All contractors are not equal; neither are suppliers. Just like your prices cannot and should not be the same as your competition, nor should suppliers.' Why? Because they all have different overhead costs and offer value-added services you want and use. The problem is, just like you, your suppliers don't continually remind you of these differences as often as they should.

When making a decision about whom to buy from, there are many factors that should be considered:

1. How do they treat you as a customer?

This is perhaps the biggest single reason to do business with anyone. Do they make you feel like you are important? Do they make your trip to any branch a good experience or do you come away disappointed? Do they forget you are the customer?

2. Do they stock the material you need to run your business?

This is very important to the success of your business. However, remember that an out-of-stock situation or a supplier that stocks the wrong materials may be your fault. I know of very few suppliers who will not stock an item if there is going to be turnover or use. Suppliers make their money turning over the inventory. If you have a problem with the materials being stocked by a supplier, talk to them and tell the company what it is you would like them to stock. There will likely be a couple of questions, but you should find most suppliers cooperative.

The biggest reason suppliers don't like to stock special items for one customer is that there is no effort by the customer to let the supplier know when they intend to change to another item and the supplier ends up with a surplus.

Working with a supplier should be like having another associate working for you as a partner. Just like the bank is a partner in your business, so should be the supplier.

3. Do they offer the services you need to keep your business profitable?

The services that suppliers offer are called value-added services because they add value to the products they purchase from manufacturers. The costs of these services are reflected in their pricing, just like in your business.

If you are not taking advantage of or using these services, then you are probably duplicating them and spending money that could be saved for other purposes.

Let's take a look at some of the value-added services offered by suppliers:

Shipping - Your supplier delivers, but you pick up merchandise. Why?

Early payment discounts - If you pay your invoices late or after the due date, it could be costing you a large sum of money.

Other services include: will call, fax orders, early order plans and quantity price breaks. These are all things you need to consider when deciding on a supplier.

In some of my seminars, we ask suppliers to list their value-added services. One supplier provides more than 100. Ask your supplier about their value-added services and I bet you'll be surprised.

4. Are their prices competitive?

While I believe suppliers also should begin to sell their services and themselves, their prices must be fair and competitive. Keep in mind, however, that a supplier which offers more value-added services has to charge for them and their prices may be slightly higher.

It's up to you to evaluate suppliers not only based on what they charge for a given item but how much they save you with their value-added services. You should also look at your operation to see if you are taking advantage of all the services you need from your suppliers.

(Dave Gleason has more than 40 years of experience in contracting, engineering and wholesaling. He has put these experiences into a comprehensive consultation and training company called Systematic Selling Inc., which offers customized sales seminars and workshops. Contact him at 1165 Antioch Campground Road, Gainesville, GA 30506; phone 800-447-7355; fax 717-698-6555.)