if your product got sold.

For now, this party is over. Suppliers are watching their customers dwindle in size — not only because customers are zipping up their purse strings but because suppliers are not employing efficient strategites to get those who are willing to spend.

The New Supplier

Enter the new savvy supplier, ready to pitch in, support, and educate their customer.

The strategy? Seeing themselves as more than a supplier and investing in tools that will help their customers be more profitable.  They're ready to do what it takes, to step out of their supplier box and belly up to the bar with money and information.

The payoff? Keeping their customers by keeping their customers profitable.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to provide a presentation for United Tile on the West Coast. This is a supplier who gets it — gets the partnership, gets the “out of the box” thinking and wants to be the supplier of choice. Their mission is big, to be the major supplier of product and knowledge for their customers.

“I want us to be part of the solution," says Ron Cook, Executive Vice President of United Tile. "I want to provide our customers with useful information that will help them stay in business as well as plan for the future. We also want our sales reps to be well versed in our customer's world so that we can get through these trying times with them.  It means we’re going to learn more about our customer’s business as well as our own."

"Most of us," Ron continues, "are far from an ability to change the economy, but through education and training mixed in with a little fun we can put ourselves and our customers in a better position when things turn around."

His is one group that gets it. Here are a few tips on how they're doing it:

  • Let your customers know you’re in it for the long haul and on the same team.
  • Genuinely want to help your customer, pitch in and find out what it will take to help them build their business.
  • Educate yourself on best practices in your customer’s world.
  • Provide ways for them to learn and share their learning.
  • Make it fun; there’s enough doom and gloom out there already!

It’s up to you and me: no one has yet come to bail us out!

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