Keeping your options open: Reducing the power of your suppliers

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Becoming dependent on a supplier for a key component of your operations has key limitations – they may look to take advantage of the situation and increase prices, knowing that you have little other options to turn to other than them. This article explores some approaches for reducing the power of your suppliers, by keeping your options open. 

Dual sourcing

One of the most well-known approaches to reducing the power of your suppliers is dual sourcing. If you have two active relationships with different suppliers for the same parts, you can avoid getting locked into either of them. Should one look to increase the price, you can reduce the amount that you purchase from them. Indeed, simply demonstrating the ability to easily move between your two suppliers may be sufficient to avoid either of them looking to increase prices – they are aware of your flexibility, and their reduced power in the situation. 

Retaining the ability to undertake the activity yourself

Another key part of maintaining options and reducing the power suppliers can have over you is to retain the ability to manufacture some of the components that you are getting from them yourself. If you are actively making a proportion of parts that you get from them and can demonstrate this, then it reduces your dependence on them. Indeed, as with dual sourcing, simply illustrating your own independent ability to undertake the activity internally may be sufficient to prevent your suppliers from looking to increase costs – they can see that doing so would likely cause you to move more manufacturing in-house. 

Keeping yourself aware of alternatives - and having plans in place to allow you to change

Finally, another way of reducing the power that a supplier may have over you is to actively keep your options open. While dual sourcing involves maintaining relationships with two suppliers for each part, there may be a way of keeping open this possibility, without the actual difficulties of sourcing the same part from two places. For example, you could outsource some components to one firm, others to a second, and some final ones to a third. While each one may momentarily be able to exert some power, if they were to do so, you at least have easy options in place to move to one of the other firms. If on the other hand all of your components were made by one company, the ability to do this would be much less. 

Final thoughts: Carefully consider your inputs, and determine which ones you may be at risk of your supplier looking to exert power

Not all of your inputs will have the same level of opportunities for suppliers to look to push up the prices. For commodity products, or items where there are hundreds of firms that you can plausibly turn to, the ability of the supplier to exert power is inherently low. Where the issues start to increase though is where it takes much longer to switch – where for example a supplier is making custom pieces for you, and they are an integral part of your operations. In such cases, it may be worth making sure that you have not become dependent on them, leaving open the possibility that they will look to increase their prices and capture a greater proportion of the overall value that is being created

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