Open Your Door to Vendors...Defiantly
The 1958 racially charged film The Defiant Ones opens with a spectacular prison truck crash. The truck, which is transporting dangerous criminals, smashes through a guardrail, topples down an embankment and ends up on its roof. Stars Tony Curtis (a bigoted, Caucasian convict named Johnny "Joker" Jackson) and Sidney Poitier (a black man named Noah Cullen who was unfairly convicted) emerge from the wreckage. They are contemptuous convicts, chained together at their ankles. They dislike each other. They distrust each other. But, they immediately recognize an opportunity for freedom and decide to make a run for it.
“I guess the warden's got a sense of humor,” Sheriff Max Muller replies. “They'll kill each other in five miles.”
But what occurs after that grim prognostication is exactly the opposite. The characters played by Curtis and Poitier learn to cooperate. They coordinate their gait, their pace and their direction. They ambulate together toward a common goal: freedom. They realize, despite a mutual hatred for one another, they need each other in order to survive.
That description is pretty much the same thing I hear over and over again when in-plant managers talk about copier vendors. On one hand, we need these companies because they manufacture the equipment we use. On the other hand, we feel threatened by them. We know they would be all too happy to run the show — our show. While we are deciding between leasing the C7100 or the Versant, Xerox and Ricoh are persuading our VPs of the merits of outsourcing. The movie poster tagline for The Defiant Ones perhaps says it best:
"They couldn't like each other less. They couldn't need each other more."
But does it have to be this way? Aren’t there many examples of in-plants that have developed positive relationships with their vendors? What are they doing to make things work?
I spent the last few months working very closely with one of these vendors, and I can tell you what I think works:
1. Have confidence. There is nothing to fear from an outside vendor if you understand and are actively communicating the value and cost savings you are already bringing to your parent institution:
- Total focus on the business needs of your parent institution
- Intimate knowledge of the needs of internal clients
- Cost control
- Consistency of content and graphic identity
2. Be sure to have a signed non-solicitation agreement with any copier vendor who does business with you. Ask them to agree to only do business with your parent institution through their contact at the in-plant (There is sample non-solicitation agreement available in the IPMA online community library.
3. Take this important advice from a recent IPG webinar:
- Market more effectively
- Don’t get comfortable
- Be the experts
Pay particularly close attention to that last bullet point: “Be the experts.”
What does that mean? Where will you gain such knowledge? Your ability to be the expert will come from:
- Your education and your experience. (Have you looked into the certifications offered by IPMA?)
- Trade magazines and research. (At the very least, you should be reading IPG cover-to-cover.)
- Conferences (IPMA is in Pittsburgh this June and ACUP is in Cincinnati in April)
- Networking with peers. (Be active in the IPMA online community, participate in listservs, visit local in-plants and attend IPMA Road Shows.)
Yes, vendors. ALWAYS make time for vendors. If you don’t make time for a vendor, somebody else surely will. Often, vendor visits and sales calls are perceived as annoying interruptions to the work day. That should never be you. You should serve as a filter for the people you work for. Learn everything you can about these vendors and what they are offering. Learn everything you can about your clients and what they are trying to accomplish. Open your door to vendors and then work with your clients to determine which vendors have products worthy of consideration. Then make the introduction, coordinate the demonstration and become the hero.
Vendors play a critical role in your ability to understand industry trends. Vendors are solution providers. A positive relationship with a vendor will be one in which the vendor is working to make you the expert.
In the final sequence of The Defiant Ones, long after the two escaped prisoners have separated themselves from their shackles, the two men pursue an approaching freight train. The character played by Sidney Poitier is able to jump onto one of the moving cars. He turns and locks hands with his white companion — a memorable image of black and white hands and arms locked together. It is an iconic image; an image of solidarity.
Let that be the image of your relationship with your vendors. Be locked together with them by choice rather than by chains.
Related story: From the Editor: Hide in Plain Sight
Dwayne Magee is now in his 17th year as director of Messiah University Press and Postal Services. His department was recipient of the 2018 IPMA Organizational Impact Award, the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award. Prior to joining Messiah, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. He is president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He is currently an English major (part-time) with a concentration in writing at the college where he works. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two boys and he resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife Sue and their two dogs. Contact him at: DMagee@Messiah.edu