Zen and the Art of Vendor Maintenance

Everyone does vendor maintenance

I’ve never met my vendors but they could be these guys!

Imagine, if you will, that you’re sitting in your car in the most heinous traffic.

There are red taillights ahead, as far as you can see. You’ve been there for about 20 minutes, just sitting. Someone a few cars up has gotten out to stretch their legs. There must be some accident ahead, but there’s nowhere to get off the freeway. Things are just jammed.

But you’re on your way to receive an award at the most prestigious event you’ve ever been invited to. Your pantyhose are digging into your waist, and you can literally feel your hair relaxing against your head, ruining the beautiful, plump curls you paid your stylist nearly $100 to create.

You note the speed of your car (0 MPH), imagine how many miles away the venue is—maybe 20 or so—and you calculate that you’ll be there approximately never.

This is how the last three weeks have been for me. I’ve watched our sales skyrocket thanks to some favorable press. Our stock dwindled. Then soaps that were curing went into preorder. Now we’re selling imaginary soaps. It’s a miracle that people are still ordering soaps that won’t be delivered until mid-September, but they are.

Thank God for that.

One of our vendors is perpetually backed up.

About a month ago, I placed an order for the most important fragrance oils we have (Desert Sage and Fireplace), which came in yesterday. I love the sales person and their fragrance oils are irreplaceable, but they routinely run weeks late. I’ve waited two months for some samples.

Another of our vendors went on vacation for two weeks without notice (I subscribe to all their newsletters just so I can get this information).

And it’s OK.

It has to be OK.

If I didn’t learn how to manage my anxiety around the things I can’t control, this would make me miserable and crazy.

Help your vendors manage your expectations for delivery.

The philosophy, which my Page-a-Day calendar will tell you is “zen,” can be summarized with this line from Seven Years in Tibet: “We have a saying in Tibet: if a problem can be solved there is no use worrying about it. If it can’t be solved, worrying will do no good.”

Would worrying about the delay make the oil ship sooner? No. So why worry about it?

Before Outlaw Soaps, I spent much of my time as a digital product manager, trying to make things go faster than physically possible, so we could meet deadlines set by executives or advertisers. Why would I want to bring that into my own business? Isn’t escaping that mentality one of the reasons I set out on my own?

My friend, a compulsive worrier, she says it isn’t so simple. But it actually is simple; it’s just not easy. But once you get it in you, it is so simple.

It’s like a muscle that you have to keep toned.

When you’re watching the coffee brew, practice trying to make it brew faster with your mind. See how futile that is? Then practice letting go of it.

Traffic (as I’m sure you’ve gleaned) is a great place to practice not-worrying. Turn on some music and accept that traffic will move when it moves. No amount of worrying, or screaming, or arm-waving, will change that.

Though others might notice your attitude shift, you’re really doing this for you. Being worried all the time is no way to live. For all we know, we’ve only got one life, so why waste it stressed?

That’s not to say don’t indulge in vendor maintenance.

Follow up when they’re running behind. Help them manage your expectations for delivery. My sales rep at the perpetually backed-up company always manages my expectations by giving me a realistic window of shipment (which I usually add a week to, just so I don’t drive her crazy). Once the reasonable time has passed, I drop a line and just ask how things are going, and if there’s an update. I mean, things fall off people’s radar. No one is perfect.

So, today, think of something that is worrying you. Repeat that line from Seven Years in Tibet. And have a nice day.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

About Danielle Vincent

After more than 10 years as a corporate digital product manager for such sites as Oprah.com, ABC.com, and ABCFamily.com, Danielle Vincent quit her career and pulled up her rubber gloves to make a living manufacturing and selling soaps as Outlaw Soaps. Her experience with social media, product management, web analytics, business, and design have made Outlaw Soaps into a personal experiment as she finds out what happens when she applies her largely digital learnings to the real world.

1 Comment

  1. Marge Clark (@NaturesGift) on August 23, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    My first thought is “or find another supplier”… I know in some cases, when a product is gone it is gone. We deal with natural products that are produced once a year. period. Some I can order throughout the year, and others I can’t. But for routine purchases, I do not understand a supplier taking a month. Perhaps I’m spoiled, we turn orders around in 24 hours. But unless a vendor is really keeping me informed about the delay, the reason thereof, and the anticipated time frame (and changes to said time frame)..I will seek out another supplier. (IF it is a product that is available from multiple sources.) Thank you. Patience is NOT one of my myriad virtues, and I suspect I need to read this on a regular basis!

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