Jim Kolb's family has been in the floral industry for nearly a century, and while their storefronts, product lines and business plans have changed over time, the House of Flowers owner says at least one thing has remained constant.
"We value our relationships with vendors and partners in business. Without having the generations of family relationships we have with these folks, we may not have made it through those tough moments."
Having strong, authentic relationships with vendors, employees and customers can help create a solid safety net to fall back on when things become difficult. But don't expect this net to weave itself. You'll need to thread it together with honest communication, consistent follow-ups and a whole lot of trust. Here are four best practices to guide you.
1. Get personal
Jim made it a point to have strong personal relationships with the salespeople and managers at his wholesalers. As trust developed, the two businesses were able to work out an untraditional payment plan that helped Jim's flower shop navigate through slow times – a great example of how investing in relationships can be beneficial to your business.
So how do you move from a business relationship to a personal relationship? Make sure your correspondence isn't entirely self-serving, and go out of your way to add a little bit of humanness whenever you can. Get to know their hobbies, names of their family members and other aspects of their lives outside of work. You'll be surprised at how much your work relationships benefit.
2. Be proactive
Knowing a lot about a person is one thing, but demonstrating you care about them through your actions is another. How can you help them achieve their personal or professional goals? Do you know someone who might be good for them to meet? Is there an article you read that they might find useful? Selfless gestures every now and then make for a more authentic relationship.
3. Solicit feedback
In 1993, Jim opened his shop as "Oshkosh House of Flowers." Ten years later, he felt it was time for a brand refresh so he reached out to an agency to get their opinion. They helped him realize that the "Oshkosh" part of their name would limit any future growth should they decide to expand outside the city. Since then, they've simply been known as "House of Flowers."
Whether they're experts, vendors, customers or employees, never be afraid to ask for an opinion. Not only will this make them feel more connected to the business, but it'll also give you the opportunity to address any unspoken problems you weren't aware of.
4. Have fun
Schedule some time outside of work to get to know employees or vendors in a relaxed environment. Whether it's a golf outing, casual dinner, community event or ball game, a fun, shared experience will allow you to see different sides of each other and help make your relationship more three-dimensional.
As Jim has witnessed firsthand, good business is built on a foundation of good relationships. Investing in the latter is perhaps one of the most overlooked, yet most rewarding opportunities for growing your small business. Set aside time each day to nurture your relationships and you'll find that doing so will further you both personally and professionally.