Some of our vendors have been in business since the 1980s and are using antiquated systems. Many have antiquated attitudes about what is possible in terms of fulfillment speed, customer service levels, communication expectations, etc.
These companies can be extremely frustrating to work with for our employees who know that they can not rely on a vendor to perform at a level that we would consider reasonable. We often say that we would be out of business if we treated our customers the way our vendors sometimes treat us.
But these companies are still in business for a reason. Generally that reason is they know how to make great art for t-shirts or great products in general. Some example shortcomings that are typical of our vendors include:
- Partially fulfilling an order with no communication on when/if the rest of the order will be filled
- Consistently delivering defective / flawed inventory
- Failing to acknowledge receipt of a PO
- Sales reps that promise to email tomorrow but never follow up
- Not applying credit memos to our orders when we are owed money
- You get the point
I would venture to guess that most people would look at this as a problem, and for a long time we looked it at just this way. We also wondered if perhaps we were the only ones who our vendors were treating this way. But I'm relatively certain we aren't receiving exceptionally poor service relative to their other customers. In order to turn this problem into an opportunity we have taken some of the following steps:
- Developed our own software to deal with idiosyncrasies of the vendors. This includes things like minimum orders, price break quantities, size availability, lead times, etc.
- Developed our own software to automate nagging of our vendors so that we get a confirmation of the order and an expected fulfillment date. We even provide pictures on our purchase orders and state that if there is a difference between the picture and the product information to default to give us what the picture looks like.
- Developed our own mini-accounting system to track credits owed to us by our vendors
- Made a company wide policy that "I emailed Joe from Company XYZ and he never got back to me." is not an acceptable excuse. There are a number of tools that can be used to track expected deliverables. Trello and Boomerang for Gmail are great tools for this.
Essentially what we've done is developed software and processes to force our vendors to comply with our standards. Essentially a lot of it is automated nagging. If our vendors had better processes in place this wouldn't be necessary. But I'm glad that it's necessary because I am doubtful that many, if any, of our competitors have made similar investments. By default that means we are getting better service than our competitors.