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Suppliers are the backbone of our industry - and our economy!

DirectTalk with Winnifred

These forgotten vendors, sometimes more correctly called 'providers,' often bear the brunt of a campaign planner's bad planning or miscommunication.

Considering that advertising expenditure alone is way over R10-billion per annum, which translates into tens of thousands of individual campaigns, handled by a handful of competent production managers, the importance of communication and careful scheduling is obvious.

And more so, it is vitally important for buyers of products and services to work well with the various suppliers who will bring their ideas to life.

With a myriad of suppliers across so many different disciplines, all over the country to choose from, all offering quality work under tight deadlines for reasonable prices, how should you go about choosing the right suppliers?

The main problem!
All too often, we wait until our ideas are cast in cement before involving the suppliers who will provide the printing and production services to complete a job. It is a much better policy to invite supplier participation from the earliest stages of creative planning. In our own experience, we have found that interaction from strategic planners, copywriters, art directors, production managers and various suppliers will always ensure the most cost-effective and efficient creative solution to the problem at hand. What's more, suppliers often provide ideas that increase the number of creative options to consider.

How to Choose a Supplier?
To learn first hand about the process of choosing a supplier, I called my good friend Jamie MacLeod from INCE (Pty) Ltd who is one of the largest printing and communication solution providers, to give our DirectTalk readers some tips and advice. Jamie has had extensive experience on both the client-side and the supplier-side. And although his main focus is on print and production in the direct marketing environment, his advice works across most other supplier services.

First, this is a process unique to each buyer. Some start with samples others with referrals. Some go with their gut instinct. But overall, Jamie says, "I think, you need to consider at least some of the following, since you will probably spend a large amount of money for processes rife with potential pitfalls, on which your reputation often depends."

Start with samples of their work. If the printer (or any other supplier) has the ability to produce quality work in a variety of formats with a variety of folds, die-cuts, heavy coverage, and other challenges, this is an excellent start. If the samples are poor, there's no reason to pursue a relationship.

Check references. Particularly asking whether their work is consistently good and consistently on time. After all, a supplier that produces outstanding work but doesn't meet deadlines is a liability, not an asset. Ask if they follow an international standards or quality management system like ISO 9001 and have a 'project management' discipline in place, as this is vital in ensuring an end to end service
to produce your mailing 'on time, every time'.

The Relationship with a supplier is just that: a relationship. Things will go wrong occasionally, so it is a good idea when interviewing a supplier's references, to ask how they have responded and come through when difficulties have arisen and whether their company ethic is to build 'partnerships' with their clients and customers.

Schedule a plant tour. Check whether their plant is clean and well organised, the equipment is state-of-the-art, as well as how the employees interact with one another. All this can tell you volumes about the supplier. If there's visible tension, or if employees are in a dirty or confusing work space, this will be reflected in their product.

Specialisation. Most suppliers also specialise within the services they offer. Keep track of their equipment and how their speciality dovetails with the work you do. Whatever it may be, ensure that you look at the strengths and weaknesses of each and understand what their 'unique" value proposition is if they have one.

Supplier Responsibilities
It does not end here, Jamie says: "From my experience I agree fully with Susan Jones from SK Jones & Associates, that there are a few important considerations to evaluate."

Price: The lower the cost per thousand, the lower your break-even figure, but not at the expense of quality or delivery.

Service: A good supplier is available to work through the process with you and answer any questions and hold your hand throughout the process.

Flexibility: Can they juggle their schedules or institute a night shift and work your job in if your production timetable falls behind?

Creativity: Look for suppliers that supply solutions and are full of ideas designed to save you money and time and increase the value of your campaign.

Quality: Quality measurements must always be considered within the context of the objectives of your campaign. A good supplier will understand your quality parameters.

Suitability: Are they suitable in terms of equipment, capacity, experience in your business, stability, payment terms, sub-contracting and their terms and conditions.

Timeliness: Look at how long it will take to complete a job if it comes in unannounced.

Buyer Responsibilities
Remember, suppliers also have expectations for a good working relationship, just as buyers do.

Payment terms: Unless you pay according to agreed-upon terms, you may compromise the supplier's livelihood.

Team atmosphere: Foster a team spirit and atmosphere of mutual trust. This is essential for smooth production and quality products.

Limit your suppliers: Cultivate a manageable group of excellent suppliers. Each supplier should receive enough business to make you an important client.

Provide one central information source: Provide someone in your company that  has both the responsibility and the authority to serve as the supplier's source of  information.

Foster good communication: Your supplier should know what is important to your firm. After completion, give them feedback by analysing the campaign and ask for suggestions on how to enhance both the product and your relationship.

The help of knowledgeable suppliers can be especially crucial if you are a newcomer to the production process - and therefore vulnerable to mistakes that may cost, time, money and your job. His advice to these 'fledglings' are: "Seek out a group of dependable, experienced suppliers to rely on until you have learned enough about production to proceed on your own." Excellent advice Jamie, that is how I learned the tricks of the trade.

... and remember over time you will build up a group of suppliers that you can trust and who will become not only your mentors and network, but also friends for life.

Winnifred Knight
Director and Owner -
Mobile: 082 575 9922

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