How I survived when the competition threatened my suppliers

sharon-thurinSharon Turin started Slim Secrets after working as a weight loss coach and eyeing a gap for healthy snack foods. The company is now turning over $1.5 million and is selling its products around the world.

But when Turin first started her business, some distributors were actually threatened by one of Slim Secret’s competitors, who said that if they didn’t sever the relationship they would lose their contracts. She says the experience taught her to stay focused on maintaining good relationships with suppliers.

How has the business been travelling?

It’s actually been an amazing year, both overseas and domestically. We’ve grown very well and have done well. Our sales have improved about 30%, which in this market I’m very happy with. Turnover is on the way up and we’re going to be launching new products soon.

So what happened with these suppliers?

When we first started, I was very new to the industry and had basically no connections at all. Google was probably my best friend at that particular time, so I just used to find manufacturers, distributors, and so on. Much of it was done through the internet, and through that I met one of my manufacturers and the relationships developed from there.

And you came across this competitor?

The health food industry in Victoria is not huge. So the choices for all the things I just mentioned were not great. If you don’t have your own manufacturing base, you’re in trouble.

So what happened was a competitor, another manufacturer that also made healthy snacks, ended up with me in the same contract warehouse. It was the same manufacturer, and we ended up sharing a couple of distributors as well.

Why such a reaction from a larger company?

I think they felt threatened and thought we were copying them, but to be honest, I didn’t know much about them at the time and it was simply the limited amount of resources had me end up with them in the same area.

When did you start hearing some comments about your business?

At first we heard from the people in the warehouse that this other company was saying we were copying them, following in their footsteps. I was far from that, but that’s what was being said. And also, I had an overseas distributor that we had in common.

He actually came to me and said that he was told that if he supplied our products, then he would lose the contract with the competitor. That is what was said to him.

And what was your reaction?

I felt quite upset about that, because I was so new in the industry and I suppose over the last four years, one of the things I’ve focused on has been the relationships I’ve built up. So to be hit with that, I just couldn’t believe it. That part of the business has always been very important for me.

It was intimidation. I was very new to the industry, and having so little knowledge about what I was doing, it just shocked me that someone could react that way. But now I take that reaction as a compliment.

So how did you approach this?

I went back and approached my suppliers and distributors, and we talked and had some great conversations, and they were all very supportive. I was very grateful they weren’t intimidated by anything either, and stuck by their guns. The other company and myself have moved into quite distinct niches, and it was only in the first year of business I experienced this.

I think this is because these suppliers and I had such good relationships. I had talked with them and kept on their good side, and so when this happened I was able to talk to them about it. They were all very supportive of me.

Did you contact the company involved?

I did, but that’s behind us now.

So what did you learn from this experience?

I suppose what it showed me was that I need to put my head down and focus on building Slim Secrets, and not worry about other people. I actually work with another company and we supply our products side by side – that’s the way I like to do business. I didn’t have time to worry about all this negative press.

The advice I would give is simply that – you must focus on what you’re able to do and then move on from there. You can’t be distracted by these issues. Focus on building relationships with suppliers and then what you are doing in your own business.

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