“Last October I attended TAPPI’s CorrExpo, in Denver, Colo., and as I was there I was reminded that this year we will have our 2020 AICC/TAPPI SuperCorrExpo, September 13–17, in Orlando, Fla. In Orlando this year as in Denver last fall, our industry’s suppliers will be out in force showing their latest wares to help our businesses succeed in an increasingly competitive packaging world.
Then my mind wandered some more; these people are the secret unsung heroes of our industry.
All kinds of vendors are in your facilities every week. Without these men and women, the corrugated industry could not function. They travel around from facility to facility and install new equipment, fix existing equipment, or test to make sure everything is running the way it’s supposed to.
Vendors do jobs that the companies in the industry are either unwilling or ill-equipped to do themselves.
Now at first glance, this article probably seems self-serving—I am a vendor partner to the corrugated industry! And I do sometimes feel like the unsung hero. But today’s newsletter isn’t about me; I’m not sweating my butt off in different box plants every day.
Many people in the industry do not give these partners a second thought, in the same way they do not pay that much attention to the cashier at the grocery store or the mail carrier that delivers their packages. They want to run purely transactional business with their vendors. Give them what they ask for, nothing more, nothing less, and then leave, please.
This is a huge missed opportunity from a professional standpoint, though.
Get to Know Your Vendors
In the same way that a good recruiter gets to know the facilities and company cultures in the industry, the other types of partners we’re talking about today are tasked with a similar challenge. Sure, most box plants are similar in makeup, but each one, even within the same company, can have vastly different ways of doing things.
This can be due to the plant mix, machine capabilities, management of the facility, or any of a hundred other factors.
The point is that in order to be a good partner—and if you’re reading this, you’ve been around the industry long enough to know good partners from bad vendors—you have to be an expert in your industry. Because of this, your vendor partners are a wealth of untapped knowledge.
That issue you’ve had on the corrugator for the past couple of weeks? I bet you have a service partner that has seen it before and can provide counsel.
Having issues with uneven printing off your flexo? Well, I bet your ink supplier has seen it before, and it might have nothing to do with the ink.
Even if there is not a problem at that moment, having a good relationship with your service partners will allow them to make suggestions to make things better. Maybe the product you are using is working fine, but there is a cheaper product that can get the job done without losing any effectiveness. Good partners will make that suggestion, even if it costs them a few dollars in the short term.
On top of the mechanical, electrical, or chemical expertise in your industry that can add practical value, these individuals bring another huge piece of value to the table that often goes unused: They have their finger on the pulse of the industry.
Because they travel in and out of so many facilities, vendors can be great resources to know what is going on in the industry around you.
If you are running a facility and you have a good relationship with your vendors, they may tell you that your competitor across the street just laid off their sales force. Suddenly, you know their customers are vulnerable—or whom to call for the sales opening in your facility.
If you are thinking about a job change, the vendor partners you work with may be able to give you the 411 on a facility you are interviewing with.
People ask me all the time how I know everything that’s happening in corrugated. The answer a lot of the time is that I have amazing vendor partnerships that help me fill in the blanks of what is going on in the industry.
Because of this, I greatly value and respect the relationships I’ve built with OEMs and vendors over the years. They know what’s happening in the industry, they are a wealth of knowledge, and they are genuinely nice people (for the most part—you know who you are!).
The bottom line of all of this is that if you are just using your vendor partners for purely transactional business and not building a good relationship with them, you are missing out.