What ever happened to relationships?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine. A long-time Harris Teeter executive, Mr. Harris is a former chairman of the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association and a member of the Refrigerated Foods Hall of Fame.
When I was new in the business, my boss told me, "You have to have good relationships with the people who call on you. They are the ones who will make you or break you."
And it was true. But today, top brass at retailers, brokers and manufacturers seem to work hard to prevent good personal relationships among trading partners.
Oh, I hear all the excuses for changing buyers and reps like undershirts. The brass wants its people exposed to all facets of the business. Or they’re afraid that if people get too friendly, there will be sweetheart deals.
When I moved from a store job and became a buyer, a boss warned me I’d be offered all kinds of things by salespeople trying to get their lines in. But I can tell you this much: In all my years as a buyer, I was offered something inappropriate maybe twice, and both times I told the people to leave, and that I did not appreciate their offer.
Two more points here. First, any buyer worth a damn isn’t going to be swayed by a lunch or a golf game. Their careers can go South in a hurry if they start buying on anything but quality and price.
Second, don’t think for a minute that the folks in the corner office won’t hear about it if you accept big-ticket concert or game tickets from trading partners. Your "donor" will be filling out his company’s expense report, and your name will be listed under "Meals & Entertainment."
Yet it’s gotten so you need to fill out a form to take someone out to lunch. That’s if you’re even allowed to do it at all. Did I get a free lunch once in awhile? Yes. Did I ever get a house or a car? No.
The fact is that trade relations today are probably worse than ever. People go in and out of jobs quickly. They rarely get a lunch or a golf game together. They don’t really know each other very well anymore. So when something goes wrong on a deal or whatever, there’s no inner reserve or relationship to fall back on. Arguments escalate more quickly, and they’re more likely to result in real business damage. And all because someone in a corner office is afraid that a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke from a vendor will sweeten up the buyer enough to grant special favors.
Do you see personal relationships between buyers and their vendor reps as a positive or negative? Why? Are relations between retailers and their vendor reps any better or worse today than in the past?