Commercial Laundry: David Griggs, Superior Linen Service, Muskogee, Okla.

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David Griggs

David Griggs

We all strive to have good relations with our vendors. No one wants to do business with a company that is hard to do business with or is not meeting our expectations. But there are steps that need to be taken to build and keep good relations with any vendor.

You should always remember that no matter how much you like a vendor, they are a vendor and you are not their only customer. They have a list of customers to take care of and will make time for the ones that demand the most attention.

Vendors need to know, upfront, exactly what you are expecting from them. This should preferably be a part of the RFP (request for proposal) that is used when you are looking for any type of service. If an RFP was not issued, then it will be up to you to spell out your expectations when a vendor begins calling on you. 

If at any time you are not satisfied with a vendor, you should make it known to them. This does not have to be a confrontational meeting, but they need to know they are not meeting your standards. If you expect twice-a-month service but they are only coming once a month, then you need to make it clear to them they are not meeting your expectations. The moment you accept once-a-month service you have changed what they believe your expectations are.

When purchasing new equipment, it is always good to check references. Almost all manufacturers build good equipment, but what separates them is how good their post-sales service is. 

There have been many equipment manufacturers that have come out with a new machine that laundries jump out and purchase only to be woefully disappointed when the machine has a problem and the manufacturer is unable or unwilling to resolve the issue.

Service is a cost that any good vendor has figured into their initial bid. Always be careful jumping on the lowest bid that is presented to you. It is usually the post-sales service that is being removed to allow them to give the lowest price.  

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Janice Ayers Davis, TLC Tri-State Laundry Companies, Valdosta, Ga.

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Janice Ayers Davis

Janice Ayers Davis

Have you ever experienced a scenario such as the ones listed below?

“That’s it, I’m finished,” Al stated. “It appears we want to work with Mark more than he wants to work with us. I provided the demographics, square footage and the budget for our home search, and he either e-mails us incorrect material, is unable to review the site with us, or his voicemail is full!”

“I would love to be your customer, providing you will allow me”—these were the soft words spoken by a decision maker that could easily afford to shop elsewhere. Her comment was made to the vendor, after first being ignored and then treated with arrogance and disrespect.

Sound familiar? Have you ever attempted to purchase a product or service, or even place a fast food order, and the person was rude, unresponsive or distracted?                                                                             

The only thing we know for certain is that each individual has a burden that we know nothing about. They may have recently experienced a birth, a death, a sick child, assisting an aging parent, trying to mend a broken marriage or working hard just to make ends meet. Their internal challenges often manifest in the manner the customers are treated. 

Unfortunately, many times we are the customer and can be a casualty of their current circumstances.                        

Recognizing there may be an extenuating circumstance and having a short discussion will often break down barriers and lead to an excellent outcome for all.

When seeking a vendor for the first time, research the company via their website and social media. Ask your team and industry associates if they have experienced working with the vendor; if so, inquire about their experience.

Then, when you contact the vendor:     

  • Provide the product or services you need and be as specific as possible.
  • Explain the timeframe you need the product or service.
  • Discuss payment terms, warranty and after-sales support.
  • Ask the vendor if communication will be via telephone, e-mail or text.
  • If more than one department is involved, request contact information.
  • Request and provide the information in writing when possible.

If the vendor is someone you have dealt with for years, and suddenly his or her response time has gone south, be professional and frank.

Examples: 

  • “Hey Lu, I have noticed a breakdown in our communication lately, is everything okay?”  
  • “Should I be reaching out in a different manner … maybe through text versus voicemail? Perhaps I am directing my questions to you, when they should be to a different department within your company?”

If a problem persists, or the experience does not meet your level of expectation, contact someone in leadership and ask for a different representative. There is someone for everyone, and professionals recognize and respect personality conflicts.

Communication is the key—with the right attitude, aptitude, and willingness to “do the right thing,” honest and respectful discussions will provide an experience that is meaningful for both the vendor and for the customer.  

Healthcare Laundry: Gregory Gicewicz, Sterile Surgical Systems, Tumwater, Wash.

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Gregory Gicewicz

Gregory Gicewicz

Let’s say you are the CEO of an airline company. You have two airplane manufacturers to choose from. Company “A” produces the top-of-the-line, safest, most durable, efficient and speedy airplanes. They have a 100% safety record. But their customer service is terrible. It’s impossible to get a human to speak to you and when you do, the person on the other end is rude and unhelpful. 

Company “B” produces the “Yugo” of the airplane world. Poorly engineered, ugly, cheap and a great punch line for comedians. But their customer service is impeccable. Humans answer the phone on the first ring and the service representatives are considerate, responsive, and professional. Which company’s products would you choose around which to bet your airline company? I was right! You chose Company “A”!

Laundry equipment is a lot like airplanes in this regard. Quality products usually win out over quality service. Great service can’t suddenly make a poorly engineered product great. But why can’t we have both? 

In our industry, some of the greatest and most innovative products were engineered and manufactured by laundry industry engineers. Service and support, while critical, may have come as an afterthought. 

Also, realize that highly performing service and support organizations require resources and time. Often a fantastically engineered revolutionary product may have been recently created by a small team of professionals without the benefit of an existing huge support infrastructure. 

Typically, when a company is lacking in responsiveness, it means that they have a breakdown in their support infrastructure. This could be as simple as one bad hire that happens to be facing you, the customer. Or it could be a more systemic problem, such as an inadequate customer call management process/system, not enough qualified support staff/resources, or multiple bad hires. Either way, you get what you tolerate. 

Therefore, it is best for you to notify the ownership of your subpar experiences with their support organization. Any ownership team worth their salt will want to know this information and will take action to remedy it. 

Where possible, build a partnership with senior management, and be part of their solution to fix their support. Help them understand how their poor responsiveness impacts your company. Consider drafting and signing a formal agreement with them, where they guarantee a certain service level, with consequences if they fail to perform. If they are a reputable company, they should agree to this. 

If support is so bad that it outweighs any benefit of the great product, then move on to a different product from a different vendor. The greatest piece of wash equipment in the world is worth nothing if you can’t get parts in a timely manner. The most innovative textile product is worth nothing if the company will not respond and deliver timely orders.

Consulting Services: Sam Spence, TBR Associates, Saddle Brook, N.J. 

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Sam Spence

Sam Spence

It appears that your vendor has forgotten the old sales adage that states, “Make a sale and make a living; sell a relationship and make a fortune.” 

With relevant deciding factors such as price and product being equal or merely close and competitive, most purchasing decisions are ultimately based upon relationships. Given this fact, simply researching a new vendor that offers a comparable product could be a realistic solution.

If, however, you see unique value in this particular product, I suggest that you meet with your rep and work together to determine the root cause of these service concerns. Work your way up the chain of command, involving your representative’s manager if possible. 

First, clearly state your concerns, as well as your requirements. Confirm that your expectations are reasonable and realistic, and give the vendor an opportunity to respond and offer solutions. Make it clear to the vendor that these issues may jeopardize future purchases. 

One very effective method for determining root cause concerns and eliminating waste is to perform a “process mapping” exercise with the vendor representatives. This exercise involves mapping out every step of the purchasing process from placing the order to product delivery. Look for unnecessary or redundant steps and any decisions that are involved. Then work to streamline the process by eliminating or reducing these extra steps.

On a few occasions, I have applied process mapping to administrative functions with different teams to great results. Even when evaluating the simplest processes, redundancy and unnecessary decisions are uncovered. The team is then able to streamline the process by eliminating these steps.

Strong vendor relationships are important to any organization’s success. Clearly defining expectations and working together to resolve concerns will assure positive results for all. 

Miss Part 1 with advice from experts in other institution laundry, equipment manufacturing, chemicals supply, and uniforms/workwear manufacturing? Click here to read it.