Much of retail negotiation hinges on how effectively you build and manage your supplier relationships. When you cultivate strong partnerships, the benefits add up—for you, the vendor, and your customer.

What builds true partnerships? We asked key vendors and retailers what influences them most. Here are some tips that came from those discussions.

  1. Talk to vendors when you don’t need to negotiate: Check in frequently with existing vendors to ask about their current state of business, priorities, plans for upcoming markets, launches, etc. Because these conversations will often be more relaxed, vendors will be more likely to share information more freely.
  2. Be more skillful than human: The very word “negotiation” creates an emotional response in some buyers. Focus on your objectives not on the vendor rep’s style of communicating, which could trigger your emotions and cloud judgment.
  3. Ask more than tell: The single biggest pitfall for buyers in vendor negotiation is to talk too much and not ask enough open-ended questions—the kind that begin with “What…Who…How…Why…” These open the conversation and encourage dialogue. They can also reveal critical vendor information that can be used later.
  4. Have a plan: Even experienced buyers can forget to cover certain topics in a crowded agenda. Writing down not only your negotiation objectives but why the vendor should agree is one of the key differentiators between average and superior retail negotiators.

Supplier relationships are often key to the business, but because of the competitive nature of retail and the ever-changing needs of the customers—as well as competitors raising the bar—these relationships regularly need to be revamped to better meet new business demands. It’s an ongoing process, and it requires continual attention and skill building.

What are some of your best tips for building effective supplier relationships? Share in the comments, or tweet us @mohrretail.


About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.