Every dealer knows that in such an unpredictable and tough retail climate, a strong relationship with manufacturers and suppliers is vital to ensure your business is trading on the best terms and is able to assist end-users promptly.
With Valentine’s Day upon us, AMP trawls back through some of the major interviews over the last year to discover what leading dealers and suppliers value most in a business relationship and why a strong one is so important to prosperity.
Establishing why having excellent trade relationships is so important, Ability Plus’ owner, Graham Johnson, says: “When you’ve got five stores and more than 20 staff, with those sort of overheads, you’ve got to be really tight on your numbers and finances and have good relationships with your suppliers and bank manager.”
Most dealers will be agree with Johnson and especially those fighting increasing overheads and those who are time-poor and rely on suppliers to be flexible and go the extra mile to assist retailers in helping the end-user.
For Martin Bush, founder of South Wales’ Bush Healthcare, trust is the key ingredient in the dealer’s relationship with its suppliers.
He has been in the mobility retail industry long enough to get to know the opposite side of the supply chain and understands that everyone in the process has to make money and it is unfair to squeeze every player down to the last penny.
“The problem is, everybody has got to eat – the manufacturer, the importer, they’ve got to make money. You can be too greedy and try and slap them down for discount after discount. But the next week the supplier won’t be there to maintain or help.”
“The service we get from Scott Crabtree at Van Os is superb. If something is wrong, we’ll ring Scott, and no problem, we’ll get the new scooter the next day. The element of trust with Scott and us is good.”
Meanwhile, Alastair Gibbs, managing director at TPG DisableAids, insists the best relationships work both ways, with dealers playing their role too and feeding back to suppliers.
He says: “We’ve never been shy in going back and saying if we feel there’s been a shortcoming because I think that’s only fair. You can’t stand back on the side-lines and buy something else from somewhere else if you don’t think very much of the product.
“It’s only fair and responsible to go back and say why there has been a shortcoming. And certainly over 30 years in the industry I’ve built up personal relationships with a lot of manufacturers and they recognise that directness and that honesty.”
On the supplier side, Gino Farruggio, trade sales director for Stitlz Homelifts, agrees with Gibbs. He too sees the relationship as a two-way street and likes dealers to describe what works well and what does not.
“Dealers will only stay committed to suppliers who continually innovate and create great new cutting-edge products. Technology is changing all the time and, as manufacturers, we need to lead in the field to keep strong partnerships with our dealers.”
Similarly, David Wilson, commercial director at Brigg Mobility, which launched recently, already knows that partnerships have to benefit everyone involved and cannot favour one party unfairly.
He says he is “quite tenacious” in dealing with suppliers: “I’m quite direct and tell people what it is we want and if they can deliver then great. Relationships have to be win-win and it’s a case of being really honest with suppliers. We approach everyone on that basis.”
Industry suppliers too need to ensure a seamless and flexible relationship with their manufacturers.
TGA demonstrated this last year when a fire ripped through Heartway’s factory in Taiwan. The Sudbury-based business managed to “maintain an uncompromised dealer service”, which was put down in part to strong supplier relationships.
Managing director for TGA, Daniel Stone, sums it up: “For me the supplier relationships have always been as important as the customer relationships. So much work has been done over the years with the suppliers and it’s the length and experience in those relationships that push it all forward.
“Our two main suppliers have been with us for about 15 and 20 years which helps us maintain consistent quality.”
Out of the hundreds of company relationships in the mobility trade, and the many thousands of employer and staff relationships within mobility businesses, it would seem there are two key ingredients valued above all others – communication and trust.