The Buyer – Supplier friendship

A vendor I know sent me an email the other day and told me they were doing business with a former client of mine. They said things were going well. It made me feel good of course, as I had introduced both parties to one another. But then as I thought more about it I realized that what is probably going to happen is that the first few orders will go well but then the vendor and my client will start to take each other for granted. And that is when then the problems will start. Something will go wrong with an order and the client, probably unfairly, will blame the vendor. It always seems to happen like this. So at some point today I think I will write to my client to remind them not to take their relationship for granted. I deliver this message all the time to my clients but for some reason it rarely sinks in. At fault I think is the propensity among western importers to view their overseas suppliers as nothing more than suppliers.

As I see it, however, a buyer-supplier relationship is a friendship. And when you have a friendship you have to invest in it to keep it going. In other words, you should never take the friendship for granted. Case in point: when I moved to Tokyo four years ago I made an effort to stay in touch with friends back here in the US via email, skype calls and Christmas cards. Some people reciprocated and some did not. Now that I am back in the US I am less inclined to get in touch with those who did not reciprocate.

And the same with your relationships in China, you should never take them for granted. On the buyer side, you cannot take it for granted that your supplier will continue to ship you product that meets your expectations. You have to meet your supplier sometimes, spend time with them, listen to the challenges they face in their business, cut them some slack on QC requirements etc etc.. And as trivial as it sounds remember them on their major holiday which is Chinese New Year. I don’t know one China vendor I have ever done business with who has not wished me a Merry Christmas or sent me a card. Yet I have never seen any US company I have worked with reciprocate by wishing their Chinese vendor a Happy Chinese New Year. That hardly seems fair and I am sure vendors do notice this slight. On the supplier side, a supplier cannot assume that just because you are their customer you will continue to give them orders. They have to deliver quality product to you each time, discuss problems with you, work hard to understand your business and the challenges you face as you try to deliver product to your customers in a very competitive market.

And of course the Christmas card is always appreciated.

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