Evaluating Vendors: Where Does a Printer Begin?

W e know that supplier evaluations are important, but how do we evaluate them? A very basic formula to follow will be covered in more depth on Wednesday at 12:00 in the GRAPH EXPO Theatre (Booth 3457) session, “Smart Strategies to Use When Acquiring Equipment.”

Financial worthiness
Pull a Dun & Bradstreet report on vendors and potential suppliers. Your customers are doing it to you and you can be assured that large print buying clients are scrutinizing your payment history, cash on hand, net sales, and net worth, as well as every other financial detail of your company. This step cannot be overlooked or minimized.

Vendor/supplier history
Did this supplier just come on the scene? Are they an upstart? Have they been in business for 100 years and never had anything newsworthy that you can easily Google? Remember, you are not evaluating the salesperson calling on you at this point; you are evaluating the organization he or she represents. Investigate, research, and then investigate again. Understand who is running his or her ship. Who are the people making decisions at the upper level of the organization? Big suppliers do not always equate to big quality. Know who you intend on working with and their history.

The bottom line on this is that you cannot expect your suppliers to value something that you do not value. If on-time delivery is not a priority for your organization, you can’t really expect it to be a priority for your suppliers. The underlying message is don’t expect a supplier to be something it is not. Ask leading questions, such as, “Does your company have a vision or mission statement?” I have an absolutely limitless number of phone calls, e-mails, faxes, and direct mail pieces sent to me every day. Many of them state that they bring a “value proposition.” Ask your supplier the next time they toss this $20 word around what their company’s value proposition is all about. If they pause, fire them.

The benefits almost never include the features. Features are those things that are shiny and lack substance that distract us from the benefits. The benefits are those things a supplier can bring to your organization that will either improve the quality or productivity of the products your customers require or those things that save the company money that enhance the organization's competitive advantage. You can easily tell the difference. A benefit is almost always described as a noun, (person, place, or thing). A feature is almost always described as an adjective, (comparative and superlative descriptions). A feature is almost always something that describes a noun. For example: 80# Coated Gloss Grade 2 can also be described as a feature, as 80# Mirror Gloss Ultra Grade 1.978. Look for the benefits and remember the devil is in the details. Do not be distracted by the shiny objects or features.

The old carpenter’s adage of “measure twice, cut once” comes into practical application here. Using the measurement experts within your organization is an easy way to launch this portion of your initiative. Beware of the pitfall of measuring just for the sake of measuring. Keep it simple and maintain a consistent application of the measurements, and no supplier will ever accuse you of a biased approach in your methods.
Overall, regular supplier evaluations are a great way to ensure compliance with your print company’s needs.