Tough Call: Product quality versus vendor loyalty

Tough Call vendor loyalty
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You’ve long been loyal to your local cabinet shop, but the quality of their product has decreased significantly. Now your biggest customer wants nothing to do with them. What would you do?

You learned long ago, working as a teenager at your family’s business, Loyal Lumber, that if the lumber industry is built on one word, that word is “loyalty.” After all, it’s on the sign out front. Over the years, as you took on more responsibility and eventually bought the business, you’ve worked hard every day to make sure Loyal Lumber lives up to its name. And it has; you’re surrounded by loyal team members, loyal customers, and loyal vendors. But a recent dustup between two of those has you concerned.

A longtime builder customer (the biggest of your one-store, small-town operation, no less) has refused an order of cabinets that were supplied by you through one of your long-standing vendors. The cabinet vendor you’ve been working with for more than 20 years took quite a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their facility, located just 12 miles away but across the border in a state with very tight restrictions, was closed down longer than most. When they did re- open, they were working at half-staff for months, then had trouble finding workers when the restrictions were finally lifted.

All the while, you were serving builders throughout the pandemic and remained loyal to the vendor, convincing your customers who rely on their product that it’s worth the wait for high quality, affordably priced cabinets. Your customers understood completely because, after all, loyalty means something in this industry.

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Now that the cabinet shop has been up and running as fast as they can for well over a year, you’ve noticed that one thing is apparent: The fact that they’re running as fast as they can shows in the quality of their cabinets. More than once you’ve had to send orders back because of shoddy assembly or stain jobs. Each time, loyalty won in the end. The vendor made it right and your customers have been patient.

But this time, your biggest builder customer said he’s not going to take an order as it arrived because the cabinets are not even stained the right color. Moreover, he doesn’t ever want another job done though this cabinetmaker.

You talked to your vendor, and they’re doing everything they can. With supply chain backlogs delaying hardware and a labor crisis attracting only the most inexperienced cabinet makers, they’re not only back ordered, but are looking at price increases as well. He promised to have more quality checks at his plant before shipping, but that’s about all he can do.

Since then, you’ve contacted a couple of other area vendors who would love to help you out but are backlogged them- selves and hesitant to commit to any larger orders, at least anything that can satisfy your angry customer. Finally, you reached a vendor who can take on your request, but he’s brand new in your market and you know your customer will question that. What would you do?

  • BE PATIENT. Ride it out with the vendor you know and plead with your builder customer to give them one more try.
  • MOVE ON. Switch to the new vendor and let the previous company know they’ve lost your business.
  • TEST DRIVE. Give the job to the new vendor. If it’s quality work in a reasonable timeframe, they may be your new go-to.
  • EXPAND YOUR SEARCH. Let your builder know that if they can share in delivery costs, you’ll look far and wide to find the right vendor.

What would you do?

SOMETHING ELSE?

If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to James@LBMJournal.com. If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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