This week, small business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about supplier relationships

Craig Hopkins is a director of online farmers' market Edesia.

What kind of supplier relationships do you have in your business, and how many suppliers are you regularly dealing with?

First of all, we're a New Zealand business and the whole idea behind what we're doing is to support other New Zealand businesses. So all of our suppliers are from New Zealand. We have around 40 suppliers of the quality New Zealand food that we sell online, and most of those relationships are directly with the producers. And all our other suppliers in the business - of things like packaging, software, logistics, design, web development and printing - are New Zealand companies. In total I'd say we have around 60 suppliers we deal with at least monthly, and a large majority of those we deal with weekly.

What are the challenges of dealing with that number of suppliers?


When we're building a relationship with a potential market supplier we really like to sit down with them, preferably in person, and spend a good deal of time trying to understand their business and their business model. To work effectively with them we need to have a good understanding of what they do, when and how they work, and any things like production peaks and troughs or seasonality issues they might have.

But a challenge around that is artisan producers are perfectionists, so they're also very busy and focused on their product. And like many small businesses they're often hugely understaffed and working very long hours. Working around those time constraints means we have to work very flexible hours. This is definitely not a nine-to-five business, and a great deal of our discussions with producers happen in the evenings or during weekends when they might have time for a breather, or be at markets.

How do you manage the challenge of keeping on top of all the information you're getting from suppliers?

We started off quite old-school - keeping detailed information about our suppliers in folders, and marked out on spreadsheets and in diaries and calendars. But now we manage that largely with technology; we have cloud-based customer relationship management software and other systems that allow us to keep track of those things, and to also work remotely, because there's also a phenomenal amount of travel involved in this business.

What other factors do you think help you effectively manage your relationships with your suppliers?

The food industry can be quite ruthless when it comes to pricing, but we try to work along the same lines as traditional farmers' markets. Artisan products are inherently going to cost more to produce than their mass-produced counterparts, but we make a point not to interfere with our suppliers' products or pricing. Making sure suppliers are paid on time also helps the relationships.

And just listening to suppliers' problems or issues strengthens our relationships. Because we're talking to a range of producers we can sometimes help them solve their problems by tapping into our network to connect them with others who have found solutions to similar issues. We're trying to build a community, and those connections all help.