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

Laurie Matthews is a director at Indigo, a company that provides expertise in tailoring individual and corporate luxury and experiential journeys worldwide.

What are the main challenges to maintaining relationships with your suppliers?

They're time and distance. We operate worldwide, and I can't be in all those markets as often as I'd like so I only work with suppliers I trust. And I've found trust can only be built up over a considerable amount of time, through developing a track record of successful projects.

A lot of our suppliers are located in different time zones, so I've learned it's important to keep our communications accurate and frequent; we talk to our partners daily during projects, and monthly outside of this.


It's also important that I'm up to date with the destinations our clients are travelling to, which is something my suppliers understand, so they send me their weekly blogs or other updates on what's happening in their areas.

What are some other practical things you do in the business to ensure you maintain strong relationships with your suppliers?

I think loyalty goes a long way. Bringing my suppliers regular business keeps our relationships strong, and in turn they'll keep providing great service and recommendations. I've recently joined the Entrepreneurs' Organisation as a way to network and build my client base, and I hope that will give me the opportunity to increase the amount of business I can bring to my suppliers.

Also, I regularly meet existing and potential suppliers at their offices around the world, and I'm invited to attend invitation only events internationally that include one-on-one meetings with the owners of lodges, hotels, activity providers.

For example, in 1998 I had an idea to give some clients an immersive experience of the south of France. I searched for hotels in French towns, which led me to meet with a hotel owner called Martin Stein. Martin and his family had taken on a French villa with a 15th century kitchen, which they planned to turn into a small luxury hotel where they would conduct cooking classes, with the backdrop of the ancient kitchens.

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We kept in touch and in 2002 I had the first opportunity to recommend his services. As well as hosting our clients' stay and the cooking class, Martin arranged a private visit for them to the Abbey St Andre. The abbey's owner was a former curator at the Louvre and collector of fine art, including some Picasso works not usually seen by the public. Because Martin understood the experience I wanted to give clients, he used his local knowledge to go the extra mile and create an unforgettable journey for them.

We've kept in regular contact since, and our relationship with him has also brought us into contact with local destination management specialists, like antique specialists, vintners, chefs and fashion designers, which gives us the chance to open new doors for clients.

What are your tips for other business owners wanting to maintain strong relationships with suppliers?

• Visit your suppliers regularly. Face-to-face time is essential for building trust, and you both benefit from the increased understanding of one another that comes with meeting in person.

• You can be creative when briefing suppliers, but you also need to be clear about your expectations and provide accurate briefs and budgets from the outset. Nothing is more annoying than wasting people's time, and being realistic about expectations and deliverables from the beginning will help you both work efficiently.

• Communicate with your suppliers regularly. A new process or facility, or the introduction of a new staff member can change how a business works, so keeping up to date with their business will help you keep up to date in your own.