“The icemaker quit working. The toilet won’t stop running. There is no heat.”
The vendor relationship management process is a critical part of the supply chain and maintaining properties, with each problem requiring strong vendor relationships.
Or one very magical, highly-licensed handyman. And there aren’t many of those around.
Vendor relationship management priorities
In property maintenance, the most important priorities are protecting property value, minimizing costs, and lowering risk. And that’s made the procurement process easier by building vendor relationships with trusted business partners with the expertise and tools to help, especially in an emergency.
Properly managing vendor relationships requires time, organization, and consistency.
Why does it make a difference?
Generally, the advantages of vendor management can benefit the landlord or vendor alike.
A strong relationship will reduce risks, and the vendor who understands your property better will be able to work more cost-efficiently and improve the quality of work that it offers.
Methods to build relationships with a new vendor
We have discussed how and why to manage your vendor relationships.
There are several simple vendor relationship management strategies you can employ to build a strong and long-term relationship.
Start building a checklist of preferred steps for your vendor management process from those listed below.
- Start a partnership for repetitive maintenance (heating, plumbing, cleaning, etc.).
- Set an annual appointment to solidify long-term relationships.
- Explore contract pricing for regular services at a lower cost if the vendor offers it.
- Make unit access easy for a vendor. Provide remote key access or arrive as scheduled to give access. Introduce vendors to tenants if work needs to happen over more than one visit.
- Pay invoices on the same day or within the billing period.
Build trusting relationships over time
Small steps over time help to build a courteous and strong relationship with the person doing the work and the vendor's business. Relationship trust increases over multiple calls and can encourage a vendor to help in good faith during an after-hours emergency. Building vendor partnerships this way can also encourage your ‘regular guy’ to recommend a trusted backup company if he cannot help.
How do you maintain relationships with vendors?
There are a few other ways to improve a vendor relationship.
- Establish a personal relationship with the receptionist, scheduler or dispatcher, and the person who regularly services your account. Learn their name and personal details.
- Vendors frequently fill their calendars with reliable customers. Become a reliable and low-risk partner by scheduling routine work far in advance instead of demanding a short turnaround time.
- Send a thank you note or gift card to show appreciation for exceptional service with valuable partners.
- Communicate the work timing with tenants so they can be away or have the least disruption. Alert the vendor immediately if tenants can’t accommodate the schedule and if the tenants will be home during the work.
Increase your network of reliable vendors
Whether you manage one unit, 10, 100 or 1,000 units, it is beneficial to build a broad and deep network of vendors to call on, even if you don’t do business with them regularly.
Your list of businesses should include accountants, plumbers, restoration companies, HVAC specialists, electricians, cleaners, painters, handymen, roofing/siding/window companies, locksmiths, refrigeration repair, lawn maintenance, snow removal, cable/internet providers and vendors for any other special equipment at a property.
Inquire within and outside of your network
Ask people in the business. Chat with the current vendor when they finish a call: Who else would they recommend in an emergency? Who do they call? It’s guaranteed that the lawn maintenance vendor knows another high-quality company offering snow removal, fencing, or other landscaping.
Inquire if state or local landlord or realtor associations have preferred provider relationships.
Sponsor or host an open house or lunch for industry associations or businesses, and take advantage of the time to network.
Set clear expectations upfront, and document them
Define the relationship from the start with every vendor – role, timeline, deliverables, etc. Ensure goals are measurable and reasonable, and that contracted deadlines are mutually agreed-upon.
Note that in areas with high commercial and building growth (where vendor demand is high), it is especially important to identify quality, responsive vendors.
Construction companies, plumbers, electricians, and those connected to the building industry may advertise repair services but focus more on new construction. If you’re starting a new relationship with any vendor, ask them how they prioritize business.
Maps to visually manage vendor relationships
It pays to invest time to provide actual maps. Where should snow should be plowed? What's the trick to access a certain area? Is there a 'phone tree' of emergency numbers for tenants?
Using maps as a visual vendor management tool helps establish trust by showing clear expectations. The mutual benefits to sharing your knowledge of the physical property and operations quirks can be time-saving for the vendor and cost-saving for you or the landlord.
Create a map or record property details like the irrigation system or physical features (driveways, sewer drains, property lines, water shutoffs, etc.), as well as one for business operations. These tools can make communication easier, and you can illustrate objectives more clearly. Keep a master copy and mark it up for each project needed.
It pays off during an emergency
It’s important to have reliable and trusted vendors when emergencies arise.
For example, when a boiler system heats and provides hot water in a triplex, then fails, it benefits a landlord to have an established relationship with a plumber. As luck had it, an observant tenant called about scorching hot water and an irregular ‘noise’ coming from the boiler housed in their unit.
It was a 10-degree day, December 22. A quick call to the plumber meant preferential treatment with a response on December 23 to check the temperatures and pressure. He recognized part of the boiler was going bad and advised it was safe to continue use until replacement.
Luckily, the building heat remained at about 60 degrees, and tenants had limited hot water. To avoid poor communication, we quickly relayed the repair timing to the tenants and provided temporary space heaters where needed.
The plumber quickly ordered equipment, and on December 28 a new boiler was installed. Tenants patiently accepted heat and hot water interruptions and, more importantly, units didn’t freeze in the Rocky Mountain December cold.
This plumber had performed regular boiler checks, so he was already familiar with our system and potential problems with the boiler model. He had also cleaned sediment from hot water heaters in our other units in the same city with hard water problems.
He knew we paid promptly, and we had established a good rapport with him. It paid off in the long run when the boiler failed in the dead of winter.
Communicate proactively and be transparent
Good communication makes a substantial impact on vendor relations and helps create a clear understanding for the three parties involved in a tenant-landlord-vendor relationship.
Communicate schedules and expectations with tenants
No matter what time of year a tenant moves in, there is seasonal information that may need to be communicated that will help vendors.
Can tenants avoid parking somewhere if it snows or a parking area is prone to flooding? Should they call you or a recommended plumber at the first sound and sight of a leak?
Telling these expectations at move-in will manage some headaches later.
Provide signage before expected service
For example, the landlord or vendor should mark off restricted parking a day before a service call rather than assuming a vehicle from parking spot 3A will leave for work the day irrigation lines need to be ripped out and replaced beside that parking space.
When a repair request comes in, ask a tenant detailed questions and take notes
Tenants may be able to observe the problem for a day or two and provide more information to a maintenance vendor. Tell as much information as you have from tenants because providing the symptoms of a problem could save them time and save you cost.
Give clear notice
Even if a tenant knows there is a problem and it will be addressed, accessing a unit usually requires written or verbal notice for any kind of service, and it’s the best way to communicate for better understanding about clearing furniture or household products to make easy access for vendor repairs.
Complete this step in writing if it’s required.
This clear communication with the tenant means no surprises for anyone on the day of service. Make and keep a draft template for giving notice about repairs to a unit, and adjust it for each project.
Managing a Vendor Relationship
Finding reliable service providers and building a good relationship with them pays off over time.
Increased trust in a relationship and a mutually beneficial goal of increasing business with maintenance vendors has other key benefits like fewer questions during routine work, lower costs, tenants who know and trust a regular visitor to the property, and a more quick and thoughtful response during emergencies.
In summary, always communicate clearly and respectfully to help maintain relationships and contracts with vendors. Pay invoices on time.
Schedule expected work as far in advance as possible. Be willing to ask vendors what other maintenance services they can provide or who else they recommend. Having a collection of vendors for reliable help to call on will help protect the property value and make property management easier overall.