Suppliers: Friend or Foe?

Retailers are faced with an ever-growing and ever-changing list of challenges. They are suffering from falling profit margins and flat or reduced market growth. They are plagued by consolidation, increased competition and high standards set by industry leaders. We're not telling you anything you don't already know. You live through these critical issues every day. But you may not realize that closing the gap with suppliers can significantly reduce costs and boost revenues. It is imperative for retailers to develop "Partners" outside of the organization, rather than just suppliers of products or services. Retailers can achieve this by focusing efforts on developing partnerships with the right suppliers and also by understanding the value a supplier brings to the organization.

Segmenting the Supplier Base
The objective of segmentation is to identify suppliers that reflect the retailer's strategic vision. This ensures an improved focus of time and effort on high-value, primary suppliers, yielding closer relationships, increased revenues and reduced costs.

Unfortunately, not everyone will agree on which suppliers should have primary status because each area of the business has different needs. For instance, merchandising might measure suppliers on gross margin and sales volume. Stores and warehouses may measure delivery accuracy and the amount of pre-retailing done by suppliers. Neither are wrong, but a partnership can only start if your organization has similar views on the supplier.

Another tool helpful to understanding a relationship with the supplier is to know the current value to the organization.

Measuring Suppliers' Value/Contribution
A true representation of net contribution to the business is achieved by examining all aspects of the business, and assigning costs and incomes to each. However, most retailers do not have this information at hand. They must invest Significant time conducting research and holding extensive discussions with suppliers.

Information technology can help greatly in this area, but it is important to have an open and honest dialogue with suppliers to understand the costs and incomes of both parties. Discussions also reveal duplication of work and other inefficiencies.

Making a Case
A department store chain client needed to enhance supplier alliances. Specifically, the retailer was plagued by several challenges, including:
  • Too many suppliers, resulting in a lack of focus and a dilution of relationships
  • No formal process to monitor and control the number of suppliers
  • High-volume suppliers that were not cooperating with the retailer's vision

The retailer created a supplier segmentation model to begin its measurement and improvement process. Specific criteria included:
  • Gross sales
  • Uniqueness of product
  • Brand image,
  • Electronic Data Interchange
  • Logistic capability (lead time, hold stock, delivery window)
  • Pre-retailing capability (ticketing, hanging, store allocated vs. bulk shipment, bar coding.)
  • Exclusivity

After segmenting suppliers, establishing performance goals determining alternative actions and holding numerous discussions with suppliers, both the retailer and its suppliers benefited. Specifically, there was a reduction in cost of approximately 5 percent, quicker response times,
as well as increased availability, productdelivery, accuracy and quality. The long-term benefits include decreased mark-downs, improved product innovation and enhanced promotion strategies.

For more information on this topic contact Pat Fitzpatrick at Atlanta Retail Consulting Inc