Dealing with Suppliers in Your Cleaning Business
As you start your cleaning business, one unavoidable and necessary step is finding a supplier. While you're still a small business, you might be able to buy your supplies in small quantities and not suffer financially. As your business grows and expands, however, you will benefit from using a supplier for all your cleaning needs. Knowing how to find the right supplier and then deal with them in the long run can save you from a lot of stress and financial difficulties.

What Kind of Supplier Do You Want?

  • The answer to this question might not be so much in terms of what they sell, but in how they sell it. You might first think of price, and that a reasonable price would be a great motivation for picking a specific seller. While this is certainly important to keeping your business financially stable, remember that low prices can sometimes equal low quality and service. With low quality equipment that doesn't work properly, you'll end up paying what you saved on repairs or replacements. Therefore, there is more to finding the right supplier than just the money aspect, and if you try to bargain them down to a point where they no longer make a profit, then you might found yourself without a supplier. Remember that they have a business to run as well, and if you want quality goods and services, then you will have to pay to make that happen.
  • One important characteristic that you should seek from a supplier is reliability. If you pay the price for quality but then you don't get the supplies on time or they aren't what you ordered, then that price suddenly isn't going to be worth it. When your business is relying on the efficiency of another business, like you are with your suppliers, then you want to be absolutely sure you can rely on them to get the correct products to you, and on time too. You can look into the reputation and reviews of suppliers you are interested to see what their current and past customers say about their reliability. Even a supplier with a great reputation can prove to be unreliable, so this is something you might just have to watch over time as you continue forward with a specific supplier.
  • One way to find a company that is dedicated to fulfilling their responsibility to you is to look for a smaller company, rather than a large corporation with handfuls of clients. Working with a smaller client can make you a larger priority for them, especially as your business grows and expands. When you are the priority of your suppliers, then they will go out of their way to make sure they fulfill your responsibilities, whereas with a large company, you might be lost among the masses. This is one benefit for going with a small supplier, but there are pros and cons to each side.
  • The one bonus about using a large company as your supplier is that they often have more resources and backup systems to ensure that their supplies get out the door and to you on time. So when deciding between a large company and a small company, you have to determine whether you prefer vast resources or a more personal connection and prioritization. You can always check with small companies to see if they would be willing to acquire resources they don't already have if you agree to give them your business. They might be willing to go out of their way to build their resources if it means they will also acquire a large client.
  • When determining shipping rates, take location into account, as further distances will mean more time and higher shipping costs. If you are talking with a supplier, trying to figure out if they're a right fit for your business, ask how long it will take for the merchandise to get to you, and how much shipping will be in addition the cost of the actual supplies. Ask suppliers what deals they might do to get free shipping; for example, if you purchase a certain quantity of the supplies you need anyway. This can help you cut a few corners financially, since every dollar matters and will add up as your business grows.
  • Along with all of these other traits, you should also take customer relations into account. You're going to be dealing with this same supplier for a long time as you grow your business, so make sure that they appreciate you as a customer and treat you respectfully. Be sure that their employees are competent and you would trust them not to mess up an order or give you wrong information. For example, if an incompetent worker told you that there was a discount when you buy a certain quantity, but they were incorrect in that information, then you might end up spending far too much on supplies and hurting yourself financially.
  • Lastly, do they have what you really want? Can this supplier offer the latest and greatest in the industry, so that you can stay on top of the game? If the quality of your service depends on having the right equipment, then don't settle for less, but also don't give up on a great supplier just because they don't have the right supplies if the quality of your service depends on having the right equipment, then don't settle for less, but also don't give up on a great supplier just because they don't have the right supplies yet. Speak with them and see if they will work it out so they can offer the products you need, since you will be a long-term customer and can guarantee your business. If you find a supplier you that have great rates and all the other traits you're on the lookout for, then maybe you can work it out so you can get the products you need.
  • How To Find Suppliers:

    Maybe you know what you want from a supplier, but don't know where to even begin finding one. There are a few ways you can approach this, so start looking by one of these methods and see what you come across!

  •     Trade Magazines: Trade magazines are usually specific to a certain industry, so you'll want to search for them based on a cleaning service. Google can provide you with a number of possible trade magazines that will display the latest and greatest in the industry, and you might even be able to qualify for a free prescription for some of them.
  •     The Internet: If you are looking for a wholesale supplier in your area, there are online sources and wholesale directories to help you with exactly that. You can even just search by product, followed by the service you are looking for (such as "manufacturer" or "supplier") and then add your zip code to the search in order to localize the results. This will also bring up choices that you might not find in a trade magazine or trade show.
  •     Trade Shows: These are great opportunities for you to connect with wholesale manufacturers, as long as you have the time and money to attend a trade show.

    How to Make the Best Out of Supplier Relations:

    Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Starting Your Own Cleaning Business course?

    Dealing with suppliers may not always be a smooth operation, but with a few tips you can get the most out of your business-to-business relationship.

  •     Ask for discounts: Business-to-business commerce is far different than business-customer relations, and you can use this difference to your advantage. There is typically not one single set price for all businesses that a supplier serves, so ask about discounts and see how you might qualify for certain deals. Some of these price cuts will depend on the length of contract, quantity purchased, or other varying factors. You might be able to alter the specifics of your contract so you can fit into these categories and qualify for a discount, so always look for the best deal before signing on with your new supplier.
  •     Report problems: In large companies, such as your supplier might be, a supervisor is not going to be aware of all that goes on within the company and customer relations. He or she instead might not know of an employee's wrongful behavior if a customer doesn't report it, so if you aren't satisfied with your service, speak with a supervisor or someone else in charge about the problem. The most likely explanation is that they were not aware that the employee was being disrespectful or whatever your complaint is about, and they will work to solve the situation. If you have already signed on to a contract with this company, then you can't be turned away by poor customer relations. Instead, you have to do something about it, and the step that you can take is contacting somebody in charge. If you bring the issue to their attention and they don't anything to solve it, then you know that you need to switch suppliers as soon as you can.
  •     Get Close With Your Supplier: Your best supplier relations will come from face-to-face conversations and first-hand observation of the factory. This might not be a luxury you get if you are a small business working with a large supplier, but as your business expands and grows, you should get used to working face-to-face with your supplier. Having more of a personal connection will benefit you in many ways, as your supplier might be more willing to work harder for a customer they are personally familiar with.

    Switching Suppliers:

    The time may come that you need to sever the ties you have with your current supplier, and move on to one that suits your business needs better. How do you know that you need to switch suppliers? Look out for a couple distinct signs:

  •   Inconsistency: You can't run a successful business while working with a supplier that is unreliable. As mentioned above, reliability and consistency are key components to supplier relations, and if your current supplier is frequently late or messing up on your orders, then it might be time to move on. If it's a very rare occasion for them to slip up, then it doesn't hurt to be forgiving, but you can only tolerate that kind of service for a short time before it starts to hurt your own business.
  •   Costliness: You might be happy with the price you got starting out, but what if you start to notice the price from other suppliers is going down while your supplier isn't doing anything to save you money? Before jumping ship and running from your current supplier, take the time to ask why they haven't made price cuts when all of their competitors have. If they are afraid to lose your business, they should make the effort to offer you the best price. If their prices don't continue to please you, consider going with the other supplier's better offer. Keep in mind, however, that you might be paying higher prices for higher quality goods, so be sure to compare the quality along with the price before making the switch.
  •   Lack of Communication: Are you constantly trying to make efforts to speak with your supplier, but they aren't ever taking the time to talk with you about issues or questions you may have? Your business relationship with your supplier should have communication, and if they're not making their effort, then maybe you should find a different supplier who will take the time to speak with you. Just make sure that your end of the communication is respectful and appropriate, because if you are shouting at them on the phone or sending angry emails, then it might not be a huge surprise if they stop communicating with you.

    Further Advice for Supplier-Related Issues:

    No matter how well you deal with your supplier relations, there are still some mistakes you want to avoid when it comes to suppliers!

  •   Be Cautious of Over-ordering: Your supplier might talk you into buying more of the product than you need in order to get a slight price cut. This can be a good opportunity to save a little cash, but you also need to be careful of ending up with too much overstock. For example, if you overbought on a cleaning chemical but then realize that it isn't working the way you would like, you're left with a great supply of products you no longer use. Give a product a test-run before you decide to purchase a large bulk of it.
  •   Beware of Subcontracting: Always investigate where your products are actually being manufactured, as some suppliers might subcontract out your order to a smaller manufacturer. Your supplier might just have run out of space or work capacity, but they don't want to lose your business, however, they might not always tell you that they are making this decision. The problem with subcontracting is that your products are now being made in a factory or workshop that you have not approved or agreed to work with, and you might end up with unsatisfactory products. You can prevent this by getting a written commitment from your supplier that your products will be manufactured in the workshop that you have approved. This might seem like a drastic demand while you're still a small business, but as your business expands, you will want to know where your products are coming from exactly.
  •    Get Written Promises: If you have an important conversation with your supplier about prices, delivery times, or any other critical aspect, always try to get their promises or guarantees in written form. If you have the conversation over a phone, just write down notes of all the key points, and then send an immediate follow-up email for confirmation and physical proof. This keeps you from agreeing to a deal that they don't follow through on, and you can't prove their promises because it was all settled without a written agreement.
  •    Ask Questions: You aren't sure what something means? Ask for clarification. This will keep miscommunication from occurring and you will better understand what is going on so that you can negotiate. The more you learn about how your supplier's business operates and what all the different terms mean, it will be easier for you to identify where there might be an issue or recognize when you're getting a good deal.