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When a shipment of socks was delayed, Yousaf Khurshid of United Legwear Canada helped his customers come up with ways to recoup lost revenue. (Handout)
When a shipment of socks was delayed, Yousaf Khurshid of United Legwear Canada helped his customers come up with ways to recoup lost revenue. (Handout)

STRATEGY

Working with a supplier can save your business Add to ...

It took Bita Doagoo less than an hour to decide to bring the Detox Market to Canada.

The Toronto naturopathic doctor was visiting Los Angeles when, at the behest of a friend, she checked out the retailer’s Venice Beach location. Founded by a pair of French nationals, the Detox Market, which brands itself as “Parisian chic meets Green California,” stocks its sleek shelves with high-end eco-friendly products that range from an in-house natural skin-care line to organic artisanal chocolate from Mexico.

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“We literally walked into the store and my husband and I smiled at each other. This was exactly my niche,” Ms. Doagoo said. “And within 20 minutes of speaking with the owner, Romain Gaillard, he and my husband decided I was opening this store in Toronto.”

A staunch advocate of toxin-free living, Ms. Doagoo had been searching for products to recommend to her clients that would bridge the divide between the clean but ineffective shampoos found at health food stores and the luxurious but chemical-laden brands she once loved but no longer touches.

“This place was like the Holt Renfrew of eco-friendly goods,” she said.

Within six weeks, the newly minted entrepreneur secured a prime pop-up location across from Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox building on King Street West. She opened her doors just in time to greet the September crush of novelty-seeking film-festivalgoers, and the buzz has carried her into October.

Though Ms. Doagoo’s logistical efforts to open in time for the Toronto International Film Festival bordered on the Herculean, she will be the first to admit that she couldn’t have pulled it off without the help of her major suppliers.

“A lot of my suppliers have let us bring in their products on consignment so we’re not sitting cash-heavy on inventory. That’s been a huge thing for us,” Ms. Doagoo said. “Our success has been the support of these companies.”

As small business owners weigh their options in an increasingly crowded market, many are looking beyond the product and have started to place greater importance on personal relationships with their suppliers.

Good relations can help entrepreneurs extract top value out of their business expenses, whether it be in the form of discounted rates or latitude on returning goods.

 David Cohen, Toronto-based business coach and author of Bust Out! Ignite Your Inner Entrepreneur, sees this as a trend that can only benefit both parties.

“If you’re on really good terms with your suppliers, they may see the greatness in what you’re up to and really buy into your vision. They might even invest in you financially over and above giving you extraordinary terms,” he said.

“Your suppliers, especially in this economy, can be a great source for financing. They can give you extended terms,” he said.

That vision, of course, can work both ways. While selecting the brands she planned to bring to the Toronto store, Ms. Doagoo focused on the products that best adhered to her vision of high-quality, clean living.

So when she contacted Mark Deason, owner of the non-toxic nail polish company Acquarella LLC, the Arizona-based supplier quickly saw in Ms. Doagoo a shared business ethos that encouraged him to give her a financial leg up.

“We help those who really walk their talk in terms of trying to get people healthy,” Mr. Deason says. “We can’t necessarily be the ‘Bank of Acquarella,’ but we do recognize that we have some strengths that we can play to.”

Those strengths, at least in Ms. Doagoo’s case, include a policy that allows her to return the products that don’t move and an expedited effort to send her more of the products that do.

“There’s a discernible return on investment for those people that get it … so it’s not like we’re throwing dollars, products and human resource time into a pit that has no [return on investment],” Mr. Deason adds.

But as any entrepreneur will tell you, establishing a good relationship is the easy part. Maintaining that trust amid the twists and turns of an unpredictable market requires the real business smarts.

That’s why start-up expert and Toronto-based business writer Roger Pierce advises a policy of open communication.

“Err on the side of being too open as opposed to keeping secrets,” says Mr. Pierce, suggesting a tactic that at one time may have been considered counterintuitive. “If you’re having financial troubles, talk to the vendor. Don’t let them find out by lawyer’s letter.”

Put everything down on paper to make sure there are no misunderstandings, he advises, or find ways to help each other better serve customers. “It’s a symbiotic relationship: a customer wants a vendor to do well because he wants them to be around for a long time. The better the vendor does the more successful the business will be.”

By following these guidelines, Yousaf Khurshid has seen his product line expand into 200 stores across Canada.

When a shipment of socks was delayed from Turkey, the sales director for United Legwear Canada LLC phoned his clients right away from his Toronto office and helped them come up with ways to recoup any lost revenue, such as in-store promotions or offering an extra 100 pairs of socks at no charge to others.

“You want to always be flexible, solution-driven, give them options and then you want to work together to make money,” Mr. Khurshid said. “That’s the end goal. Making money is not a one-time thing.”

Despite her brief tenure as business owner, Ms. Doagoo would tend to agree.

Though her King Street lease expires in January, she hopes her success will catapult her into a more permanent location. But no matter how good the product, there’s one thing that will deter her from continuing to work with a supplier.

“Attitude,” Ms. Doagoo states. “If I’m selling your product, I want to make sure we have a good working relationship. Keep open lines of communication and be amicable because when you’re working with so many people, without good dialogue or a good relationship things can go downhill very fast.”

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