Developing Close Supplier Relationships 

As our Purchasing Director, Gavin Wood, embarks on his regular ‘World Tour’ to catch up with our manufacturers, we take a look at the supplier relationships that have helped us build and sustain Tributes over nearly thirty years.  

When Richard Bush (Bushy) first established Tributes the product range was extremely limited – we started out with a few scaled sizes of wooden urns. These were relatively easy to source and Bushy struck up a solid working relationship with a single supplier. Over time, as our range expanded, we’ve sourced products from a large number of different manufacturers across multiple continents. This is no easy task, especially when you have high standards and expectations in terms of quality and lead times.  

Building new relationships 

Each new relationship takes many months to develop. When we plan and design a new product, there’s no guarantee that we can manufacture it within our existing supplier base and so the process can require research, liaison with the Department for International Trade, overseas visits and multiple rounds of sampling and prototypes. It’s not unusual for a new creation and the associated relationship to take more than 12 months to get to a point whereby we are confident in the final product and the supplier’s ability to deliver, consistently.  

From time to time, we also embark on new product development with an existing supplier. After years, even decades of working together, our suppliers understanding of our business means they are well placed to help us find new products that fill a particular niche or evolve our current range. We regularly meet with our suppliers, in person and remotely, specifically to discuss trends in the market, share ideas and look at other products they have created which may work for our clients. Most of our supplier relationships have this symbiotic approach and we actively welcome and encourage it.   

Families working with families 

As we’ve written about previously, many of our suppliers are small family run enterprises and this is something we look for when seeking a new supplier. There are lots of reasons why this works for us but two key points stand out. Firstly, when the family is involved in the production and delivery of a product their livelihoods, like ours, depend on consistency, both in terms of customer service and quality. Because quality sits at the heart of everything we do, it’s important this ethos is bought into and upheld by our suppliers.  

Secondly, but in many ways connected to that primary theme, family enterprises tend to be far more responsive than major manufacturers. Tributes is a growing and highly successful enterprise, but this has only been achieved through offering quality products, great service and, from a commercial perspective, careful business management. We have to balance our stock demands with space in our warehouses. We need to be able to respond to peaks and troughs in demand. We need to be able to order in quantities that suit all of those criteria. Over the decades, we’ve found that smaller, family businesses are better able to cope with this style of trading and it means we have a regular flow of smaller batch production and shipping in almost constant progress. It works for them; it works for us and most importantly it works for our clients.  

Sharing mutual success 

Gavin’s forthcoming trip, which will see him travelling for more than two weeks, is not just about catching up with our suppliers, checking in on production and discussing topical aspects of our trade. Whilst all incredibly important, a large part of Gavin’s trip is about thanking our suppliers, meeting their families and understanding how their businesses are doing. Because he’s in touch with most of them, most weeks, it’s also a chance for friends to catch up, spend time together and build even stronger relations. Whilst the advent of remote meetings has been hugely beneficial for people like Gavin, managing multiple international purchasing contracts, sometimes meeting in person to share stories and spend some quality time together is far more useful.  

Focus on environment 

Another key area Gavin will  be looking at on this latest trip is carbon footprint. Since the establishment of our ‘Green Team’, we’ve been working to understand what the Tributes footprint looks like and what opportunities there are to reduce it. We’ve already switched materials for some core products and packaging, but we’re keen to understand more about the manufacturing process. Thankfully, and again this is a result of working with small family enterprises, the factories Gavin will be visiting are not great big energy guzzling behemoths. In fact, you may be surprised to see just how small and rural some of our production facilities are! So, Gavin will be taking a detailed look at the full carbon footprint for all of our products and he’s starting by going back to the roots, literally, visiting the agricultural and horticultural areas where a lot of materials used in the production of our products are grown and harvested. Because they understand our business and our clients business, our suppliers have engaged enthusiastically with this process and we look forward to sharing the results of this piece of work very soon.  

We’re very lucky to have such a supportive and collaborative group of suppliers but it’s not by chance and like all relationships in life, it requires both parties to engage and work together with a common belief and to create shared success. This has, and always will be, our ethos.  

Suggested reading

It’s a family thing
All About Tribute Frames
Environmental Information

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