Improving Relationships

Cooperation or Competition?

If you want your suppliers to perform better, teach them how, says Norbert J. Ore, director of purchasing for Sonoco Products Co. in Hartsville South Carolina.

"Suppliers can be a much greater asset than we've allowed them to be in the past," says Ore. "If you don't make suppliers an integral part of your business, you run the risk of not staying competitive." He offer these tips for a mutually productive relationship:

* Encourage honest communication. "Create an environment where both parties can talk openly about cost, service and product issues," Ore says. Tell suppliers you welcome their input because they may know something you don't. For example, perhaps changing your delivery schedule could result in substantial savings.

* Be generous with information. Educate supplier about the various aspects of your business, including the challenges you're facing and what your customers' expectations are.

* Learn about your suppliers. "I spend time with suppliers, learning about their business, what their strategy is, what direction they're going, and how I fit in as a customer," Ore says.

* Look for opportunities to jointly use the latest technology. Whether you communicate via the Internet or modem, share database or use bar codes, the key is to take advantage of available technology to improve your mutual efficiency.

* Bring your people together: Send the staffers who are working with the products to tour the supplier's facilities, and invite their counterparts to visit you. "Recognize that people are involved in all the [stages], and people work better when they understand the whole process they're part of," Ore says.

* Include suppliers in your in-house training. It may be appropriate to invite suppliers to participate in some internal training sessions; when they know what you're teaching your employees, they will know how to deliver what you need to meet your objectives. Suppliers may even be willing to help out with the costs.

Before opening your internal operations, Ore says, it's a good idea to ask suppliers to sign confidentiality agreements. Used in the same context as employment agreements, such contracts can create feelings of mutual commitment. And just as training builds loyalty among employees because it makes them feel valued, Ore says you'll find the same applies to suppliers.

"You have to decide whether you want a cooperative or a competitive atmosphere," says Ore. "A competitive atmosphere assumes that if I win, you lose. A cooperative atmosphere assumes that we both could win."

Killer Marketing Tips

Powerful Marketing Ideas

Are your competitors taking a bite out of your bottom line? Maybe you aren't doing enough to market your business. Bite back with these 10 ideas to help your business make waves.

1. Brochures & Fliers: Your company brochure doesn't have to be a four-color job. Use a standard 8 1/2" by 11" piece of white paper with interesting type-faces and color printing. With three equal folds the brochure fits into a No. 10 envelope. Your brochure should describe your services or products, emphasizing why consumers should use your product. For best results, enhance color reproduction by printing your fliers on high-quality white paper stock, such as Union Camp's Great White Recycled Content Papers tailored specifically for color printers. For information on where to purchase Great White, call toll free, 1-888-GR8-WHITE.

2. Press Releases: Make sure you target your release to the right magazine, newspaper, radio station or TV audience. Be sure the press release has a news angle or "hook" that makes it relevant to the media you're targeting. Your local library should have the Bacon's Directory series, which lists media people to contact. If you need a visual angle to get your message across, send out a video news release. Who knows? Your local news station may even show it on the air.

3. Online Marketing: With sites on the Internet popping up faster than you can say "Cyberspace," it's hard to stand out in the crowd. Users may visit your Web site once, but they won't return unless you constantly offer something new. Keep updating adding to and improving your site. Enter online "chat rooms" and offer advice in your field of expertise. For more ideas, check out Jay Conrad Levinson's Guerrilla Marketing Online and Guerrilla Marketing Online Weapons (Houghton Mifflin).

4. Socially Responsible Marketing: Doing good for the community helps you gain exposure for your company, build employee morale, boost public awareness of social issues and, ultimately, improve your bottom line. Think about what your company does better than anyone else; then apply that to a need in the community. One socially responsible step that's easy to take: Use Union Camp's Great White Recycled Content Papers. They're as good for the environment as they are for your business - but run like a nonrecycled sheet.