It's often said that good help is hard to find. While that's true for many employers these days, the same can be said for products. Due to supply chain constraints, fueled largely by the COVID-19 aftermath, just about every industry is running low on something. In construction, it's lumber; in grocery, it's toilet paper, according to a number of recent reports.

The key to successful and timely productivity is finding the suppliers that have the goods you need on an ongoing basis. The question is, how do you go about doing that?

Here are a few rules to live by:

1. Learn the classification of your supplier
When you go about searching for an alternative or fall-back supplier, it's very important to know what type of supplier you're dealing with. As noted by Entrepreneur, suppliers typically fall into one of four categories:

1. Manufacturers
2. Distributors
3. Importers
4. Craftspeople

Understanding which category your supplier falls in can give you a better idea of whether they'll make for a good partner given your demands. For example, a distributor is more likely to have necessary materials than a manufacturer these days because they work with multiple manufacturers and warehouse those products for sale to business owners. While distributors tend to be more convenient, the tradeoff is you'll likely spend more as a result, or at least more than you would by buying directly from a manufacturer or salesperson who sells on a manufacturer's behalf.

If the materials you need are more niche or specialized, independent craftspeople may be your best bet. Importers who buy from overseas markets are another option. They can cost more, however, due to the expense of shipping and the fees involved.

Like a favorite restaurant that rarely disappoints, consistency is key to finding and evaluating good suppliers.Like a favorite restaurant that rarely disappoints, consistency is key to finding and evaluating good suppliers.

2. Evaluate their track record
Something else that's critical is establishing at the outset that your supplier will be able to come through for you. In other words, do they have the means to make or obtain what you need? It's all about capacity. They should be able to provide evidence that they're capable of producing whatever you require to do your job, including staff, equipment, storage and more.

3. Key in on consistency
Think about the restaurant that you enjoy eating at the most. What is it that gets you to go back time and time again? It isn't just the fact that their food is great, but that it's consistently great. No matter what, you can bank on the fact that you'll have a tasty meal.

The same rule applies to your distributor. Ray Carter, the director of DPSS Consultants, is the originator of "The 10 Cs" concept for assessing high-quality suppliers. Consistency is one of those Cs, along with competency, capacity, commitment, control, cash, cost, culture, cleanliness and communication.

If your supplier is unpredictable, never knowing when they'll have the materials you require, then it's probably time to move on. You can evaluate consistency by doing your research, such as by reading customer reviews online or speaking with colleagues who've worked with particular suppliers.

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