5 Suppliers Share the Most Common Order Mistakes Distributors Make (and How to Avoid Them)
You’re busy, so you rush to place an order before an upcoming sales call, or because you’re running late to a virtual presentation, or simply so you can chase the next sale. What’s the harm? The problem is, if your hastiness leads to a typo or incorrect information on your purchase order, you’re risking delays, money and possibly a client relationship.
All of those cause more damage to your business than the few minutes you lost in your schedule. In the worst-case scenario, a small gaffe due to carelessness could result in wrong merchandise, which means the job will need to be completely redone and potentially miss your client’s in-hands date.
To find out what the most common order mistakes are, we went to the experts—suppliers that handle your orders on a daily basis and have seen it all. Read on to find out if you’re guilty of any of these missteps and learn how you can improve your purchase orders to make both supplier partners and end-buyers happier.
Your purchase order is basically an instruction manual for the supplier to complete your client’s project from start to finish, so it is imperative to provide not only complete, but accurate directions. Suppliers cited missing or inaccurate information in regard to style numbers, pricing, quantities, imprint colors, sizes, artwork, in-hands dates and shipping as the most frequent fumbles. And there’s a simple solution to the problem.
“Cross check the PO to ensure all important item details are listed on the PO,” Debra Hoerl, vice president of customer service for Gill Studios Inc., Lenexa, Kan., recommended. “If there are questions about an item, obtain a quote prior to placing the order and refer to the quote on the PO.”
Even though referring to the quote is acceptable, Colleen LeYanna, director of customer service at Edwards Garment, Kalamazoo, Mich., said referring to past orders is not.
“While it may seem like your routine and trusted supplier partner should know what you always order, it is best practice to list the details on each PO,” LeYanna remarked. “Suppliers strive for efficiency and accuracy. Relying on [the] supplier’s unwritten and assumed knowledge of the distributor or end-buyer’s order history is risky.”
That same line of reasoning also applies to your clients. Terry Wiersma, production manager for Team Concept Printing, Carol Stream, Ill., works with clients to ensure they don’t sacrifice quality for cost, noting distributors’ biggest mistake as cutting costs with packaging substrates. However, another issue is not maintaining brand consistency across multiple products.
“Another common mistake distributors make is not using special spot ink colors that are common inks for multiple products,” he said. “This can be planned out during the concept and design. Major brands do this to ensure color consistency with multiple product lines and also from production run to production run.”
Shipping information is also a vital part of any order, but with the prevalence of drop ships during the pandemic, incomplete shipping information quickly emerged as a problem area. In fact, it became the largest challenge PCNA had to address for Perfectly Packaged, the gifting service it launched late last year.
“What many do not understand is that most suppliers’ facilities are set up to produce, pack and immediately ship the product out the door,” Stacey Stewart, vice president of customer operations for PCNA, New Kensington, Pa., said. “There is typically not additional space or processes in place to hold decorated product; therefore, all information—including shipping details—must be complete before moving an order to be produced.”
Though most errors involve missing details, problems could also arise from including superfluous information, like apparel decoration detail intended for a contract decorator.
“Mistakes increase any time you are relying on the supplier to ignore or assume details of a PO,” LeYanna said.
You might get lucky if your supplier catches the slipup before producing an order, but reaching out and clearing up confusion still takes valuable time.
“If the order information is incomplete or there are significant discrepancies, the order will be held until information is clarified and confirmed with the distributor,” Hoerl said. “If this cannot be done quickly, delays could result that could jeopardize our ability to meet the customer’s ship date.”
But relying on the supplier to catch your preventable mistakes could be costly, as incorrect information could go undetected and result in the order being produced as listed.
“If we get no response, we call [the distributor], but we are wasting valuable time trying to chase the mistake,” Kellie Claudio, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sweda Company LLC, City of Industry, Calif., said. “We could ultimately produce the wrong product written incorrectly on a purchase order.”
Ordering the wrong item from a supplier will incur unwanted costs and cut into your margin, but there are other ways for extra fees to start adding up and the client to be impacted even when the supplier catches and fixes your error prior to producing an order.
“There are also risks/impacts to the quality of the order if it then has to be rushed through production, causing additional expense—rush charges, expedited freight costs, overtime costs, etc.—for both the distributor and the supplier,” Stewart said. “I am sure all would agree the more touches to an order for any reason costs everyone involved time and money.”
The long-term effect, though, is what a careless, avoidable mistake could do to your client relationship.
“Order mistakes are troublesome all around, and we understand they happen on occasion,” LeYanna said. “We do what we can to resolve them swiftly. ... Ultimately, the end-buyer is affected when product is not delivered on time.”
To avoid falling victim to one of these common errors, suppliers advocated for solutions that are easy to implement—mainly to create a PO template or checklist that prompts you to retrieve and provide all needed information to suppliers.
“Our recommendation would be for distributors to build required fields into their order systems to make sure this information is always provided, and/or create a checklist process for their teams to follow when filling out information,” Stewart said. “These are standard requirements for all suppliers to successfully process an order.”
PCNA has an online order system upgrade in the works that will assist with ensuring all needed information is included with each order, but both Claudio and Stewart encouraged distributors to adopt PromoStandards, a service that aims to improve efficiencies between suppliers and distributors in the promotional product industry. It streamlines data regarding inventory, purchase orders, order status, order shipment and pricing information.
“Another opportunity is to adopt PromoStandards and talk to your suppliers about technology that helps integrate order information and reduce order touches,” Stewart, whose company is a founding member of the service, said. “A win-win for all involved that will result in a more efficient and effective order experience.”
If you’re unsure of something, it is OK to ask the supplier in advance for help, but just sending something and assuming the supplier will figure it out after the order is placed is where the issues arise. Hoerl noted that her
team often receives art that isn’t the correct proportion to fit the size of the ordered item, or the exact imprint color isn’t indicated.
“Sending vector art or having art reviewed by the supplier prior to sending the order will ensure the size is proportionate and colors are defined,” she said.
If you work closely with your supplier in preproduction, mishaps may be more easily detected, Wiersma said.
“If you properly plan out your project with your supplier, the process will work seamlessly,” he added. “That’s why at Team Concept Printing we pride ourselves on the collaborative relationship we have with our suppliers, designers, brokers and marketing firms. We spend a lot of time with them in the preplanning stage.”
Maintaining collaborative relationships and finding new partnership opportunities is tricky with most in-person events and non-essential travel on hold. That's why we’re hosting another round of relationship-building one-on-one meetings at the Back to Business Virtual Power Meeting – Spring Edition, happening April 26-29 and May 3-6. The virtual event is free for qualified distributors. Register here or read real success stories from distributor attendees here and here.