In today’s competitive hotel landscape, the relationship between operator and supplier has become more important than ever. And, while the two sides may have different approaches to business, according to Matthew Victor, National Sales director for Quebec-based linen supplier George Courey Inc., hotels and suppliers ultimately have the same goal — to satisfy the ever-changing needs of guests. “Hotels are demanding better-quality linens that treat guests to an ‘experience’ in line with the hotel’s brand/image. That said, the pressures ultimately remain the same — delivering exceptional, consistent product at an exceptional price point.”

Consistency is a key factor for Justin Meffe, vice-president of Operations for Monte Carlo Inns. “We are an independent brand, so we created our own product line, our own standard,” he says. “There’s always tweaks along the way, but we’re looking for quality and consistency of product.” The increasing globalization of the industry means most products are no longer being made next door. “Most of it is [produced] offshore now, so that becomes a bit of an issue. There are some products that we’re not as concerned if [production is] overseas, but there are certain items — such as amenities — where you have to be aware of the integrity of the product.”

While price always has, and always will be, a factor in choosing a supplier, Richard Portugese, Canadian National Sales manager for Assa Abloy Hospitality, says where purchasers were once more focused on finding the lowest price on “commodity” items, today’s buyers understand that the relationship with a supplier is no longer all about the lowest price from the cheapest vendor. “Items such as door locks actually ‘marry’ a supplier to the customer,” he says. “It’s critical that the supplier support the customer through the term of the relationship — including technical support, availability of service and spare parts. It’s important for a hotel to trust the supplier to be around through the good times and the bad. Hoteliers need their suppliers to maintain the relationship and work with them when things are going well and also when there are technical issues or problems at the property.”

Meffe agrees that price is no longer the main motivation behind supplier selection. “We’re not out there looking for the lowest price in the marketplace,” he explains. “[We want] a company that can work with us, that has flexibility in its availability and delivery times. Our industry is notorious for things happening on weekends.” That flexibility, he adds, often comes from smaller operations, “but then, we don’t go after the one-offs either…we try to find that perfect balance.”

INDUSTRY CHALLENGES
Today’s hotel procurement officers have an extremely difficult task and the demands of their business drives them to do more with less. “They have both external and internal pressures, leaving them very little time for supplier interactions,” says Victor. “So the time suppliers have with their clients is precious and requires the supplier to be extremely efficient and relevant. In addition, in today’s information-rich society, buyers do their own research and are more informed. Therefore, one of the most important ways a supplier can differentiate themselves is to become a client’s ‘trusted advisor.’ Meffe says his company prefers to deal with suppliers with a proven track record. “You don’t want to be the first one using the supplier,” he says, adding he likes to visit the plant, see the warehouse and make sure the supplier has a good inventory. “You don’t want to be blindsided on a Friday afternoon in our business.”

Even large companies, he says, need to have a local presence to make the cut with Monte Carlo Inns. “I like companies that have a sales person who is hands-on and accountable, has been with the company a while and understands the needs of our business.”

At CMI Uniforms, director of Sales, Christophe Hispiwack says his company is used to acting locally and thinking globally. “This requires a high level of transparency and clear, honest communication throughout and it involves all stakeholders,” he says. “Hotel guests are really well travelled and highly knowledgeable and expect more than the status quo. Guests have seen it all, so the hotel staff need to impress.”

Within Canada’s changing hotel landscape, which has fewer and fewer players every year, the pressure for hotels to separate themselves from the pack is of an even greater importance. Victor says suppliers need to be willing to work with hotels of all sizes and brands to help them achieve a competitive advantage over their competition. “We often help hotels design custom linen, embodying the spirit of their desired market positioning, helping them achieve a differentiating value to their guests.”

Turnover in the hotel industry has always been a challenge in the hotel/supplier relationship, says Portugese. “Hotels are bought and sold; GMs come and go,” he says. “Because of this, it’s critical we maintain relationships with all our customers, no matter what internal changes they experience.” He adds suppliers need to be willing to take time to meet and greet new staff and new owners who may have “inherited” their products. “This face time really helps solidify the new relationships we need to foster and lets our customers know that they can count on us to be dependable, and respond to their needs.”

This type of above-and-beyond service is what keeps hotels and suppliers together for the long haul. But, most importantly, says Victor, suppliers need to be good listeners. “Clients have become more demanding than ever and it’s hyper-important that suppliers listen to their clients. The more time you spend within your client’s operations, the more you learn about the key factors that make them unique.”

Operators need to pull their weight as well, according to Meffe. “We have a good reputation in the industry,” he says. “We have our own approach [to business], which involves sitting down with our suppliers…they know what we’re looking for, they know we pay our bills and we’re transparent about what we’re looking for. They know they’re joining a company that, if we give them a consumption amount at the end of the year, we can almost guarantee we’ll meet that volume amount within a five to 10 per cent ratio; that’s pretty good.”

“Customer service is what makes customers for life,” says Portugese. “Every project has its bumps along the way — it’s how the supplier addresses those bumps to ensure the client’s concerns are resolved and the project moves along to completion that makes the difference.”

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