The Great Supplier Purge

March 3, 2008
What’s the Conversation Like with a Vendor That Disappoints You Enough to Switch?
By Joe Feeley, editor in chief

The thing I learn from interpreting the results of our annual machine control professionals’ research and buying habits study for our cover story (p34) is that you never can ask too many follow-up questions.

There are dozens more questions we’d love to ask these study participants. But you’re busy folks. Answering more of our questions, however focused and subject-expanding, just is not going to crack the top of your to-do list.

That’s a bit humbling for us. But, listen, I spent many years in jobs very much like yours, so I have a fair sense of time allotment. You don’t have enough time to do everything, by any stretch of the imagination.
So, having just tried here to ingratiate myself to your good graces, I need to ask for more information from you.

I was genuinely surprised that, as you’ll see, half of the study participants changed a primary supplier in one or more important product categories in the past year. What’s more, 60% of these changers (31% of the total) did so in more than one product category. That’s serious turnover by anyone’s estimation.

The machine builders we know are, as a rule, pretty reluctant to change component suppliers. Their preference is to build long-term relationships with a limited cadre of vendors that don’t require them to jump ship because of price, performance or support problems.

There’s a big disconnect here, don’t you think? Nearly 30% said it was product performance and quality problems that led them to dump a supplier.

I can get my head around the 22% who said price caused them to change. No matter how much progress machine builders make to teach customers about lifecycle costs and the importance of flexibility and configuration ease in their machines, there’s still brutal pressure to provide a low-cost machine that does all that. Some of you simply have to change suppliers to juggle the priorities of low cost and performance. So, I’m OK with that finding.

There has to be more behind this 30% who dumped suppliers for bad performance and quality. I need you to tell us more. I’ve made a posting on Machine Builder Forum at, so there’s a convenient place for you comment on this or any other part of the study.

What’s the conversation like with a vendor that disappoints you enough to switch? Did they promise change for the better? Did they try to make it all better with a price cut?

Did you put them on notice, continue to buy from them and finally conclude improvement wasn’t in the cards? 
Maybe most importantly, did you end up better off with the new vendor?

Too early to tell? Are they likely to be that new, long-term partner or next year’s ex-supplier?

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