Consolidating suppliers? Five ‘soft’ factors social housing providers shouldn’t ignore

Tackling the rent squeeze by narrowing down the supplier base could be a good answer for many social housing providers.  Helping to focus your buying power and improve purchasing costs, the benefits of working with a preferred supplier base are probably more pressing now than ever.

The procurement team has every opportunity to develop those more individual supplier relationships well beyond these advantages, to drive the organisation forwards on sustainability, innovation and risk reduction initiatives among others. By making a broader basket open to fewer suppliers, procurement can deliver some impressive benefits to their employer, above and beyond pricing ones.

A resource-saving plus-point of fewer suppliers is a reduction in the number of transactions, less time involved in managing suppliers and reduced time for managing internal systems. In a nutshell, fewer suppliers can mean the freeing up of the procurement team to deal with more strategic, long term issues.

One of the best areas social housing providers can realise these benefits is in workplace supplies, where there’s a great value proposition for sourcing technology, office supplies, cleaning products and facilities supplies from one focussed partner.

So if the time is right to address supplier consolidation, how should the decision be made? What factors should social housing providers take into account? As well as the harder, more easily accountable benefits there are ‘soft factors’ which could prove just as critical as the relationship develops.

Management consultants say that soft elements, which can include leadership and communication styles, organisation values and individual and team skills, have as much, if not more, impact as the hard factors on the success of any changes.

Here are the soft(er) factors that every social housing provider could consider when weighing up their supply consolidation options:

1. Tailoring

There should be a can-do attitude. Is the supplier proactively offering to tailor their offering for your organisation? Individual, optimised solutions will make all the difference in helping to achieve your objectives. Whether you need to fund a major capital works project, or repair, maintain and improve an estate, suppliers should readily understand your needs and show you that they can and will flex their offering to work exactly as you need them to.

2. Personal know-how

Do the individuals you deal with at your suppliers really understand your business? These contacts will bring far more value if they have a real working knowledge of social housing issues, ideally built on their own experience in the sector. Do they relate easily to your operating model and appreciate your daily working practices?

3. Partnership

Social housing is seeing more than its fair share of challenges in the current climate and it’s likely these will continue, so it’s vital your suppliers can work cooperatively and supportively with you. They should be able to steer an effective way through your procurement processes, work with other parties well and be a solid partner through the good and not-so-good times.

4. Visibly improving

If a supplier is bringing value to your operation and is making a partnership approach integral to working with you, you should see on-going improvements. Are they helping you to meet and exceed your targets, are projects completed successfully and improved upon each time and are your tenants happy with the results, or showing increased satisfaction?

5. Cultural fit

Individual housing providers have their own structures and often their own social purpose to deliver in the areas they operate in. The right cultural fit with suppliers matters because when there are differences, difficulties are more likely. Look for synergies in culture, style and approach between your organisation and your suppliers, because if these are present, life will be easier and you will make better progress.

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