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Get the Most Out Of Vendor Relationships

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Ask Tom Bemiller, president of The Aureus Group in Zieglerville, Pa., what the key to success is and he’ll say relationships.

“It doesn’t matter so much what you know,” he says. “It’s who you know.”

Bemiller is living proof of this. Although he started working in collision repair shops when he was 14, he’s never actually fixed a car. Bemiller has been able to run a successful shop—Aureus Auto Body—by using his background in business and investing heavily in all of his shop relationships. For more on Bemiller’s unique background and how he was able to use it to his advantage, check out the 2016 FenderBender article he was featured in.

“One person can only get so much done in a given day,” Bemiller says. “It’s critical to have solid relationships through every aspect of business. Without those, you won’t accomplish what you need to.”

With such high praise for maintaining relationships, it’s no wonder that Bemiller was nominated for a FenderBender Award by Dale Ross, U.S. marketing operations manager for 3M Automotive Aftermarket Division.  

In Ross’s nomination, he points out that Bemiller goes above and beyond when maintaining his vendor relationships, citing examples like always paying on time, being respectful and doing business conscious things like reducing the number of orders in a week to help drive down the cost to vendors. In fact, Ross says that the way he manages relationships is one of the three ways that Bemiller excels as an owner, along with having a unique perspective and the ability to look outside of the industry for ideas.

“When it comes to vendor relationships, I look at it as a two-way street,” Bemiller says. “It needs to be a win for both sides.”


Provide Value.

Bemiller is well aware that the more he can provide his vendors, the more they’ll want to work with him. For example, he was working with a small aftermarket parts provider that was not an approved vendor for one of the DRP programs of which Aureus Auto Body was a part. Bemiller, who humbly takes zero credit for getting the shop approved, says he spoke with the insurer on the shop’s behalf and encouraged the vendor to pursue approval. The vendor is now approved for the DRP program.

For larger vendors, like 3M, Bemiller says that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for him to provide significant value, but he does whenever he can. One of the ways that he’s done this is by implementing a process that requires the shop to place fewer orders per week. Now, all of the materials are barcoded and whenever it’s time to place an order, the item is scanned into the system. On average, Bemiller only places one order per week with his 3M rep. Bemiller is quick to say that this also benefits him.

“It’s less time ordering and less paperwork,” Bemiller says.


Take Responsibility for the Relationship.

If a shop owner is struggling with a relationship of any kind, including a vendor relationship, Bemiller says that it’s up to the owner to take a good, hard look at themselves in the mirror and ask what he or she could be doing to improve the relationship.

“In any relationship, not just business, if you are waiting for the other party to change in order for the relationship to improve, that relationship will end in divorce,” Bemiller says.


Find the Right Fit.

Bemiller says that when selecting a vendor, most shop owners focus solely on price. Don’t get him wrong—that’s important. However, he says that the No. 1 thing to look for is a vendor that has similar values to your business. Partnering with a vendor with similar values will create a better understanding of one another and will foster a beneficial relationship.

“If you’re willing to look at the big picture, you’ll see there’s a lot of value in selecting the right vendor,” Bemiller says. “Price shouldn’t be the only factor.”

According to Bemiller, price should come second. After values and price, shops need to make sure that vendors can deliver on their promises, which means they need to have the capability of getting what you want when you need it.

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