On an Olympic relay team, you’re only as good as your weakest link. Even if three of your sprinters can cover ground like Usain Bolt, it won’t ultimately matter if you have Homer Simpson running the final leg.
The same applies in business. Today, in our modern economy, nobody does it alone. We all rely on suppliers and partners. Just like a relay race, we have to count on everyone within the supply chain. But what is it that makes a supplier good? What should you be seeking? How can you really judge whether or not your partners are holding up their end of the bargain?
Here are three qualities to look for in a reliable supplier.
1. Consistent Delivery
Manufacturers today take a “just-in-time” approach to their inventory. In many cases, this means you don’t keep a massive stockpile of all the parts, supplies and items on hand. So when you need something, you really need something.
Because of this, the hallmark of the best operations is consistency across all your sales and orders. For example, you may know that you will move 2,000 units per week. To make that happen, every Wednesday, you need a new shipment. You can’t afford to have it arrive on Thursday. That would lead to disruption. Can your supplier hit the mark — week after week — all year long?
Naturally, there should always be a little wiggle room in the process. Maybe every once in a while there will be a delay. You should be able to deal with that. In the real world, perfection is not perfect. But your best suppliers will be the ones that hit that Wednesday date 50 times per year — not 40. If you don’t demand consistency, you’ll probably never get it.
2. Clear Communication
That said, even the best business partners come up short at times. Whether we’re talking about late shipments, backordered items or subpar quality, something will almost certainly go wrong at some point. As noted, this must fall within an acceptable threshold for errors.
But the difference between a partner you can trust and one that isn’t worth your time is in how they respond when mistakes are made. Are they open and upfront about their shortcomings? Or do they make excuses and try to shift the blame?
If a failure to take responsibility is the norm, it may be time to look elsewhere. You want to work with people who will be honest and communicate clearly — in good times and bad.
3. Wide Availability
Consistency and communication are essential. But while it may sound obvious, there is actually one other thing you need before everything else from a supplier: the goods. If they can’t supply what you need, well, there is really no reason to forge a relationship in the fist place.
This is one reason that the best and most reliable partners in your supply chain are often those with an extensive range of offerings. Apple Rubber, for example, is in the o-ring business and boasts an online catalog with thousands of sizes of seals. Having everything you need — plus more — only enhances the value of the relationship. This way, if you ever need additional items in an order, chances are they will be able to make it happen right away.
What You Need in a Reliable Supplier
One thing most business leaders learn at some point is that they have to leave their ego at the door. You may have gotten to where you through personal grit and tireless individual effort. But once you get big enough, you will come to realize that you can no longer truly go it alone.
You need help. You need partners. You need reliable suppliers. And the very best are the ones that can offer consistent delivery, clear communication and wide availability.