Opinion: Now is the time for collaboration

January 07 , 2019

By Oster & Associates president Bev Oster

As we start 2019, everyone is looking for new beginnings – just like they do every year. Resolutions are broken as quickly as they are made, and new ideas get pushed aside in favor of doing things the way they’ve always been done. How can we break that non-productive cycle?

Every company has both suppliers and customers. The question needs to become whether both are colleagues or adversaries. Do we give our customers the respect they want and deserve? Are our suppliers also partners in a bigger picture of what we would like to achieve, or do we look at them as only a means of fulfilling our needs?

One thing is certain. Society has changed, and people’s expectations have changed. Companies that will thrive in the future are the ones that accept change in how they do business. Perhaps the time has come to have a relationship with our customers that is more of a partnership rather than that of buyer and seller. Maybe the same thought process with our vendors might be better for both sides and mean more business for everyone. 

How does this work for the produce industry, you ask? A perfect example is an ongoing but growing partnership that our client, Organics Unlimited, has with one of the retailers that sells their GROW bananas. New Seasons Markets, an expanding natural food retailer in the Northwest, has purchased GROW bananas for their customers for many years. It’s easy to say that most consumers buy bananas on a regular basis and whatever bananas a market carries is what they’ll buy.

But what if the people in the produce department have a passion for GROW bananas? What if they have visited the farms where they’re grown, helped volunteer with the children that are receiving an education thanks to the GROW funds or worked on environmental programs in the tropics of Mexico? This is no longer a retailer/vendor relationship. It is now a partnership, because New Seasons and Organics Unlimited have a common goal of selling organic bananas with a heart. There is a collaboration that means better communication to consumers about what is behind the bananas. There is stronger communication between grower and retailer to provide the information that consumers crave about what is behind their produce. Everyone understands the goals and needs of each other and by fulfilling those needs they can all reach their own goals.

The key idea is that collaboration is essential to advance collectively. Collaboration takes understanding, which takes communication. Fourteenth century English poet, John Donne, said it best when he wrote “No man is an island . . .” Twentieth-century business taught us to be independent and stand alone, looking out for number one first and foremost. In this century, isn’t it time to return to working better
together to accomplish more for each of us and thus accomplish more collectively? Perhaps it is.

 

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