You might feel that you’ve hit the jackpot when you start working with big-box retailers. These large, influential customers can propel a small company to the next level of growth, profitability and reputation.

But some big-box companies are putting the squeeze on suppliers, asking them to meet shorter delivery deadlines and fining suppliers for late deliveries or inaccurate information. These demands can inflict stress on managers and can add complications in your company’s supply chain and cash flow.

New demands from big-box stores are putting the squeeze on some suppliersTweet This

Here are some tactics to help stay a step ahead of big-box customers’ expectations and for using those opportunities to help you grow your company’s capacity and reputation.

Discover Customer Needs

Don’t assume you know the retailer’s pain points and needs. Ask questions, first and continually, whether starting a new customer relationship or maintaining a current one.

Find out more about the customer’s values and business strategy:

  •       Ask about consumers’ expectations: what kind of consumer experiences does the store want to deliver?
  •       What are the retailer’s challenges and how can you help overcome them?
  •       Does the retailer have supplier expectations that are not explicitly in your contract?
  •       What are your competitors doing well with this company – and, do your competitors set a standard that the retailer expects you to meet or beat?

Your customers will happily share this information when you explain that your goal is to do a better job for them.

Communication Beyond Lip Service

Stay in touch with your customers, even when everything is going smoothly. There might be changes down the pike in their business models or with operations. Knowing this before it happens can allow you to react quickly. Consider scheduling quarterly calls with key contacts or reach out periodically to find out if they have any issues with your products or if there’s anything you could do better for them. By remaining a concerned and proactive supplier, your customer is more likely to approach you if there’s an issue, and to keep using you even if they’re making other changes.

Source Wisdom From Your Crowd

Your employees may have ideas about how to make things more efficient or save you money. Ask them! “…when employees do choose to speak up, research suggests that a host of positive things can happen, including higher employee engagement and job satisfaction, greater learning, enhanced innovation and creativity, fewer accidents and safer workplaces, and even better unit financial performance,” said David A. Hoffman and John J. Sumanth in a Harvard Business Review article.

Deliver On Time

Transportation is core to supply chain. Your goal is ensuring that goods are delivered when expected and in top condition. Many things can go wrong with transportation: including weather, natural disasters, accidents and logistical problems. Choose a shipper with the experience you need, who can handle the type of freight you’re sending. Make sure you’re using a reputable company with a track record. Check references. Don’t choose a carrier based only on cost, as your reputation and business are on the line. By staying on top of your transportation, you can change carriers quickly if there’s a problem in the workflow, including weather issues.

Monitor Cash Flow

Companies get into trouble when they don’t have enough cash to pay for yesterday’s work and tomorrow’s supplies.  Monitor cash carefully so you aren’t caught short. If one of your suppliers holds back materials because of overdue invoices, you might not be able to fill orders.  Dun & Bradstreet offers helpful information on Access to Capital about choosing funding sources.

Build Trust and Reputation

Just as it’s important to build trust and credibility with lenders by paying your debts on time, you need to build trust with your customers.  You likely make your largest loan payments first to be sure that your biggest financial obligations are met.

Consider taking the same approach with major retailers. Make sure your most important customers, usually the ones with the largest accounts and the greatest profit, are your top priority. Invest first and often in the customers that mean the most to your company’s operations and long-term success.

Photo Credit: Dalboyne, Twenty20