(This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In 1973 there was a huge oil crisis. How huge? Imagine the price of a gallon of gas rising almost 50% in just a few months. Imagine President Biden — as President Nixon did — pleading with gas-station owners not to sell gas on weekends and then the government forcing sales during the week based on whether your license plate ended in an odd or even number. Imagine 20% of all gas stations in the country running out of fuel, which forced drivers to wait for hours in line to get their tank filled.
During that time, truck drivers went on strike because they couldn’t get fuel and then started shooting at other truck drivers that refused to. The economy fell into a deep recession. A wave of legislation followed that ultimately lowered the national speed limit to 55 miles per hour and limited the size of cars.
During all of this, my father had to get to work. There was no work from home, or “the cloud,” or Zoom. People went to offices or they didn’t get paid. My dad drove a gas guzzling Buick 455 Estate Wagon, the family car. IT was the size of a small village. He needed gas, but the gas was in short supply. And yet, he always seemed to have a full tank. How did this happen? What was his secret weapon? Actually, it wasn’t a what. It was a who. The who was Burt.
Burt owned a small gas station that also did car repairs and was located just a block from where we lived. My dad was one of his best customers. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the repair history of the Buick 455 Estate Wagon. For at least a decade, my dad not only went to Burt for his gas, but also (and sadly, frequently) brought the Buick in for any repairs. He sometimes brought Burt food or beer. He always stayed for a bit to chat. Burt and my dad had a relationship that went beyond just business. They became friendly.
See where this is going?
When the ’73 oil crisis hit, Burt’s business was impacted like any other gas station, but he always kept reserves of that precious gasoline for his favorite customers. And my dad was on top of that list. Whenever he needed gas, he got it from Burt. He paid full price of course, but that wasn’t the important thing. What was important back then was actually getting the gas for your car so you could go on with your life. And during that entire period, my dad never had to worry about getting gas.
Burt was no different than any other business owner since the beginning of time. Business owners always look out for their best customers. They give them priority. They go the extra mile. They step up when they’re needed. Are you that best customer? How do you treat your suppliers? Do you pay them on time? Do you make excessive demands? Are you distant and unsociable? Do you ever ask after their family or take interest in what they do personally?
You should. Because managers at companies I know that treat their suppliers well get treated well in return. And the clients I have who take unfair advantage of their suppliers oftentimes find themselves without supply when needed. Because those same suppliers likely turned to customers that treated them better and that they liked.
We’re in a supply chain crisis right now, but that doesn’t mean there’s no supplies. They’re just more limited. And you know what I’m seeing? I’m seeing businesses go out of their way to get products to their best customers, even when products are in very short supply. Just like Burt went out of his way to make sure my dad had gas for the Buick.
Maybe you’re learning this lesson yourself during this supply chain crisis. That’s good. Because, whether it’s computer chips, spare parts or oil, your relationship with your suppliers will always be core to helping you get your supplies. So treat them well. Pay them on time. Don’t be a jerk. Be human. They are every bit as critical for your business as your customers.
Hopefully, the current supply chain crisis will work itself out in the next six-to-12 months. But there will always be problems getting the inventory you need. You’ll always have demanding customers. You’ll always have situations where product needs to get out the door quickly. Having a strong relationship with your supplier will be core to solving those problems. If you’re a good customer then, like Burt, they’ll look after you too.
Oh, in case you’re wondering about the Buick, my dad ultimately replaced it. With an Oldsmobile. Some people will never learn.