How to Choose Suppliers that Put You First

How to Choose Suppliers that Put You First

I presented this lesson live at PJX (Permanent Jewelry Expo in Las Vegas), sponsored by Sunstone Orion Micro Welders. I want to share this with all those who could not attend.

In this video, I will provide a rare look into the psychology and practice of suppliers. I am a wholesaler of jewelry, jewelry components, and have been working with people in the fashion industry for decades. 

I will help you spot the fly-by-night-scam artists and the gems who are not as polished in sales, but can be your long-term partner to help grow your business. 

I will also explain the constraints faced by suppliers, what they value most, and how best leverage those characteristics to become a high-priority customer without having a huge spending budget. 

How to Choose Suppliers that Put YOU First (I’m first going to talk about them)

  • The easiest way to find good suppliers (I’m going to tell you how)
  • What goes on in the heads of suppliers (what they are like, what motivates them, and what pushes their buttons)
  • What they can and cannot do (no matter what they promise)
  • Alarm Bells (how to hone your Spidy Sense)

No-brainer – Reviews!

Unlike many industries, especially the fashion industry, PJ has a great community. They are willing to share their sources and their experience. There are many 

  • Permanent Jewelry Facebook Groups where they will tell you the truth about vendors. Even better when they include pictures. Feel free to also 
  • Reach Out to Others on social media and ask them. If they’re not in your geographic area, you are not their competition or threat. It is surprisingly wonderful how willing the PJ community is to share.
  • Google Reviews
  • Online Search (see if there have been complaints or lawsuits filed against them)

What Suppliers Value (aside from money!) 

  • Make my job easier to retain good staff!

Treating my staff well! I am speaking for myself and this does not necessarily apply to everyone in the industry, but it certainly does apply to anyone who values their people, and thus will also care more about the products. From my experience, I’ve noticed a correlation between how someone treats their staff and the quality of their products beyond the showroom and ads. I pay my staff the most that I can afford, but whatever the pay is, it is never enough to compensate for abuse and stress. I have, more than once, cut ties with a customer because they were abusive on the phone to my staff. It doesn’t matter how much you buy, you must treat staff with respect.

On the flip side, I can never pay enough to match how good they feel whenever they are appreciated. We have customers who bring us cookies and treats when they do pickups. Trust me, loyalty is easy to gain. 

Although they should not jump the queue as we have strict protocol – first in first out, I’ve seen it happen. Some of my staff choose to inform their preferred customers about the stock availability via text message or email.

It doesn’t have to be treats (especially if you’re not local). Just being polite and grateful goes a long, long way. The reality is being gracious and polite is surprisingly underrated.

As a supplier, it is highly valued when you support the retention of my employees. 

Give them good reviews when they deserve it

It’s surprising how valuable reviews have become for people making buying decisions. Good and great reviews are more important than Google or magazine ads because they can’t be bought. If you’re not sure if they see the reviews, thank them for their service and let them know that you’re going to give them an awesome review – and do it in a timely manner. That’s hard currency right there; it takes 5 minutes of your time, but worth several hundred dollars to them and you’ve got their loyalty.

Give them referrals

Same thing as giving them reviews. It feels great to be appreciated and nothing says that more than referrals. They will remember and appreciate you, regardless of how big your order was.  

Larger orders

Ultimately, money turns heads. Some things to keep in mind though:

  • Larger initial order (if you are certain of their quality, plunk down your money, they will take you seriously and clear their schedule)
  • Small initial test orders are ok, but not great (the second should be significant, stress a bit and they will see that you have buying potential). It is less cost effective for you as the customer and timely for us as the supplier. 
  • Size vs. Frequency (larger, but less frequent orders, is better for the supplier than smaller more frequent ones, no matter what they say. It takes almost just as much time to pack 3ft of chain than 30ft of chain). And it’s cheaper on overall shipping cost if you pool your order. If you’re not buying frequently, but you buy bigger when you do, suppliers often think you’re just busy. When they get an order from you, they will want to put other things down to serve you, hoping that you will buy more frequently and you have the purchasing power to buy in quantity.
  • Low returns – mistakes happen, and sometimes you are shipped the wrong thing (mind you, our company has a double-check system for each order, so this rarely happens, but it can happen). If you are able to keep the items, let them know about the error and that you will keep them and try to sell them. This does not go unappreciated – they will be grateful. The same goes if you make a mistake on your order. Let them know you’ve ordered the wrong thing but you’ll keep it (if it makes sense), then they can do their best to send out the correct order. The supplier will appreciate you not shipping it back even if their policy allows returns. Whenever possible, just lump it and try to sell it. Shipping returns is more costly and tedious. That said, if your supplier is constantly making errors, don’t lump it, you shouldn’t be dealing with them anyway.
  • Ask them what they want. Come right out and ask what is of value to them. Tell them what is important to you and ask what they want.

“Hey, I really appreciate you holding the stock for me and the discount. Let me know what I can do to help you.” 

Can’t give you what you want? Some things are just beyond our control. 

Even for the best wholesale component suppliers in any industry. I can confidently say that I’m among the best of them: I have an awesome team who is the best in the industry and take pride in excellence and speed, but we can’t control everything. 

What Suppliers cannot control:

  • Bad planning (so many people call up in frantic desperation because they’re out of components and there’s a big event coming up – sometimes even if I get on the next flight, I won’t be able to get it to them in the time they need)
  • Stress (sometimes it goes hand in hand with the point above. I cannot eliminate the stress people feel when they’re at an event, there are lots of customers and things aren’t ready, not enough, panic… I don’t even know how to train to help with that)
  • Weather (I used to say to people down south that they have no idea how hard it is to live in the north with ice storms. Well, that has changed in the past couple of years)
  • Lost packages (we don’t work for the couriers)
  • Factory production (even though we are already working every angle)

How you can help:

Order ahead and allow for a full winter blizzard (crazy storm vortex is becoming more frequent)

  • Avoid peak season (Black Friday, Christmas, Mother’s Day – it’s the same dates every year – plan for it)
  • Tuesdays through Thursdays are the quietest time for online orders (a lot of people wait until Saturday or Sunday nights, after their busiest time and then do inventory and place the order, in a mad rush for next week. Have enough stock so that you can wait or be earlier. One day makes a big difference.
  • Give supplier heads up (they’re your partner, let them know what you’re looking for 2-4 months in advance, if possible. They can order more. Sometimes, if it is popular, they don’t need a deposit. However, it’s even better if you put a deposit on it)

Promises Made to be Broken (suss out the liars)

  • The quality will be better next time

No! The quality of samples are the best you’re going to get. Anyone who tells you “oh don’t worry, that defect is just the show sample. We were in a hurry to get this new item on display, so it got crushed…” Don’t believe it, it’s as good as it’s gonna get. It’s just like someone nasty on the first few dates, they’re not going to improve with marriage.

It will be here soon

  • Unless there is a specific date

Unless they give you a specific date, it’s getting harder and harder to control supply sources even at the factory level, be it in the USA or even China. There are problems with raw materials as well as labour shortages. This is especially true with PJ gold-filled chains, where demand outstrips supply and the raw materials of gold-filled wire and sheet are made in the USA only. 

  • Tip – apply pressure by offering to pre-pay

You can ask for a specific date, and if push comes to shove, say you’d like to pay for it and they can ship the order when they receive it. This will place a bit more pressure on them and they don’t want the hassle of refunding you. They will also likely ship you first because you paid first and mean business.

Alarm Bells 

Avoid anyone who treats staff poorly

There is a practical reason for this, not just an ethical one. Like a first date – you don’t want to go on a second date with a guy who treats wait staff poorly. In most cases, they won’t treat you well in the long term, which will be sure to show up in the quality of their merchandise sooner or later.  

There are different telltale signs – are their people really poorly trained, the ones who are earning barely minimum wage? Do they seem rather unhappy? No pride in their work? Is the workplace crappy?

A long time ago, when I first started out, I visited this factory in Southern China. The showroom was beautiful, their trade show booth was beautiful, the sales staff were beautiful… I visited their facility (like I used to do for all factories I worked with) and when I was doing a walk through, a bell rang. People were running as I walked by and I saw they were running to the lunch hall, which was horribly rundown, poorly lit and nothing like the rest of the plant I was brought to see. Sure enough, the shipment that came, after the approval samples were received and payment made, was horrible. It was a terrible experience, I couldn’t get my money back and ending up losing a great deal of money. Although I should have trusted my gut instinct, I learned a very valuable lesson.

Contrast that to another factory I visited in Seoul, South Korea. This time, I declined the fancy lunch and asked to eat at the free staff food hall. Everything was clean, the staff seemed happy and the food was decent, the utensils were disinfected and there were distilled water machines everywhere for them. It wasn’t fancy, but it was clean and the food was well prepared. They really cared about the staff. We worked together for many years and I never had a single quality issue.

The takeaway from this – always choose the more ethical company to work with. Businesses that respect their staff, and that have a conscience, will least likely be fly-by-night scammers. It’s important to learn to read the signs, which is an ability we have – it’s our gut instinct that we all have, you just have to learn how to trust it.

Click here to watch the video