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Winter is a good time for vendor reviews

By / January 17, 2018

It seems that the only time you notice major issues with a vendor is when you’re just too busy to deal with it. That’s why I recommend taking some time out of your schedule over the slower winter months to complete a thorough review of your vendors. You may have been too busy to act on your vendor complaints during the summer, but if you’re like me, you don’t want to put dealing with it off another year.

Any business should run a periodic review of its suppliers and service providers to make sure everything is on the up and up. Make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for and more, because there are plenty of other vendors out there with very similar products and services that are vying for your business.

But sometimes you just have to wait until business slows down in the winter before you evaluate your vendors. It’s like the old saying that you don’t rock the boat when you’re too far away from shore. Instead, shake things up when you’re free enough to make drastic changes if need be. Right now is a good time to make changes in under-performing vendors, and that is exactly what we’re doing here at The Deck Store.

This year we’ve had some really great vendors, but we’ve also had some that have been less than satisfactory. One example is a vendor providing our rail systems. This has been an ongoing issue for us for a number of years. We do a tremendous volume of aluminum rails and our supplier seems to continue to come up short of product. In June and July, we’re six to eight weeks out. It’s really hard to tell a customer in early June that they won’t see any product until the middle of July or possibly later. That has been happening to us for the last three years, even though we’ve done everything we can to help this vendor manage our inventory and have enough product for us. We have finally decided to create a program to source railing from a different manufacturer, and we’re going to make the switch.

We have another vendor from whom we buy a lot of composite decking and railing. We’re not happy with the fact that they consistently charge us a restock fee if we placed an order incorrectly or if a customer changes their mind after ordering. I understand that a lot of vendors do that, but many also don’t. So, with this vendor, restocking fees have become a deciding factor for us. That vendor is going to learn that we can source from other manufacturers. In this situation, we’re going to part ways with a distributor that we do $500,000 to $750,000 in business with annually and switch to two others and because we aren’t faced with restock fees.

There is also a line of composite decking that we’re going to stop stocking. It has been successful for us and it’s a good product. We were one of the first in our market to carry it, but now it has recently started showing up in the box stores. The manufacturer has also decided to become a retailer themselves and sell it on their website. So suddenly we’re competing against big boxes and with the manufacturer itself. Rather than be a partner with us, they are choosing to be a competitor. It’s hard enough to compete with other independents and the big box stores. I’m not going to compete directly with a manufacturer as well. It is nearly impossible to do.

Make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for and more, because there are plenty of other vendors out there with very similar products and services that are vying for your business.

One final example: we buy a particular post for this company at $41 from our supplier. We would like to retail at $55. Yet the manufacturer is selling it online for $45. Customers are asking us to match the price they’re seeing online. No responsible retailer can do this and sustain their business.

Our goal is to come into the spring season healthy and strong. We’ve moved some stuff to new suppliers. Just like a consumer, if something doesn’t make financial sense to us, we have to look elsewhere.

Bob Heidenreich

Bob Heidenreich, owner of The Deck Store, in Apple Valley, Minn., has been selling decking and home improvement projects for 30 years. Follow Bob on Twitter: @TheDeckStore.