Cutting Tool Engineering
June 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 6

Recognizing worthy suppliers

By Keith Jennings

Been to visit a supplier lately? I haven’t, but I’m working on changing that.

Most of the time, customers are our primary focus, and we make sure they receive prompt and professional service and an occasional lunch. The importance of customer service is certainly not a new concept, and I’ve written about it in this column. But my relationship with suppliers as of late can be summed up as, “no news is good news.” Even so, just as we like to receive gratitude and recognition from our customers, it’s important to remember that our suppliers should be recognized and their value shouldn’t be overlooked.

Lately, several of them have gone the extra mile for us, ultimately helping us maintain good relationships with our customers by providing critical materials or advice. I realized, however, these suppliers haven’t received much love and gratitude in a while, even though they’re a tremendous help. We’ve been so hyperfocused on coddling customers that the good suppliers have been lost in the shuffle—despite the fact they often bail us out and make us look good.

This isn’t to say that we never see suppliers or we don’t care about them. It’s just a realization that we may need to reprioritize our time so as to include some worthy attention to the vendors that keep us stocked and in business.

If your shop is ISO-certified or adheres to a similar standard, it’s a requirement to maintain records of supplier audits and performance, usually including a visit and tour of their facilities to qualify them. While this type of visit is beneficial, it shouldn’t be the only reason you visit a supplier. How about a visit without official audit duties to say thanks instead?

Another reason to thank great suppliers is their expertise. Most are happy and willing to listen to your issues and develop cost-effective solutions. Some examples from our shop include:

  • a machine tool representative who brainstormed with us to optimize the tool choices for a quote and eventual job;
  • an overhead crane representative who assisted us in planning and choosing two overhead jib cranes for the mill and lathe areas, ensuring we didn’t add anything that wasn’t needed;
  • a painting vendor who helped us determine we could use our own paint booth for an important painting job even though he could have done it, knowing he’d eventually get more powder-coating business; and
  • material suppliers who’ve spent many hours locating specialized raw materials unavailable locally, even though they weren’t sure they’d get the business.

Also, I remember lean times in the past when certain suppliers were cooperative about late payments and allowed us financial flexibility until our cash flow problem was resolved. Thank goodness they were understanding and willing!

Upon further reflection of this inattentiveness, I’ve decided to make it a point to get out more frequently and visit these good people, reiterating how much they’re appreciated and contribute to our success. Not all suppliers deserve such attention and not all are within driving distance. But even the deserving distant ones still appreciate a phone call or old-fashioned note to say thank you. When you think about it, that’s some pretty inexpensive bang for the buck! CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at

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