As a school administrator, an important part of your job is choosing vendors that will provide the best value for your school.
At first, cost comes to mind. However, if you focus on cost alone, you may not see the big picture. Since your school’s financial resources are likely attractive to many vendors, you’re probably in a position to shop around among several that are eager for your business. That means you can afford to be somewhat picky about choosing the right ones based on other factors.
Price breaks aside, it’s in the best interest of your school community if you can find reliable, forward-thinking vendors that are aligned with your school’s goals and interested in forming true partnerships — not just selling you as many products and services as they can. That thinking should apply to a wide range of vendors, from IT companies to food vendors to yearbook vendors to sporting goods dealers. In fact, you may be able to benefit from two-way partnerships with nearly every business with which your school contracts!
Scroll to the bottom to get your FREE checklist of 9 considerations for choosing a school vendor!
Good business practice calls for true partnerships
Gallup notes that the wrong choice of vendors can end up negatively affecting customers (or in your case, students). Consider these criteria as you conduct due diligence to find the best possible partners for supporting your brand and organizational strategy.
1. Look for relationships that are mutually beneficial
A partnership is a two-way street. Sure, the vendor is benefiting by securing your account, but the financial advantages of that will only take you so far if you don’t reciprocate with a certain amount of respect. For example, if you expect a vendor to fully support your school but you’re late with payments, unwilling to recommend the vendor to others or simply unappreciative when the vendor goes the extra mile, theyy may stop viewing your business as worthwhile. “Businesses that constantly change their suppliers to find the cheapest deal possible can’t expect their suppliers’ unwavering support in crisis situations,” warns Marco Nink in one Gallup report. “And companies that don’t have a close relationship with their suppliers won’t be first in line to receive major innovations or important new products.”
In Entrepreneur, author and entrepreneur Bob Reiss offers the following basic suggestions for maintaining positive relations with your vendors:
- Pay on time. “Don’t play games with suppliers’ cash,” he advises. “You’ll be absolutely amazed at the goodwill and benefits you will earn by observing this simple rule.”
- Give plenty of lead time on orders. Be as proactive as possible when forecasting needs to avoid broadcasting a sense of emergency.
- Personalize the relationship by visiting vendor offices, inviting them in, including them in strategy sessions and otherwise reinforcing the human element.
- Share information. Stay as transparent as possible, keeping them apprised of school news and other key information that could affect them.
In return, a vendor should show an equal degree of respect, consideration and commitment to the business relationship through strategies such as:
- Assigning dedicated personnel to your account and ensuring they work to fully understand your operations and pain points
- Ensuring their team members meet your key personnel
- Providing goods and services on time and as promised
- Lending expertise to making school improvements
- Responding quickly to questions or concerns
- Providing extra value to the business relationship wherever possible
2. Consider more than cost
Naturally, your budget will dictate the amount of money you’re able to spend with any vendor. But you should also consider whether minor price differences can be justified through value-added partnerships with the right kind of vendors. The extra services they provide could compensate for small to medium variations in price. “Organizations are better off developing strategic, long-term relationships with a few vendors that are invested in their success, than working with multiple vendors in a transactional fashion just to save money,” advises sales director Nicci Fagan on EdTech.com. Further, as you develop a committed relationship with a vendor, the vendor may come to perceive you as a more valuable customer — which may result in price breaks or other perks.
3. Seek industry expertise
Businesses at the forefront of their fields often know about the latest industry developments, the newest products and the best price values, and they may be able to fill you in on strategies that are and are not working for their other school clients.
One sign that a company is interested in leveraging industry expertise is its commitment to openly sharing information. To differentiate and position themselves as “thought leaders” in their fields, progressive companies often publish blogs, case studies, e-books and guides on their websites for the purpose of sharing valuable information with customers.
Other ways of gauging a vendor’s expertise? Consider the following.
- Research the firm’s history
- Ask about key employees’ experience levels
- Check company reviews and testimonials
- Conduct a site visit
- Ask for a trial period
4. Prioritize responsiveness
A vendor interested in gaining your trust as part of a true partnership will immediately demonstrate that they are willing to listen to your ideas and address your questions and concerns. You should be assigned a dedicated account person who knows who you are, understands your school and can help you brainstorm solutions to problems that have a connection to their business. Ideally, you and your contact person should be able to talk openly and honestly about how best to optimize your business relationship. “Focus on the people you interact with throughout the sales process and the account managers who will be responsible for onboarding your business,” advises Firas Kittaneh on Inc.com. “Dig deep to see how well they understand your company’s current and upcoming needs. Ultimately, you want to partner with people … who you know will also go to great lengths to ensure your brand’s ongoing success.”
5. Look for similar values
Be clear on your school’s core values and look for vendors that focus on similar priorities. Your interactions will be smoother and your goals much more unified when you see eye to eye on the basic premise of how business should be conducted. “Brand promise and purpose dictate the customer experience,” writes Sean Kashanchi in the Gallup study. “And suppliers need to understand your promise and purpose very well.”
6. Seek a philanthropic purpose
In today’s world, it’s common for companies to be valued on the extent to which they give back to others. Studies have shown younger generations place an even higher importance than older generations on whether and how businesses support philanthropy. Vet partners based partly on their level of philanthropy — and whether it aligns with your school’s mission and values. Partnering with a vendor that gives back is a way for your school to give back.
7. Work with vendors that are willing to nurture relationships
Ideally, you’ll be able to meet with your partners so you can leverage that human contact when issues arise. That’s important, since a reliance on only digital communications can muddy the intent of our messages and make it harder to resolve conflicts. One study outlined in Harvard Business Review found, in fact, that face-to-face requests are 34 times more likely to garner positive responses than the emails.
A true vendor partnership relies considerably on the participants’ ability to communicate and collaborate effectively, according to Arizona State University Professor Mark Barratt in Industry Week. He advises waiting until partnerships are firmly established before trying to rely on technology for day-to-day communications.
8. Look for help with school safety issues
Student safety is a key concern for schools. Therefore, you should ask potential partners what they do to uphold student safety. For example, an IT provider may be familiar with updates to online security defenses, a security consultant may be able to recommend gun-resistant building products, and a cleaning supply company may be able to recommend non-toxic cleaning agents.
If vendor employees will come directly in contact with students, you’ll also want to ensure their employees are well-vetted through background checks that guard against criminal convictions or crimes relating to children.
A recent poll of students, parents, staff and other school stakeholders across the U.S. found their top school safety concerns to be:
- An active shooter
- Mental health emergencies
- Drug and alcohol abuse
9. Consider non-traditional partners
The largest, cheapest or most prominent vendor may not necessarily be your best choice. Neither must you follow tradition by remaining with a vendor your school has used for decades. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box by considering small firms, newcomers, offshore companies or others, as long as they meet your other key criteria and show a strong commitment to working with your school.
How Lifetouch can be a partner for your school
Lifetouch is more than a photography company. For more than 80 years, we’ve provided schools with a wide variety of offerings to help promote their key values, ensure student safety and build strong schools. For example:
We are local and community driven
When you work with Lifetouch, you work with a local professional who will meet with you in person and find ways to add value to the partnership. You’re not a name on a client list. As the largest and most trusted photography company in the world, we’re on top of important trends, products and services in our industry — and more than happy to share our knowledge and expertise with our valued partners. Our goal is to help you make your school the best it can be.
We prioritize student safety
As dedicated members of the schools and communities we serve, student safety is our top priority. In fact, Lifetouch was the first school photography company to demonstrate its commitment to keeping school data safe by signing a voluntary, enforceable, school-service-provider privacy pledge. We work hard to ensure every child in your school is protected with:
- Background checks on all employees who work in your school
- The best image, data and privacy practices in the industry
- Payment sites that exceed the credit card industry’s strict standards for use of financial information
- Free SmileSafe™ and school ID programs for our schools
Additionally, the Lifetouch Portal offers a safe, secure way for your administrative team to manage your school’s Picture Day images. Eliminate the risk of email hacking or hassling with jump-drives and CDs/DVDs in order to get your student pictures into your student information systems. The Lifetouch Portal also allows you to download Picture Day images for photo directories, certificates, awards and more.
We help establish positive school culture
Through our partnership with J.C. Pohl, nationally recognized speaker, author, certified counselor and producer of TEENTRUTH™, schools can host rallies or staff workshops focused on leadership, social-emotional skills, critical issues facing teens and the importance of student voice.
We help you recognize student achievement
Our Reward and Recognition program offers a plethora of beautifully designed award certificates, notes, stickers, and bookmarks that can be fully customized to recognize the achievements of your students and staff. Our PrintShop program allows you to custom-create large displays such as murals, banners and posters to decorate your school and convey the messages that most align with your school. Together, these resources go a long way toward promoting your school’s values and positive culture.
We give back
Lifetouch has been committed to supporting its communities for many years, long recognizing the importance of contributing to organizations that align with our company core values. We give back in the following ways:
- Lifetouch Memory Mission. Each January Lifetouch and Shutterfly employees, along with school administrators and national education partners, volunteer in an impoverished country to help locals build schools.
- Relief efforts. Through the years, our global and local commitment to finding worthwhile causes to assist has spanned everything from building projects to assistance after natural disasters to supplies for the needy such as food, shoes and holiday gifts. After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Lifetouch partnered with Scholastic Corporation to replace $23,000 worth of books that had been destroyed by the disaster.
- SmileSafe™. The most important tool when a child goes missing is a current photograph. Through our partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the U.S. and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Canada, we provide student photographs to law enforcement if a child goes missing. As a free service to our schools’ families, Lifetouch distributes SmileSafe™ photo ID cards to every student photographed.
We would be proud to partner with your school.
Want to learn more about how Lifetouch can build a mutually beneficial relationship with your school? Contact us or call 1-800-736-4761.