The Relationship/Production Paradox
It's been called many things over the years: win-win, relationship selling, team building, customer first, etc. They're all based on earning and maintaining the customer's trust, and providing balanced, mutually satisfying results for the buyer, seller, and their organizations.
I appreciate and value having these relationships in my own work, and respect those that non-clients developed with my competitors. My perspective is that their needs are being met, and they are currently satisfied.
An opportunity might present itself in the future if the entrenched supplier fails to perform, or offerings from other suppliers of products or services are seen as superior by the buyer. All that should be expected is that buyers listen, view, or read what is offered by the new potential supplier, to consider if it meets or exceeds their needs.
A savvy designer/buyer is certainly open to reviewing and assessing new suppliers for the advancement of their career, and the progress of their business and/or employer. Understandably, there isn't enough time in the day to consider dozens of new potential suppliers.
Obtain references from fellow designers and related suppliers. Check industry publications (such as PrintMedia magazine), trade organizations, newsletters, and Web sites to begin your supplier research.
Awards and honors won by suppliers (such as PrintMedia's respected annual Gold Ink award, which we have been honored with) also indicates a high caliber of operations and services.
Once a potential supplier presents themselves, a designer/buyer should feel comfortable requesting work samples and promotional pieces from them, as well as additional client references. A prompt response should be expected.
By evaluating the samples, the look and feel of the materials, and the supplier representative, it will quickly become apparent if a good buyer/supplier 'fit' is in the offing.
Relationships are always in a constant state of renewal, to be responsive and dynamic as needs change. So too should the trusted slate of contractors and suppliers that you, the graphic designer, have as your support team.