With companies like Amazon processing and even shipping orders in just minutes, distributors have come to expect sped-up services from suppliers. But the reality is it takes time to customize and deliver quality promotional items. So how can distributors and suppliers work together to make the order process more efficient? Read on for six ideas.
MSNBC’s Mike Michalowicz, author of Profit First, believes distributors can benefit from working with suppliers that are close by. In turn, suppliers should target distributors in their area for sales. “A vendor that is in driving distance allows you to get on site and see samples without the extra time for shipping,” he says.
Another advantage of close proximity is the ability to order in smaller quantities without having to pay exorbitant shipping costs. “If you submit a big order and it’s wrong, you get a thousand pieces of wrong units,” Michalowicz says. “If you can make a smaller quantity, you can identify problems early on and not get overrun.”
Before placing an order, Jennifer Tsai, vice president of operations for Tri-Mountain (asi/92125), recommends distributors make sure the items they want are in stock. “There are times where one SKU or size may be sold out,” she says. “If distributors know that information from the start, they can potentially find a different product that is in stock if they know their client is not able to wait.”
Understanding inventory is also helpful for program business and can reduce guesswork. “We have many distributors that purchase apparel for ongoing programs and are able to have us ship in stock goods and backorder the goods that are sold out,” Tsai says. “If this is the case, having it notated on the purchase order will let us know not to hold the order and to go ahead and ship without delay.”
Tsai encourages distributors to be as descriptive as possible in their order forms, instead of relying on suppliers to decipher ambiguous info. “The most common mistake distributors make on their order forms is forgetting critical information about the product required, such as style number, color or color combination,” she says.
Lack of clarity especially creeps in with apparel orders. “We can run into issues where size and quantity are not notated clearly,” Tsai says. “For example, if the purchase order reads ‘2-XLT,’ this could mean two units of size XL tall, or it can mean one unit of size 2XL tall.”
Along with the SKU, Michalowicz highly recommends distributors include a detailed description of each item requested in order to avoid confusion. “A lot of orders are automated, so your order will go directly into their system – perhaps directly on their site or some other mechanism,” he says. “The system will kick it out if it doesn’t recognize it, if it’s a bad number or something like that. Then, a person will look at the order and try to bring clarity to it. That’s why descriptions are so important.”
Clarify Address and Terms
Distributors need to make certain their shipping address is correct, “because we will not ship product out unless we are able to confirm the ship-to address is correct via the USPS database,” Tsai says. If an error with the ship-to address is found and not quickly correctable, Tsai says Tri-Mountain has to place the order on hold and possibly delay shipment for a full day.
An “in-hand” date for the order is also crucial to include on the purchase order so the supplier knows how to ship items. “For example, if today is Tuesday and the distributor needs the product on Friday, then the distributor can choose a three-day service, as long as they place their purchase order by the supplier’s cutoff time,” Tsai says. “If they require the order by Thursday, then they will need to select a two-day expedited service.”
Likewise, Tsai reminds distributors to be clear on how they intend to pay for their order, and ensure that their account is in good standing. If a distributor has a history of paying late, an order could be red-flagged and held back.
“It is surprising how often we come across distributors who will kick and scream to have their order shipped, but that are not able to give us any guarantee that they will pay their accounts down,” Tsai says. “As a supplier, we want to ship your order as much as you need it – but only if you promise to pay your bills.”
Avoid Embellishment Assumptions
According to Tsai, submitting artwork with the desired size and logo in vector format will save significant time. But what happens if no vector art is available and the distributor doesn’t know the exact decoration size that’s required?
If this is the case, Tsai suggests providing “artwork file on hand, product and style desired, decoration technique desired, logo placement area and logo colors,” if they’re different from the artwork file. “With this information, our decoration department can create vector art and determine if the desired decoration technique is possible and select the best logo size,” Tsai says.
Distributors also need to remember that different decoration techniques require different types of setups. “The most common misconception with artwork is that any logo can be decorated with any size,” Tsai says. “There are size limitations with all techniques.”
In addition, some distributors incorrectly assume that every item in a given product line can be decorated with any available decoration technique. “This, unfortunately, is not the case, and understanding which techniques work best for which garments will save the distributor a lot of time and headache,” Tsai says.
Communication is King
Tsai recommends always ensuring that a real, live person has received and is processing your order. “If you are a distributor that prefers emailing, faxing or calling your orders in, it might be beneficial to contact a specific CSR or decoration rep that is familiar with your account,” she says. That way, “you can easily track down your order if you have any questions or concerns.”
Even if you live across the country from a supplier, Michalowicz thinks Skype can help give distributors peace of mind in knowing that their order is being processed properly.
“There’s a manufacturer in St. Louis, for example, and we’re always back and forth on Skype,” says Michalowicz, who is based in New York City. “The guy picks up his laptop and walks around the manufacturing plant, and we go to the exact machine and review it. When you can get the visual while you’re talking, that definitely helps.”