How to Build, Strengthen Your Supply Chain Relationships

Over the last few years, certain phrases have become part of the common vernacular and everyday life, like “social distancing” or “remote learning.” Another phrase that we saw enter the mainstream discourse was “supply chain,” as shoppers became more aware — sometimes for the first time ever — of the process that their furniture, home goods and essentials go through to get from the manufacturer to their doorsteps.

On the business side, we already knew this reality well, but consumers got a crash course in the havoc that can be caused when just one link in the chain falls loose. With supply chain concerns becoming less of a global issue, but still very much a regular reality in many industries, businesses like ours have been working harder than ever to maintain strong, steady and reliable relationships with suppliers along the line. I’d like to share some of our strategies and successes here to help other businesses do the same.

What exactly is a supply chain?

The term “supply chain” refers to the complex network of companies and even individual people who are a part of creating products and getting them into the hands of consumers. The chain includes many links, ranging from providers of raw materials all the way to the delivery person who brings the product to the retail store or directly to the consumer. As we know, chains are only as strong as the weakest link, which is why supply chain management is so important. A supply chain that is strong and well managed can result in more efficient production and lower costs, which can help businesses thrive in a competitive market.

Benefits of a strong supply chain

It’s important to understand that a strong supply chain benefits everyone involved. When a supply chain is strong, manufacturers know that the materials, design and technology used for new product development are safe and that no surprise corners have been cut due to delays or constraints. Additionally, they have better control over cost and quality from the source — a benefit that can be passed along to the consumer — and are able to minimize inventory shortages and quickly fix any problems that arise. This means increased reliability for customers, which leads to increased trust and loyalty.

For retailers, a strong supply chain means reliable sourcing for large product quantities, cutting down on product shortages and reducing risk of unexpected or uncommunicated outages. Retailers may also find that with a strong supply chain, doing business is more cost-effective, allowing them to give shoppers the best prices possible and making space for special discounts or holiday sales. A retailer with a strong supply chain is well positioned to build repeat business with shoppers who appreciate the stable inventory, competitive pricing and all-around reliability — especially if your competitors can’t promise the same.

Strengthening your supply chain

We know that a strong supply chain can bring stability to manufacturers and retailers, avoid product shortages, result in good prices and ultimately inspire confidence in consumers. That’s all great news! So, what can you do to ensure you have the strongest supply chain possible?

To get started, prioritize three things:

  • Communication: If you want to build strong partnerships with the various people and companies that comprise your supply chain, be sure to practice strong and consistent communication. Reach out regularly, ask for people’s names and keep track of whom you talk to and when. Reply to their communications promptly. When there’s an issue or question, keep in touch with them until a solution or answer is provided — and do so with respect, especially when communicating via email. This helps keep everyone on the same page and ultimately leads to the trust that keeps your relationships in tip-top shape.
  • Professionalism: In order to ensure everything that you agree to is properly executed, it is important to handle all agreements with professionalism. Document any requests, cross your t’s and dot your i’s, follow up on your end of agreements and take a moment before replying to frustrating or disappointing messages. Hastily fired-off texts or one-line emails don’t foster strong relationships, no matter how warranted they might feel. There’s a human being behind every email address, social media account and phone number!
  • Integrity: Say what you mean, mean what you say and follow through on your promises. You’ve probably noticed by now that building a strong supply chain is largely about reliability. Conducting yourself and your business with integrity lets those you work with know that you can be relied upon and, in turn, often results in others delivering that same integrity to you. Word travels. Everybody wins!

Your supply chain and you

At the end of the day, a supply chain is a series of individuals and businesses with whom you have entered into an agreement and with whom you share a common goal. Remembering that you are working together to achieve the long-term benefits of that goal, and executing your relationship with integrity, respect and healthy boundaries, will help ensure your partnership serves everyone involved.

For adult manufacturers and retailers, earning the trust of customers is always of the utmost importance, and the consistency and reliability that comes from having strong supply chain relationships can position you to be a company customers know they can trust.

How to Build, Strengthen Your Supply Chain Relationships by Verna Meng originally appeared in XBIZ

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