Comment: Supplier pains in the hospitality business

‘Tell me what you’ve got, what you’ve really, really got’

Opinion, Columnists

One of the joys of my job is that it’s very varied. I might be deep in a marketing or branding campaign one day and at the heart of a hotel the next day. Take the last few weeks, for example, which found me in the role of a turn-around GM for a hotel apartment property in new Dubai.

I like such assignments and find them very rewarding. There is, however, one aspect of the role I’m not enjoying and that’s dealing with suppliers. Historically, I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship of dealing with suppliers, but right now, it’s more the latter than the former — a situation that has been caused by the hotel’s property management system. The system is rubbish and needs to be replaced. Not in two months or later this year, but yesterday. Think of the worst PMS you’ve ever worked with and this is it. It can’t even calculate VAT correctly.

Luckily, we’re in Dubai and if the city’s not short of one thing it’s PMS suppliers, right? Right, but…

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Dubai’s certainly not short of PMS suppliers, but it’s desperately short of PMS suppliers that are to the point and a pleasure to deal with. To be fair, I think this goes not just for software systems, but everything you’re looking to procure CAPEX-wise.

Consider this: you’ve identified that you need a new PMS. The owner has given the initial okay and you’re ready to start looking for vendors. You find a number of promising looking solutions and vendors and contact them to set up a meeting and demonstration. Along with the emails you send out for this, you include a list of useful facts and requirements, e.g. the type of your property, how many rooms, how many outlets, etc. You do this, to save the supplier’s time and make the process more efficient.

Replies are coming in thick and fast and soon you have several meetings and demonstrations booked in your diary. You’re a serious buyer, but you’re also pressed for time, so you’ve allowed one hour for each appointment.

The day has come and you’ve got the first three suppliers scheduled in the morning and afternoon. The first one rocks up, on time, if somewhat out of breath. He’s wearing what can best be described as “business (very) casual”, but that’s okay, because we’re not so shallow as to judge by appearances. You settle down, tea, coffee, water is served, and the representative has successfully connected his or her laptop to the hotel’s WiFi system and the projector. And then it happens:

You: ‘Thanks again for coming. Please, go ahead!’

Supplier: ‘Before I start, let me just give you a brief about our company.’

No. Non. Nein. Five hundred times no. What follows is up to 30 minutes of “brief” about the company. When it was founded. Where it was founded. How many offices it has. What the CEO likes to eat for dinner. We’re now halfway through the allocated meeting time and I have yet to learn anything truly useful. This is painful.

Guess what: I. Do. Not. Care. Look, it’s not that I’m old, grumpy, and not interested (though some people dispute the first two), but it’s that you have things totally the wrong way around. You’re not here to sell me your company. You’re here to sell me one of your products. Preferably one that fits my requirements. My time is precious and, I like to think, so is yours. Ain’t nobody got time for that. If you give me an overly long spiel about your company right at the beginning, you’ve probably lost me before you come to the actual products, services, or solutions you came to see me about.

My solution? Be more German about things! Sure, that’s easy enough for me to say, seeing that I’m actually from Germany, but I invite all of you, regardless of where you were born, to give it a go (for our British friends: just don’t mention ze war, ja?). Here’s how it works:

Supplier: ‘Thanks for inviting me to show you our solutions.’

You: ‘You’re welcome! Here’s how this will work: You’ve got 60 minutes to sell your product to me. If you chose to waste 20 minutes talking about your company, that’s your choice, but it means you then only have 40 minutes to close the deal.’

This usually does the trick. It certainly gives a supplier bonus points, together with being prepared (i.e. actually reading my email and requirements), and asking the right questions.

Do you think I’m overly sharp? Look, I had a chap walk in recently, whom I exchanged several emails with regarding a new PMS. I listened to his company spiel for 15 minutes. It then turns out, they don’t even do PMS solutions. Pardon me for becoming a bit cynical.

Courtesy disclaimer: The world isn’t black and white. 100% perfection is an illusion. Dubai is full of suppliers, most of whom are great and a pleasure to deal with. I’m not really a very abrasive person. Death threats and blacklist requests should be send to my editor.

Whatever you do: Keep it straightforward and painless!

About the Author: Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity. Iconsulthotels is now sps:hotels — a leading hotel management consultancy that provides its clients forward-looking business strategies, keeping them ahead of the market. Email: hello@spsaffinity.com.

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