Back on the supply chain gang

CN explores some experiences of working with suppliers


While it remains uncertain how quickly we are moving away from recession, it is clear that if price is no longer everything, then a whole load of downward pressure is still being brought to bear on the supply chain from stakeholders in the event sourcing universe.

Away from price, The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow (SECC) is one enthusiastic advocate for the benefits of long-term relationships with suppliers. The SECC believes that developing deeper relationships with suppliers helps to drive innovation and greater responsiveness to client needs. Kathleen Warden, the venue’s director of conference sales, credits the SECC’s successful partnership with longstanding catering partners caterers Levy Restaurants UK as key in delivering a flexible service for clients.

“Our long-term relationship allows both parties to get under the skin of each other’s business,” says Warden. “Learning how chefs work on a day-to-day basis, including the minutiae of kitchen operations, has allowed us both to see how improvements can be made. Catering needs can now be pulled into client conversations at a much earlier stage including tailored, healthy menus and flexible pricing at all budget levels. It’s a very joined-up approach – including sales teams working side-by-side, which clients appreciate.

If the SECC/Levy Restaurants relationship appears to represent the best of synergies and industry practice, then how does one go about sourcing the best supplier possible?

Alan Newton, direct of Eventopedia, says building preferred supplier lists isn’t an easy task. “Indeed, it can often be under appreciated. Procurement departments have increasingly become involved in helping – some may say ‘dictating – the formulation of such preferred supplier listings.”

The approach says Newton, who has worked on both sides of the agency/supplier divide, is about striking the right balance.

“The balance to be managed in choosing preferred supplier lists is, on the one hand, largely around human aspects such as relationship and trust, while, on the other, focus is upon functional aspects of the business such as scale, ability to execute, health & safety considerations, additional services and value.”


Newton identifies some key points to note:
• Procurement and thus supplier selection is more sophisticated in 2016
• It is more strategic than tactical and requires broader consideration in terms of choice
• A common misconception is that it’s solely about reducing spending – it’s not and, in fact, good procurement shouldn’t be!
• Not every circumstance will benefit from the same solution
• Time should be spent face-to-face within the business understanding the operational scope of requirements, and then externally fact finding with suppliers discovering how their solutions fit and complement existing practice. This process, can – of course – lead to the discovery of internal inefficiencies.


Front for commission?
Not all venue companies use supplier lists. And etc.venues, which operates specialist conference centres in London, sees delivery of its services by an in-house team, particularly catering, as a key differentiator.

“We get good feedback that clients can deal with one point of contact when booking our venues and take ownership of delivering all the services, particularly catering, in house,” says group MD Alastair Stewart.

“While it is our own team that looks after clients in venues, we enjoy working with a range of best-in-class suppliers to help us deliver memorable events. We don’t see the need for these to be on the outdated list basis, which is often a front for commissions being taken by venues at the expense of their clients,“ he adds.

Paul Southern, MD at Central Hall Westminster, on the other had, has all his venue’s suppliers on long-term contracts, with each going through a long vetting procedure.

“It is important to find suppliers that are not only value for money, but also those that operate in a manner that is aligned with the way we want our business to be run.”


Sian Bates is client services director at experience agency TRO and says the company often thinks of its ‘suppliers’ as partners: “We like to nurture relationships with trusted suppliers over the long term so that they feel like an extension of our own team.”

This, Bates, says makes for a collaborative working approach that adds genuine value to clients’ activity.

TRO holds ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions where suppliers can come along and share examples of their work informally.

Bates admits that the sourcing of venues and hotels involves a number of criteria that need to be met, including fit with brand and theme, logistics and cost.

“A good venue experience is always shared among our agency and recommendations are worth their weight in gold – especially in the often fast-paced nature of our business where quick selections and decisions need to be made,” Bates adds.


Data check
Reftech chief ideas officer, Simon Clayton asks companies to consider if their suppliers are actually putting their reputation at risk.

“Big online data breeches are becoming so commonplace nowadays that it feels as if we are becoming blasé, but many companies are still failing to ensure proper security of their data. Often, it’s not the company that is directly to blame but their third party supplier which is inadequate.”

Clayton says that in the past five years he has had only one client ask about RefTech’s data security policies and procedures. “While I would like to think that’s because of our faultless reputation, I actually think that it’s because people are complacent and just don’t give it a second thought.

“Most companies go through the process with a sort of blind ignorance, and even if they were concerned, they wouldn’t even know the right questions to ask.

“Data breeches may be commonplace but the damage they do to a company’s reputation is very serious. Make sure you know that your suppliers are doing all they should to protect you and your data.”


Response rate
When putting together an event, the venue is usually the first port of call for planners. Ed Poland is co-founder of venue-finder Hire Space and says there is a huge variety of venue offerings and ways of working with clients. “One thing we see again and again is slow responding venues. The industry is so fast moving that a quick response time can help venues secure that big event. If they’re slow off the mark, it won’t just mean they might lose out, they also risk putting customers off enquiring again.”


Independent talent supply
Agency Performing Artistes’ JJ Jackson makes the case for using the best in class, in his case a speaker bureau which he is proud to say is independent of the artistes. “We offer impartial advice, and help find the perfect person for your event, not just the best fit from a limited list.”

Such a bureau has buying power, he adds, with Performing Artistes booking over 50 events a month and therefore able to usually drive a favourable rate.

Contracts with a reputable bureau are fully enforceable and, should the worse happen, the client is covered, Jackson adds.

Industry consultant James Morgan has said the best kind of preferred supplier lists are those that use a quality and pricing index. “You must have confidence that suppliers can be trusted to deliver and lists need to be reviewed on a regular basis to provide the end user with the best experiences that are based on monitoring the quality of services and equipment provided.”

Nigel Mullins, senior operations manager at the Natural History Museum, says that in sourcing new suppliers, NHM advertises the opportunity through industry publications and social media. “We will then invite anyone that we think is relevant to join the tender process.”

The accreditation process at NHM, he says, usually takes around four months, “but we will have been thinking about this for years before”.
Mullins says one tender had close to 200 applications, although the average is around 50 applications. Being successful means is dependant on whether suppliers fit the business need, Mullins adds.




Conference News resides at the heart of the conference industry examining the issues affecting organisers, venues, destinations and suppliers. Published monthly, Conference News features the latest news, interviews and industry analysis from market influencers.

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