When size matters, empathy most often lies with the ‘lesser’ player, writes Steven Jansch
Suppliers must act smart when it comes to dealing with big players. A damaging disparity in bargaining power was suggested this year, when suppliers to drinks giant Diageo were told in no uncertain terms that it was expanding payment terms from 60 to 90 days, principally so that Diageo could “improve cash flow and drive out costs”.
Following it being forced to stage a u-turn in reverting back to 60-day terms, we must ask: does the small supplier have more power than it is led to believe? After all Diageo – with its global reach – requires a smooth supply chain so that it can cater for its customers effectively, perhaps a fact that many undervalue. Understandably and perhaps not unreasonably, empathy most often lies with the small player. After all, could a 30-day delay in receiving payment from its main, or even sole, client result in a small firm having to close down entirely?
This is unfortunate, however, Diageo was perhaps naïve to underestimate the emotive response the letter would evoke. There is also the possibility that Diageo is underestimating the amount it relies on key suppliers. A breakdown in the supply chain means that the customer suffers, at least in the short term, through increased prices or reduced supply (often both). However, the backlash will have a negative impact on all parties involved.
Suppliers have the ability to make or break larger organisations. Take Zavvi, for example. It was only a year or so after the management team bought out Virgin Megastores from the Virgin Group that Zavvi collapsed due to its main stock supplier’s own insolvency (the supplier was part of the Woolworths Group). With the Forum of Private Business (FPB) claiming such behaviour “threatens to break the backbone of the British economy” and politicians warning Diageo could be removed from the Government’s Prompt Payment Code, it staged a u-turn on its policy.
However, suppliers should not bleat about being ridden roughshod. There is much they can do to counteract a potentially unhealthy and unbalanced relationship.
To view the article in the Scotsman click here
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