Pointers for Distributors To Help Them Build Strong Relationships With Suppliers


Friendship bracelets, an extra glove at practice, shared halftime orange slices, an extra pen, the list goes on and on. Human connection is witnessed in the little things in life. From the time we get to grade school, through the rest of our lives, we adjust our interactions, expand on them, and most importantly, build upon our most cherished ones. Building a strong relationship starts with a simple human connection. At ASI, we value the simplicity and depth of a single connection. Building strong relationships between distributors and suppliers in the promotional products industry is crucial. A simple sharing of a favorite team could be the catalyst to booming business and exclusive access to products, better pricing and improved service.

Understanding Mutual Goals

“It takes a village” is a phrase often used to describe raising children, but as business owners and company reps, you know that this is just as true for building a business. Understanding mutual interest and success can be the difference between you standing out from the competition. Having a deep understanding that the success of suppliers is entrenched in the success of distributors can be the reason why your business is able to seamlessly pivot when suppliers fall on hard times or struggles. Understanding is just the first step though. Establishing a line of communication that works for each side is incredibly important for maintaining mutual success. One style of communication will not fit all, and that’s okay. Certain suppliers may prefer meetings. Others – emails. And others still – phone calls. Finding a style of communication that works for all parties is the first step in showing an interest in mutual success.

Establishing Trust

Like respect, trust is often earned and not given. There’s a variety of pillars that go into what makes someone trustful. Two of the most telling traits are a person’s or company’s reliability and honesty. Although more work needs to be done to build unwavering trust, these two components are often extremely good indicators. Being a reliable supplier or distributor means showcasing consistency across products and quality. This also means reliable payments and honest business deals. Honesty is the second telling pillar of trust. Being up-front about needs, capabilities and expectations is extremely important for building a trusting foundation. For example, it’s better that suppliers tell distributors that their process may take longer than competitors’ because they value accuracy and quality. Producing a near-perfect product with longer production times is always better than rushed and faulty products with sped-up production times or extreme delays in production.

Effective Communication

Keeping suppliers informed about your processes and market trends your company is predicting is a key way to create effective communication. It is estimated that about 65% of marriages end due to poor communication, and business relationships are no different. Keeping open lines of communication can make a difference when building positive and lasting relationships. Offer additional information to suppliers like customer feedback and product performance with consumers. This information could positively alter how they do business with you and even create tailored product creations. The other core pillar of effective communication is having reliable and responsive feedback. Be sure to address any issues head-on, and under the perspective that compromise may need to be made to help boost both sides. It is not uncommon for communication to get misconstrued in texts, emails and non-verbal communication, so it is important to make communication clear and concise, while also offering up a path for further discussion on the off-chance verbiage is misunderstood.

Collaboration and Partnership

Teamwork makes the dream work – an otherwise cheesy but accurate saying. Working on marketing initiatives in tandem with suppliers can help boost business on both ends. Match up seasonal sales with new product launches to maximize exposure and excitement around your business and work. Another great way to collaborate with suppliers is to provide valuable feedback to them. This could include feedback for product improvements, new products clients have been interested in, or even feedback on communication and business. Opening up feedback for both ends is a constructive way to build and push each business to its best work.

Negotiation With Integrity

Business is always competitive, but it is very clear when a company or person is acting in bad faith. Approaching negotiations with fairness in mind is the easiest way to have both parties walking away feeling good about the deal. The biggest thing about negotiations is keeping ego out of it. Having honest conversations with yourself about what your company brings to the table, its monetary weight and the value of the name and branding is important to get positive deals without walking away with hurt egos and broken business relationships. Another perspective you can take is to focus on the long-term gains. Even if the immediate deal is not completely in your favor, is the overall cost and long-term effect in your favor compared to having to change suppliers every year for the next best deal? Lasting relationships happen with honesty and mutual goals, which can only be accomplished when both parties come to the table with honest and positive intentions.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Life happens to everyone and giving people grace is a trait that doesn’t go unnoticed. Business should have boundaries, but business should also surpass money when humans are the back end of it. This doesn’t mean that every single order should always have to be adjusted and changed, but being flexible to adjust order sizes, timelines and product selections can go a long way. Depending on supplier capabilities and market demands, orders cannot always be perfect. Unfortunately, in life, it is often not our way or the highway, and having a greater grasp and understanding of that can create a positive experience for suppliers whom you work with, creating a reoccurring deal all due to grace. This includes offering support when suppliers are on hard times. Understand that if a supplier is a family business, life is messy and what happens in the family impacts the business. Even outside of immediate issues, there can be larger issues at play like supply chain and building leases, or other deals on the supplier end that have fallen through that now impact your orders. These are all things that no party can help or predict, and by giving these suppliers grace and support, you are showing them that their relationship and well-being means more to you than just a dollar sign.

Investing in the Relationship

What you put in is what you get out. Build a relationship with suppliers outside of just transactions. If you live near each other, meet up for a lunch from time to time. Connect at ASI Show events, and even make it an annual meetup. COVID-19 may not have been the prettiest of times, but one thing it did for the world is show us that connection is important and can be made despite all other hurdles. Meet up for virtual happy hours, join virtual book clubs with one another or just simply ask a question that is more than surface level from time to time. There is more to people than the logos they wear and the business emails they send. Building relationships with the person in mind and not just the sale is a way to ensure that the sale will always benefit the company.

Leveraging Technology

Tech can seem overwhelming, as the updates and new inventions move at the speed of light. The thing about utilizing technology is that you don’t have to keep up, you just must make sure you don’t get left behind. Use technology where it makes the most sense for your company. Look into it for streamlining orders, managing inventory, and making efficient communications, but if you want to keep manually sending the extra year-end thank-you cards or manually checking inventory at the end of each week, then do it. Just use technology to help with everyday counts or the things that are seemingly wasting time. Technology is also a great tool to utilize for sharing relevant sales and market data to help suppliers better understand your needs and the market trends. Suppliers cannot read minds, although that would be a fabulous trait, so giving them data to help them better meet you and your clients’ needs without having to spend hours collecting it yourself can cultivate sales that put you ahead of the competition.


Everyone in life needs a partner, and business is that much better when they’re also a friend. Building strong relationships seems simple but they take time and effort. As kids, we would walk up to other kids with nothing but a mission to tell them that your mom “also packs you Goldfish for lunch, but that you prefer animal crackers.” This was typically followed up by a name introduction and a simple question, “Would you like to sit with me?” From there, a new lunch buddy was made, and two kids would spend the rest of the year sitting next to one another, sharing stories and snacks day in and day out. Somewhere along the lines, as adults, we have forgotten just how simple meaningful connections can be. No need for a grand gesture or party or even a good reason other than wanting to build a lasting relationship with someone who just seems “cool.” Viewing suppliers as people before sales is a critical point of view to have in the business world. Having a mutual understanding that success for all parties is the end goal is much easier to achieve when you understand the person on the other end of the email, call and text. Building business means building relationships – a mindset that can only benefit everyone.

Take the first step to building a new relationship – with ASI. ASI can help you succeed in the promotional products industry and offer exclusive benefits to members.

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