Supplier Engagement for Incident Management

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”
- from the poem “Tae a Moose” (to a mouse) by Robert Burns, 1785

Perhaps the language could use a little updating, but the spirit of Rabbie Burns’ famous line is one that rings true for all of us: no matter how carefully we plan, things still don’t always go to plan. In both our personal and professional lives we’re constantly faced with the unexpected, the unforeseeable and the downright unfair.

But don’t despair! Because, unlike the mouse in the poem (whose world is totally devastated when its plans fall through), we can adapt when things go wrong. Nobody plans to fail, but the wise person plans for failure. Or, to put it another way, always be prepared.

In the retail business, the area where S4RB specialises, there’s plenty of potential for disaster. That’s why the New Product Development processes followed by manufacturers are so complex, and why governments and standards agencies set such strict requirements for pharmaceuticals, electrical items, consumable goods, food, and much more besides.

We all want to make as sure as we can that the products on sale are safe and fit for purpose. However, the day will come when in spite of our best efforts something goes wrong. It could be as simple as a customer expressing disappointment upon trying a product for the first time, or it could be a lot more serious – a contamination issue maybe, or packaging that turns out to be unsafe.

Act fast and mobilise your suppliers

When that dreaded issue does arise, there will always be two big things at stake: customer safety and satisfaction, and brand reputation. Brand owners need to be able to act fast to protect first their customers and then the public’s perception of their brand. Failing to do either is not an option.

Incident management – or, how to react when something goes wrong – is a particular challenge for retailers with their own private brands.

Unlike national brands, where all the people involved in creating their products are part of a single company, private brands rely on supplier organisations spread across different countries, time zones and languages. So, when any issue arises, tracing the cause, identifying the appropriate action to take, and resolving the incident all rely on being able to mobilise a disparate supply base quickly.

Creating commitment with supplier engagement

At S4RB we firmly believe that every interaction you have with your suppliers is affected – either positively or negatively - by their level of engagement (the commitment they have to you, your goals and your values). In order to create a successful Private Brand, it is absolutely essential to invest time, energy and resources into building supplier engagement.

Retailers must take action to foster relationships of mutual respect and mutual benefit with the organisations that create products on their behalf. Only then can they be adequately prepared to deal with the unexpected, the urgent and those *ugh* moments.

Building supplier engagement is, at its core, about increasing suppliers’ understanding and motivation. It’s about making sure they know what you need them to do, and then giving them good reasons to get the job done (by the way, “just do it” and “I’m warning you…” are not ways to motivate suppliers to do their best work for you).

Building supplier engagement

There are three broad areas to work on if you’re serious about building supplier engagement, and the good news is that you won’t be starting from scratch. Just take a step back and look at what you’re already doing in each area, then have a think about how you could take it to the next level.


Firstly, your communication with suppliers has a big impact on their level of engagement. For instance, when you get in touch with them, are you making sure that you’re talking to the right people?

An up-to-date contact list is an important starting point for building healthy relationships with the organisations working with you. If they know messages from you will always be relevant, and never generalised or spammy, they will be much more likely to read and respond to your emails and to pick up the phone when you call.

And it should go without saying that you should aim to be clear, concise and courteous in what you say.


Next, consider the support that you give your suppliers. Are you equipping them adequately to carry out your instructions?

There are some really effective tactics you can adopt here that will make very little extra work for you whilst dramatically improving your suppliers’ ability to do their best work for you.

One that we particularly recommend is an online knowledgebase – a searchable repository of useful information that your suppliers can access at any time. If suppliers can find all your policies, relevant process documents, and helpful supplementary information about standards and legislation, they won’t have to call or email you to ask about it. Both parties can now work more quickly and effectively, and with less distraction.


Finally, practice as much transparency as possible. Share all the information you can, because the more your suppliers know and understand, the more they can function as an integrated part of your private brand team. They may even start coming to you with suggestions for new or improved products, or with solutions to problems you are both facing.

When you take the time to build supplier engagement – to treat your suppliers in a way that makes them feel supported and valued – you are making a crucial investment and setting yourself up for success. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”, but

from the routine, day-to-day business of private brands, all the way through to the intense activity involved in serious incident management, you will find yourself working with your suppliers as one dedicated, well-equipped and effective team.

What could you do today to take your supplier interactions to the next level?

Find out more about supplier engagement for incident management.

Tags: Supplier engagement, Consumer trust

Team S4RB

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