COVID vaccine options are improving prospects for the economic climate in 2021; however, 2020 had a lasting impact on business practices in the specialty fabrics industry and beyond—particularly in buying and selling—prompting many companies to rethink processes.
We have all heard about and discussed the “new normal.” As the months go by, digital interactions have truly worked their way into the norm. In the specialty fabrics industry, businesses large and small have been forced to buy supplies, then turn around and create and sell to customers, all with less face-to-face interaction.
Rethinking these processes can easily feel like a time-intensive hurdle. But through efficient buying and virtual relationship building, you can save time and continue to build your business.
Make wise product decisions
You may use many different products or tools in your day-to-day business, but it’s important to think strategically about which ones save you time and money. Find efficiencies within the supplies you know best. If you need an exact color match for a replacement down the line, consider selecting a well-known, classic fabric that stands the test of time and is available with matching thread or complementary accessories.
If you’re trying out a fabric line you have not worked with before or may have only seen a sample, double-check its warranty policy for peace of mind that you and your customer can count on.
Lastly, streamline your ordering process. Can you order fabric, accessories and tools all in one order? This could also save on shipping.
Pick partners you trust
Perhaps the best way to simplify processes is by working with partners who make things easy for you and take care of the details. Simply put, the right partner will help anticipate your needs and will know your local market with a pulse on trends and the latest applications.
As most of us experienced firsthand in the challenging year that was 2020, many companies in virtually every industry were pushed to evolve and reinvent their operations. We have reached our customers with new virtual tools and identified new ways to share new products and would encourage you to identify and refine what works best for your team.
Communicate on your terms
When selecting new products, we all have our own way of doing things. Whether you prefer to call up your local representative for a quote or send a quick online chat on their home web page, it is possible to save time by assessing and refining your existing communication processes with suppliers. Discover what works best for you, and let your reps and suppliers know your preferences.
Double down on digital
As many of us have experienced, stepping out of your comfort zone in business has its pros and cons. One positive aspect of not having the opportunity to see your customers in person, or seeing them less often, is increased digital, real-time communication. When you can send a quick message to check in with a customer, you don’t have to set up a meeting. Flexibility is a win-win, and you can provide real value to your customers by anticipating their needs and responding quickly when they have questions.
Take advantage of social media by sharing your recent work so new and existing customers can see your latest projects. This can inspire them to reach out to your business. Or, incorporate virtual tools on your website to help customers envision what their projects might look like. Some suppliers offer complimentary and paid versions of online visualizers for you to utilize as a resource with your customers.
Focus on relationships
You may be well-versed in the idea of focusing on trust to build relationships and how relationships, in turn, can build your business. It’s true. Relationships—old and new—are more important than ever in a time where people are looking to not only sustain their businesses but also form meaningful, personalized connections when physical interactions are limited.
When there is a lack of visibility and you do not see your customers as often as you once did, don’t be afraid to check in with them and make it personal. Ask how they are, how their business is going, and if they prefer any new methods of communication. This will help you meet them where they are.
A key factor to consider in a world with less face time is responsiveness. Be there for your customers—consistently—and make sure your contact information is up to date on any websites or social platforms. Remember, it can never hurt to pick up the phone for a personalized, more informal phone call.
Optimize your processes
When it comes to your projects, track which processes have worked best for you. Then, look to implement them in your future work for the best customer experience possible. Reach out to your customers to glean feedback on how they like to work during more socially distant times.
Ask yourself if your team has the flexibility to expand into new product applications to enhance your business.
This year feels like a fresh start for the industry. It’s a good time to take advantage of that by pausing to reflect, analyze and refresh your buying and selling strategies. You may discover outcomes you never expected.
Bret Kelley is vice president of sales for Trivantage® in Glen Raven, N.C. www.trivantage.com