Getting it done with your suppliers

When you sign a contract for a job, you know it’s important to get the job built on time and on budget. Every professional involved with the job, whether they suppliers or subcontractors, want the same thing. That’s what separates professionals from hobbyists.

But all too often the schedule and the budget take a horrific beating, not because one of the professionals wants the job to go badly. It is usually a lack of communication and/or a lack of respect between contractors and suppliers.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you are committed to having strong professional relationships with other contractors and suppliers, your jobs will run more smoothly and you will attract like-minded professionals to work with.

First, you must respect the other business and its employees; treat them exactly as you wish to be treated. Listen when they try to communicate with you. Be receptive to their requests, be understanding of their demands, complaints and even rudeness. We are all human; we have “bad hair days” and sometimes those spill over onto others. But try to keep your own “bad hair days” to yourself.

Be responsive when the other guy calls. My Cardinal Rule #1 is, “You will return all phone calls the same day or by 9 a.m. the next day.” It is not a suggestion. And don’t get mad at others for not returning phone calls if you don’t do it yourself.

Too busy’ doesn’t cut it

I often hear contractors and suppliers say, “I was just too busy to return your call sooner.” That’s not an excuse. The truth is they are disorganized. Return your calls.

After you set the example, expect others to operate in a business-like manner. If the other company doesn’t communicate well, doesn’t return their calls, or doesn’t follow through when they say they will, don’t do business with them.

If you are a general contractor, bring along a good set of specs and drawings for the job when you visit your supplier.

When ordering materials, it is your responsibility to communicate exactly what you want. Don’t expect the other guy/gal to read your mind. When you want to order materials, call your supplier in advance; ask when’s the best time to come in to place an order. Then, keep your appointment.

Of course, return any phone calls from your suppliers immediately. They obviously want or need information from you and until they get it, they can’t order the materials you want.

Simple phone etiquette

When you are talking to a supplier about the materials you want, turn off your mobile phone or ignore it if it rings. Unless your wife is having a baby or someone in your family is about to die, there is no excuse for letting a phone interrupt your conversation with a supplier when ordering materials.

Last but not least, tell the supplier where you want your materials delivered and have a place marked at the job site for them to drop materials. Have waterproof tarps or plastic available to cover the load dropped during bad weather. Make it easy for the delivery guy.

If you’re a supplier, you have obligations, too. This is not a one-way street.

You need to stay on top of your inventory and keep it current with enough materials available to fill orders under normal circumstances. That means having an up-to-date computerized system. Everyone knows there is a limit on how much inventory you can have on hand, but the basics are a must. Making a contractor wait three or four days for J bolts means you aren’t watching your inventory very well.

When you give a contractor a delivery date, make it happen. No stories, no excuses. Don’t say you will deliver on Tuesday. Say you will be there before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m.  Be as specific as possible. Then get there when you promise. The idea you can’t control your delivery times is nonsense. Drivers should have phones and numbers to call in case they get caught in traffic or have other issues.

Don’t send a delivery person without complete information for the contractor. More important, don’t send out delivery guys who say, “I don’t know” when contractors ask questions. Teach them to tell the contractor, “Just a minute, I will find out.” Then they should call the office and get the answer on the spot.

Your price is your word, too

When you give a contractor a price, keep it. While you can’t be expected to hold prices indefinitely, that needs to be communicated to customers. Make quotes good for three, 15 or 30 days. Then be prepared to live with it. Unannounced price increases are a case of somebody not doing the job. If suppliers are hitting you with unannounced price increases, tell them it’s the last time. Contractors need to take the same approach with suppliers. Warnings of a price increase are often known ahead of time. If that info doesn’t get passed along, somebody didn’t do the job.

Finally, both sides must remember that problems on a job are seldom caused by one party. It is often a series of events or a lack of actions by two or more people. Regardless of where it started, when a problem comes up, it should be top priority for everyone concerned to get it fixed. The problem takes precedence over everything until it’s resolved.

You will be amazed at how much smoother jobs will run, how much more profits there are if everyone works together. Respect the other guy as you wish to be respected. Be a professional in all you do. n

Michael Stone, business coach and consultant, has more than three decades in the construction industry. He wrote “Markup and Profit: A Contractor’s Guide,” published by Craftsman Book. For his free newsletter, sign up at

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