What would you do if your linen supplier suddenly disappeared and closed up shop? What about your décor, lighting, staging, rental, or audio visual suppliers…or perhaps your favourite florist? Would you be able to conduct business as usual? Would you be able to continue producing events without them?
Sometimes, event managers take the relationships they have with suppliers for granted, and don’t realize the impact these suppliers have on the events they produce.
Suppliers provide essential services and products for special events. Think about the events that you produce – Are there any that don’t involve at least one supplier in one way or another? The sooner you realize how important your suppliers are, the sooner you will be able to develop a mutually beneficial business relationship that is
rewarded by the events that you produce together as a team.
Treat suppliers as if they were an extension of your company. More than likely you already have them wearing your t-shirt, so when the client approaches them with a question, they think that they’re speaking with one of your employees. Suppliers that feel part of the greater event team will deliver better product and services.
They will help you out when you need help, and will enthusiastically work with you every step of the way.
Here are a few tips on how to develop such a relationship;
1. Select suppliers that offer the quality of work that best represents your own brand.
You’ve heard this one before – you get what you pay for. If you want your event to look cheap and dirty, find a supplier to match. If you want a high end, professional event, don’t compare them to lower end suppliers and expect them to deliver the same level of service for the same price.There’s usually a reason why the bargain basement supplier is much lower in price.
2. Don’t grind suppliers too low and too often
I really should say don’t grind suppliers at all! As event managers, we are always doing our best to pass on the best deals to our clients. The people that suffer the most are typically suppliers.
Practice a little give and take. Don’t ask for favours or deals for every single event that you book with them, otherwise you will develop a reputation for being “one of those” customers. Your clients can’t always be getting free stuff either. It’s not good for the industry and it’s definitely not good for everyone’s bottom line either. The challenge is that the more you give away, the more our end-clients expect. (This topic may have to be another blog post!)
At the end of the day, suppliers have families to feed and overhead to pay just like you do. So take the standard discount they provide you. This will help develop a strong and beneficial relationship, so when you actually need to call in favours, they will be happy to help you out. If you call in a favour every time you call – it will get old pretty fast and you’ll likely find that they will slowly become less and less willing to help.
3. Stop with the carrot already!
Yes – they get it – You have the ability to bring them repeat business. Reminding them of this fact, or repeatedly using it as a tool to get further discounts or freebies is truly an unfair way to do business.
In a sense, it borderlines as a threat. “If you don’t give me what I want and at the price I want it, this will be the last time we work together”. While I realize that end clients are often the source of this kind of pressure, it is important that you filter the client’s attitude and work together with your suppliers to satisfy the client.
Find quality suppliers that you like to work with, and nurture and develop those relationships! Putting out an RFP for every time or nearly every time you require their services is a waste of time and resources. After a couple of successful first events together, start using them exclusively. You may be surprised at the deals you will get when they don’t need to spend time responding to an RFP, and when they know that they are part of your team.
The more they work with you, the more they understand how you work and like things done, which means the less you’ll have to explain or watch out for as each event passes.
4. Involve suppliers in the creative process
Your suppliers are experts in their given industry specialization and often have many great ideas that you simply would not have thought of on your own. If you are bidding on a project, bring them in for a “team” meeting to generate ideas for your proposal. You may be surprised at the creativity, ideas and inspiration that can come from such a meeting.
Involving suppliers in the preparation of your proposal can provide some additional motivation and excitement since they will want you to succeed so that they can also benefit. This will help create a team environment where everyone is supporting each other.
5. Understand and trust their limitations
If they say that they can’t do it, or that they highly advise against it – trust their opinions. I would still ask why, but there should be a good reason for their recommendation. Perhaps safety, aesthetics, or technical complications that could result in problems during the event or show.
Many clients will push hard to get their way only to discover that the supplier was right in the end. Don’t make this mistake, as you may regret it. Of course – sometimes people just don’t like a particular idea or direction for a variety of reasons that can derail you from your objectives.
This is why you need to ask the question and listen to the explanation in full. Great suppliers will help you find an alternative solution.
For some planners, their personalities or past experiences make it extremely difficult for them to trust suppliers. Despite this, if you find a supplier that you like and trust, you may find that your events become less stressful for you to manage. As an example: Have you ever been a passenger in a car where you didn’t trust or questioned the driver’s ability to drive safely? How stressful was this for you? Is it less stressful to be a passenger when someone you trust is behind the wheel?
The point is – find suppliers that you like, develop a trusting relationship with them, and then trust in their abilities. This being said, trust must be earned which brings me back to my previous point – you get what you pay for. Sometimes suppliers with a great deal of experience that helps build this kind of trust are not the cheapest available.
6. Ask and learn!
If you don’t know something or you feel uncomfortable with what is being presented to you, don’t just nod your head in agreement like a bobble head doll – ask! Too many planners feel the need to cover up what they don’t know.
The good suppliers will be happy to explain something to you or provide you with some training. Learning terminology or jargon will allow you to speak in the same language as your suppliers, which means greater efficiency when planning and executing events.
Working with suppliers should be a pleasant experience. In every relationship there are ups and downs, so communicate often to continually develop your team. Don’t just pack up and leave at the first challenge. Working through challenges together can strengthen your business relationship, increase trust, and ultimately lead to better and better events.
Don’t pull… “If you don’t know what’s wrong, I’m not going to tell you”. Give them an opportunity to resolve whatever is wrong by communicating in a professional manner. Everyone makes mistakes and as long as they take responsibility, think of it as a learning experience for them and an investment in their education for you. They now know what you don’t like or what they shouldn’t do at your next event. Theoretically, you shouldn’t have to repeat yourself which makes your life that much less stressful. However, if it happens again, it might be time for a different type of conversation.
Communication goes both ways. If you are having challenges yourself, make sure to tell your suppliers. As an example; your client is stalling on paying you, and in turn you are unable to pay the suppliers as per your agreement. A simple phone call to advise them of the situation will likely extend some goodwill your way, but most importantly can help avoid unnecessary frustrations and assumptions.
Don’t wait until the due date has passed and they call you to find out what is going on. Be proactive and call them immediately. You might be surprised at how people – especially ones that deem themselves to be part of your team – are willing to help you out.
These are only a few ideas on how to work with your suppliers. At the end of the day, the most important thing that you should remember is – Treat your suppliers the way you want your clients to treat you.