The Relationship/Production Paradox
Relationships. It's what makes the world we live in work. There are many relationships we're involved with on a daily basis: husband/wife, parent/child, teacher/student, manager/employee.
But one of the more unrefined and least understood relationships in the graphic arts is the buyer/supplier. Most designers would likely not define themselves as buyers, but they are.
They evaluate and procure goods and services (supplies, photography, illustration, print, media, etc.) for a variety of clients and projects. Even designers with a production staff are often required to provide input on decisions regarding goods or services.
By and large, most designers/buyers rely on the suppliers with whom they have a strong working relationship. These relationships develop over time, because the supplier understands the operations and requirements of the designer/buyer and their organization.
A friendly and comfortable association builds, to where each comprehends the needs and demands of the other, and each knows what expectations can be met. There is certainly nothing wrong with a strong and trusting association that exists for the benefit of both parties, where each gives and takes from the relationship.
A paradox develops, however, when a new supplier provides a unique product or service that's not offered by the current supplier, or when the current supplier can no longer satisfy needs and requirements as they have in the past.
The new supplier might also educate and keep the designer/buyer better informed of changes in products and services, and even changes in their respective industry as a whole. The designer/buyer is then torn between maintaining the existing, comfortable relationship, or losing that investment, and cultivating a new relationship.
But how should a designer/buyer be receptive to new suppliers? Any supplier worth their weight understands the dynamics of the buyer/supplier relationship. It's what all sales professionals strive for in dealing with clients.
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.
- Dan Stanley
Dan Stanley is a regional account manager for The Hennegan Company. He can be reached at DStanley@Hennegan.com.