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

Jason Anderson is the owner of Hort Air Services, which supplies controlled atmosphere equipment for horticultural and industrial applications to companies in New Zealand and Australia. The equipment is manufactured by a family-owned company in France.

You have a key supplier relationship with this company in France. How did that come about?

I've had dealings with the company for about 22 years. I worked for the previous agent for the equipment for many years, who took me on as a kind of protege. I started off by learning about the equipment and being introduced to the family when they would visit here from their base in the south of France. I later bought into the business, and when my predecessor sadly passed away I acquired the full agency about 10 years ago.

There are a lot of parallels in how the relationship between the two businesses has developed over time. My predecessor had a very close, personal relationship with the founder of the business in France, who unfortunately died in an accident about 16 years ago.


His son stepped up into the business and has taken it over, and he's about the same age as me, and also has two young children so we relate well to each other. We're the next generation running these businesses.

What does your ongoing relationship with this supplier involve these days?

All of the equipment is made to order to meet individual customer's requirements. That means we naturally have a close relationship with our supplier because I need to be in contact with them from the initial stages of quoting on a customer requirement, right through to the delivering and servicing the equipment.

In the past year I've had their senior technicians over here from France about three times, and I've developed personal relationships with them too. They're of a similar age to me, and they've become like family. For example, one of the technicians just flew out yesterday after being here for a week - primarily to do an installation in Hawke's Bay, but while he was here we also visited other customers to drum up a bit of business. And from a customer's point of view it shows them the manufacturer gives us great support and they're interested in seeing how the market here is progressing.

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I also go over to France about once a year - usually in November for a couple of weeks - and I always stay with the family and eat with them. It's more than just your normal business relationship.

As well as that direct contact, what other elements do think have contributed to the success of the relationship?

I've been fortunate to have had a slow introduction to the relationship and a long process of learning about how it all works. That meant I could hit the ground running with it when we took over the business. The relationship is very personal, driven by a mutual respect and shared business culture; we have common ideas and goals about how a business should be run and how customers should be treated. For example, you could think the time difference between our two countries would be a challenge, but because I have those personal relationships I have the mobile phone numbers of a lot of the senior technicians and management. When required either of us can be up at 1am working through an issue, because if there's a problem we understand we need to react.

Another factor is we solely rely on selling their equipment for our income, whereas almost all of their other distributors around the world sell their equipment as an add-on to another business they have.

And then there are the cultural similarities; in particular, they love their rugby and we do here, so whenever I'm in France we're always going to rugby matches and vice versa.