Volume 41, Issue 1 January 2006
A Whole Lotta Glass Going On …
Rules, Tips and Advice on Buying Wholesale Glass
by Paul Bieber
Editor’s note: Buyer’s Block is a new bi-monthly column written by industry veteran, Paul Bieber. “I was in the business of fabricating and selling glass for more than 20 years, and I know some customers have lower costs and always get their products on time, but others don’t,” Bieber says. This new series will teach you how to become a better glass buyer.
Since you are reading this article you are in the glass business, and expect to buy glass at a price that allows you to resell it at a profit. That’s easy. You order the glass from your local wholesaler, add your mark-up, make your customer happy and abracadabra: Profit. (You also thought the Sox, Red or White, would never win the World Series.) Buying glass is one of the most important parts of your business, comparable only to responding to your customers and managing your workforce.
The first topic we’ll discuss is not glass, but relationships. You know that customers buy from you because of the relationship you have with them. You know how to read their faxes, their bill-paying cycle, the payables people on a first name basis, you resolve their punch lists and even when they are wrong, you take care of them. Every successful glass business does this. Count on it.
So if relationships are the key to selling, they are the key to buying, too. With very few exceptions, day-to-day glass purchases are a commodity. What makes them more valuable is the speed and accuracy of delivery, the financial terms, the follow-through when problems occur and the relationship you have with your vendors.
Most glass shops have many choices. My experience lies in the metropolitan New York region, where 19 competitors are ready to deliver an IG unit to a glass shop.
When faced with so many choices, what do you do? Pick five fabricators, then give half of your business to one and split the remaining business with the others. You want to be a big fish in someone’s pond.
Working with only a few fabricators can make business operations easier. Take costs, for example. Do you know how much it costs you to receive and pay for an order? Every fabricator has a different labeling, shipping and billing system. Your employees will be more efficient if they only have to learn four or five systems.
If, however, you have more than five potential vendors with which you deal, how do you decide where to start? There are some rules you can follow that you may find helpful. This month we will discuss the first two, and in the March issue, the last three.
Rule #1. Let your top vendor know it is your number-one vendor and you expect to be treated like the number-one customer. Let the vendor make a nickel, and when you need a special favor, a quick delivery or a rerouted truck, you will get it. If you don’t get it, drop them like a hot line drive. I have known customers who were super negotiators. They paid the lowest price by arguing about pennies on a thousand-dollar order. But, when there was a job-site breakage, they paid a long dollar.
The customers who treated us with respect and accepted fair pricing got all the favors. I made sure to let our production and shipping managers know who the fair customers were. They knew when to throw the extra stop on an already overloaded route.
Rule # 2. Your number one vendor should be one that will go the extra mile for you: Stay open late, open up on a Saturday or Sunday for an emergency pick-up or do the rush order for you. If your account is a few days late, they work with you. You also have to respond the same way—if they call for money, send something, and don’t avoid the phone call. Don’t leave them in the dark on your purchasing; make them bid for the most serious jobs, but give them the last look 90 percent of the time. Keep them wanting to service you.
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