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Managing supplier relationships: it's all about partnerships

Ruth Larkin talks about the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with your suppliers and discusses what questions you should be asking yourself when assessing these partnerships.

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In the bridal industry it is more common than not for boutiques to continue to represent brands and product lines season after season. For the most part this is down to strong sales results, positive supplier relationships, and the products being the right fit for the boutique. However, sometimes it can come down to habit, convenience, or be purely based on price.

Your brands should be more than just your supplier; they should be an extension of your company, a partnership supporting the growth of your sales and business. It’s a two-way street. Your brands and suppliers should of course be leading with design led products, but equally there should be a responsiveness in your feedback - what your brides are looking for, changes you are seeing evolve in the market place, and changes within the industry as a whole.

Questions to consider when assessing your partnership with your suppliers

  • With so many brides now carrying out most research online and spending extensive time on bridal brands’ social media and websites, does the messaging and marketing imagery speak to your bride and represent the bride of today?

Brides respond best to imagery that they can picture themselves as a part of, or to messaging that they feel speaks to women like themselves. Do your partners ‘speak’ to your bride of today? Is it putting out the right messaging that will drive brides through your doors? Brides of today are much more tuned into body diversity, ethnicity, and inclusivity; in fact, this message gets the strongest online response. Additionally, plus size sales have increased dramatically in the last 3-5 years, now constituting 30% of bridal re-orders across Europe. If you are welcoming brides into store offering multiple sizes then it is important that your suppliers (your partners), are responding to this and offering you the marketing collateral to support it.

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  • With extensive waiting lists for appointments right now, we are seeing an increase in brides arriving in-store with short wear dates and needing fast delivery. Are your suppliers and partners preparing for this and do they have ample stock available immediately that can help support you in closing these sales and finding an option for these brides?

Taking into account any impact that Brexit may have caused, it is important to consider where the stock gowns are housed and whether you may be subject to VAT and Duty on the gown if calling it from stock. Most brands have already responded and reacted in the last couple of years to ensure that there would be no knock-on impact from Brexit for their business customers, but it is an incredibly important thing to re-confirm now.

  • Style preferences have changed a lot in the market over the last few years. Apart from seeing changes in top ordering styles, sizes, and bridal influences, do you feel your brands of choice are responding to you as a partner to ensure that they continue to design and deliver inspiring collections for your bride of today?

Brands that are regularly engaging with you for feedback, thoughts, and advice are often the brands that have their finger most on the pulse of market needs and continue to offer the most suitable styles and collections to support your volume re-order business.

Key points to remember

Support and flexibility are key in any partnership (a bit like a marriage), and sometimes you must learn to compromise. Over the last 12 months you will have seen first-hand which partners have led by supporting and understanding your needs and restrictions through difficult times. In this industry, supplier and customer relationships are long-term repeat business partnerships, and at times flexibility, understanding, and long-term commitment must be experienced. Without each other no boutique or brand can survive, but when working together, great things can really be achieved.

Heading into re-opening I would recommend refreshing your information with each supplier of delivery times, stock options, additional charges that may now apply, terms, and customer service hours, because facing what could be one of the strongest seasons ahead, that support line might be needed more than ever to ensure you close every single sale while the bride is still in store.

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