U.S. Communities


Tips on Partnering with Suppliers

Webinar speakers say that communications and commitment are key to maintaining those partnerships.

A task as basic as switching out toilet paper dispensers can be crucial in a supplier-agency partnership said Jeff LaPorta, Supervisor of Purchasing at the Harford County (Md.) Public Schools. He talked about cultivating those partnerships in a recent webinar, which is part of a U.S. Communities series on cooperative purchasing.

The Harford school system, explained LaPorta, had recently changed to a new custodial products vendor, SupplyWorks, and with the new contract, the vendor gave the school system new toilet paper dispensers for free. Swapping out the paper dispensers in August, right before schools opened, was a challenge, he said.

“Nobody wants to open the schools with no toilet paper. We worked with SupplyWorks to swap out dispensers in 54 schools. The company met our schedule and stayed overnight and worked long hours to meet the commitment, just as we had made a commitment to them.”

To have a solid agency-supplier partnership, it’s important that both sides are totally committed to the partnership, LaPorta said. One of U.S. Communities’ four supplier commitments is that the supplier’s corporate headquarters is committed from top to bottom to the U.S. Communities contract.

The Harford schools have achieved several benefits since the system signed on to U.S. Communities’ SupplyWorks cooperative purchasing pact almost two years ago, LaPorta said. The district no longer relies on five vendors to supply custodial products, including mops, paper towels, waxes and supplies. “Our custodians were pressed for time to call each of the five vendors to determine which one offered the best price—it takes time and effort,” LaPorta told webinar attendees.

LaPorta said that by using the U.S. Communities cooperative agreement, the district was able to contract with one supplier, SupplyWorks, which could provide all the items. The contract also helped the district reduce its warehouse stock and its need for warehouse space. “SupplyWorks came in with a lower price with just-in-time delivery that helped us reduce our inventory, and the deal helped us reduce our out-of-contract spend,” he said. SupplyWorks created a website for the district to order all items. Now, custodians go to the site to order supplies. It’s easier and faster than phoning in the order, LaPorta told webinar attendees.

The district’s vendor asked school administrators about district processes and where SupplyWorks could help, LaPorta said. SupplyWorks officials walked through the schools with the district’s custodians. The company developed an electronic task and supply checklist for school cleaning that replaced an inefficient paper-based system.

“SupplyWorks collaborated with us to identify and solve the problem with an improved, streamlined process. This is a good example of a supplier-agency partnership that is working extremely well,” LaPorta said.

Clear communications is critical in agency-supplier partnerships. LaPorta outlined the following best practices for agencies when working with suppliers:

--Hold regular meetings or supplier-agency phone calls to review deliverables. They can help clarify expectations. Regular meetings lessen the chance of misinterpretations that might happen through emails.

--Learn from their suppliers’ sales teams, who meet regularly with  other government entities about their innovations and successes. This is especially useful when agency staff are too busy to network with personnel at other agencies.

--Have honest communications and provide regular feedback to the supplier sales team. That way you will know when supplier deliveries are scheduled and what will be delivered. This will come in handy when you need quick delivery turnaround.

--Maintain clear communications with vendors. It’s better, for instance, to know bad news early—such as delivery delays. That way the government entity can make adjustments.

--Develop a professional relationship and a trust factor with your suppliers.

--Give your suppliers advance warnings about your agency’s big projects so they can prepare and provide suggestions. Also, don’t be bashful about telling suppliers what problems you are seeing.

Sourcing Summits

U.S. Communities hosts Sourcing Summits across the U.S. where agencies can meet many of their suppliers, according to Alexis Turner, a U.S. Communities program manager in New Jersey. She noted that a U.S. Communities advisory board member is usually at each summit and can talk to agency personnel about their experience with U.S. Communities. The advisory board includes key government purchasing officials.

Registered U.S. Communities participants receive email announcements for summits coming to their area, Turner said.

The third webinar in the series, “Streamlining Purchasing Through E-Commerce,” will be described in an upcoming story on the Coop Solutions site.

Government agency officials and U.S. Communities’ Alexis Turner discuss such topics as how E-commerce systems can help solve several of today’s procurement challenges. One of today’s challenges: When a good tracking and reporting method to show where money is being spent isn’t available.

Go here for details on how to view the U.S. Communities’ webinar series.

Michael Keating is Senior Editor at Government Product News, an American City & County sister brand.

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