A good supplier or distributor can be key to the success of any small shop. Where do you go when you need some hardware for a big project that has to go out tomorrow? What if you're running low on the plywood or particleboard that you're building a project with and you just can't wait? You certainly don't want to hear, "I'm sorry, but we can't help you. You're not one of our customers."

Jim McGrew, owner of McGrew Woodworks, has found that sticking with the same suppliers pays off. He has purchased all his hardware from Alpine Sales, a large operation in the Southeast, hardwood from Greenville-Spartanburg Hardwood Center and doors from Roy's Wood Products.

"The reason you stick to a supplier is that he'll always stick to you," says McGrew. "I've used the same three suppliers for 20 years now." McGrew has used the same finishing supplier as well and, like the other suppliers he uses, he believes that the help they've given him has kept him in business.

"Forget those credit lines," says McGrew. "My suppliers saved me. In return, I've never switched suppliers."

Promises, promises

"I can always tell when the economy is about to go south," says McGrew. "That's when the plywood suppliers out of Virginia will start knocking on my door promising me a weekly truck full of plywood, saving me a dollar per sheet of plywood."

But for the $80 dollars that he'd save on a plywood shipment he felt he'd ruin a relationship with someone who kept him in business when he needed it all for a supplier who's not going to drop him once things perk up with the economy.

"Supplier loyalty is imperative to staying in business, especially in this business," says McGrew. "It's all about relationships."

Relationships are also maintained by McGrew with a steel supplier, molding shop, door shop and electronics suppliers for all the work he does involving home theaters. "We all feed off each other and share advertising. We'll place a picture of a home theater and have myself and the electronics guy in the same ad."

Reliability

A lot of shops don't have the room to hold a lot of inventory. They rely on the suppliers and distributors to get them what they need when they need it. Ashot Gegamian, owner of World of Cabinets, says he relies on Phillips Plywood in Los Angeles to provide him with whatever he needs when he needs it.

"Anytime I pick up the phone I call Robert and tell him I need one unit of melamine or I need this much plywood, this veneer, this tape and the next day I receive the material," says Gegamian.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.