And so it is with most trading partner relationships. They begin with the supplier landing a relationship with a customer that will make a positive difference to their company by buying their products. A simple enough arrangement on its face. But like any relationship where both sides have competing interests, maintaining a balance that serves both sides can become difficult. As Kim Zablocky, founder of Retail Value Chain Federation (RVCF) explains, "In a nutshell, successful relationships revolve around communication."
1. Be clear and consistent in communicating with your partners.
This isn't so different from domestic life. When there is no communication, the other partner doesn't know what's going on and can assume that there are problems they haven't yet discovered. Keep up the conversation and discuss issues openly.
2. Train your suppliers.
Retailers deliver technical specs and guidelines they want their suppliers to follow, but the guidelines don't always translate completely. Retailers need to offer specifics about how and what they want their orders handled. Suppliers should ask for specifics when the instructions don't provide enough.
3. Make the appropriate investments to do the job right.
Suppliers need to ante up and invest in the proper systems and tools to correctly satisfy their orders. For example, if the hangers that are used for clothing consistently break and the clothes fall off, get better or different hangers. If the software you use to process orders doesn't handle the translations properly, make the programming changes or replace it.
4. Follow published best practices for your industry
The supply chain has been running for years, and many companies participate successfully every day. There are published best practices available to guide operations and to offer proven techniques that produce consistent results. Use them to inform your company and staff.
Zablocky points out that. "Over the last 5 years the layer of middle management in most retail organizations has disappeared." There are few people to watch over the details of the relationships between retailers and their trading partners. That means there is no hand-holding. In many cases it's up to the supplier to initiate communication with their customers to find out what is going right, what is going wrong, and how the relationship can be improved. And if it isn't improving, it's a fair bet that things are deteriorating. Either way, you won't know what's happening until you start a dialog.