JBs Space: What’s a True Partnership?

“Partnership” has become a throw-away word these days. Years ago, before working in the exhibit industry,  I worked for a consumer products company. In my position I worked with a lot of plastic injection molders since our products were largely made of various types of molded plastics. A number of our vendors were also big suppliers to the automotive industry, in particular the US automotive manufacturers. The owners of those companies would talk to me about their “partnerships” with the “Big Three”. How they were invited to participate in “Vendor Days” and quality symposiums. Some of them were considered “tier-one” suppliers; others won vendor-of-the-year awards or were given plaques for superior quality. They were called “partners”, so in theory these business owners really thought they were partners with these huge corporations.

What most of them unfortunately learned later-on, was that this partnership was really a one-way street. Yes they got the business and yes they got their plaques and certificates, but in the end what they really got was dictated to. Many of them told me that they would be given a three year contract and that each year after the initial year they were REQUIRED to lower their price, regardless of material increases, regardless of labor increases, regardless of energy cost increases. They were basically told that in order to remain a “partner” they had to improve efficiencies each year and pass those savings (real or not) on to the customer. So the partnership was really not a partnership at all but rather a typical old-fashioned vendor-customer relationship where no matter how much circumstances had changed for the vendor the customer was really calling all the shots.

Eventually the pricing pressure and the lack of a real partnership drove a lot of these injection molders literally out of business. Others simply decided to stop selling to the car-makers because they were basically shipping dollars out the door with every truckload of parts. This isn't a partnership. This is a dictatorship. True partnerships are win-win, and this was “win” (for the customer) and “lose” (for the vendor).

A true partnership starts with the understanding that both sides have needs. A true partnership allows one party to share those needs with the other and to have those needs understood and incorporated into an agreement that very simply allows both parties to make money. There is this misguided sentiment that even if a company loses money on every order, they can “make it up in volume”. All this philosophy does is allow a company to go out of business faster – but with a nice résumé – to serve as its epitaph.

I still believe in partnerships, but in this world I wonder how many other people actually embrace this concept? True partnerships require a level of transparency and an even deeper level of trust.

A great vendor partner looks for ways to save their clients money. They provide free stuff – advice, ideas, samples, and prototypes. They don’t take advantage of last minute orders by tacking on rush charges when they themselves aren't incurring any extra cost.

Meanwhile, a great client partner recognizes the value a great vendor adds to their business. They have a sense of loyalty, share sensitive information and demonstrate their trust by living up to their end of the bargain. I wish we lived in a world where the term “fair profit” was more clearly defined and agreed upon. But since we don’t, we have to rely on partnerships that live up to the real meaning of the word. In the end, in a true partnership, both parties share the risk and both parties share the reward.

And as Henry Ford once said, “The reward for a job well done is the opportunity… for more work.”

That’s JB’s space for now. Thanks for visiting.

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