For every successful brand, the customer is king. But, just as important as the relationships you build with your guest base, are the relationships you have with your vendors and suppliers. Without the right vendors, and a solid relationship with them, problems within your supply chain become inevitable.
After more than 40 years in the food and beverage space, Smoothie King’s supply chain has evolved into a well-oiled machine. Our mutually-beneficial relationships with our vendors play a key role in the success and efficiency of our supply chain, end product and overall brand.
Smoothie King’s Barbara Mayrand, vice president of supply chain, shares with us some ingredients in the recipe for success with our vendor relationships:
Invest in the Right Vendor
You can’t build a strong and lasting relationship with a vendor that will no longer be in business in a few years. While maintaining an established vendor relationship is important, it’s also essential to make sure any new companies you’re investing in will be in it for the long haul.
With nearly 20 years of supply chain experience, one of Barbara’s many strengths lies in her ability to identify quality vendors before deciding to work with them. Here are some questions she asks herself when looking to find the best vendors:
- Is the vendor reliable?
- How long has the company been in business?
- Are their prices competitive? How can they be negotiated?
- Is the vendor financially sound?
- Where is the vendor located? Are they close to my distribution points?
- Will they be able to work well with our research & development (R&D) department?
- What food safety precautions do they have in place?
- Do they perform third-party audits?
- Do they have pest control programs?
- Do they have climate-controlled freight to keep ingredients fresh?
“When looking at new vendors, you don’t really have much of an idea how responsive and reliable they’ll be, until you’ve already started working with them,” Barbara said. “So, you have to trust their track record and reputation within the food and beverage industry, and determine if they’re your best option. We don’t just look at their reliability in terms of getting the goods from Point A to Point B – we need to know they’re a vendor we can work with for years to come.”
Check Up On Quality
Finding the right vendors is especially important for food and beverage companies, where ingredient quality and safety are key to providing the best products.
“When food safety comes into play, it’s even more important to find trusted vendors,” Barbara said. “That’s why we invest significant resources and do extensive research when looking for vendors for our ingredients – whether it’s our juice blends, fruit and vegetables or protein powders.”
Barbara also monitors the ingredients, and their journey from manufacturer to one of 11 distribution points, to the individual Smoothie King franchises. We have data trackers in every truck, helping Barbara ensure the food is kept at the right temperature, and allowing her to monitor the overall transport.
Negotiate at Every Step
Within the Smoothie King franchise system, supply chain management and negotiations extend far beyond smoothie ingredients. Barbara negotiates prices for every part of the supply chain – from freight costs to store products like napkins and straws.
“In a franchise system, we can leverage the immense buying power we have – especially as a global brand,” Barbara said. “That buying power – as well as having pre-negotiated prices and established vendors – are a huge benefit for franchisees. We even negotiate the prices for things you wouldn’t expect – down to the light bulbs and cleaning products we use in each location. A few cents here and there might not seem like much, but over time, they can make a huge difference to small-business owners.”
When looking for new ingredient vendors, Barbara says quality always takes precedence over price. The R&D department surveys different vendors and chooses the top three with the highest quality.
“We already have preferred vendors, but we’re always looking for the best quality and price, so we also regularly check out the market for other quality vendors,” Barbara said. “I can then negotiate prices with them, and we choose the vendor with the best price. That way, we’re able to consistently ensure our franchisees are getting favorable margins, while also ensuring they’re not sacrificing the quality of the product.”
The Power of Direct Communication
Whether she’s working with franchisees, vendors or other corporate teams, direct and transparent communication is Barbara’s secret to successful relationships.
“I think we’ve been able to establish such good vendor relationships because we’re very clear communicators,” she said “We are direct but fair, and I think our vendors really appreciate that.”
Maintaining good long-term relationships with vendors is especially important for agile brands like Smoothie King.
“I track our supply chain data every day, so if I’m noticing we will need more of an ingredient than projected – if it’s trending in one region, or we just predicted too low – I can call up a vendor, and they’ll usually be very accommodating,” Barbara said. “We can quickly react and make sure our franchisees have everything they need, and the vendors are much more likely to help you out if you know them on a personal level.”
To learn more joining a brand with a healthy supply chain, download your free Smoothie King Franchise Kit.