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RESEARCH IN BRIEF
How do supplier relationships contribute to success in conference and events management?
Susan M. Ogden and Eileen McCorriston
Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK
Purpose – The aim of this paper is to report the ﬁndings from a survey of UK conference and event managers, which highlights the beneﬁts that can accrue from supplier management within this sector. Design/methodology/approach – A survey of venue managers covering a cross-section of venue types was used. Findings – A signiﬁcant proportion of venue managers report having long-term supplier relationships, placing considerable value on the non-ﬁnancial beneﬁts that can accrue from long-term supplier relations featuring mutual trust and good working relationships. These include consistency, responsiveness and ﬂexibility in service delivery. Additionally, the familiarity of regular suppliers with the venue and its procedures, can lead to seamless service delivery to the customer and free-up venue managers time. Research limitations/implications – The research design provides a one-sided view of supplier relationships. Practical implications – Attention is drawn to the performance beneﬁts arising from building supplier relationships and offers guidance as to how these can be sustained by avoiding the pitfalls on long-term relationships. In doing so, the ﬁndings legitimise the importance of taking non-ﬁnancial considerations into account when awarding or renewing supply contracts. Originality/value – This paper applies lessons emerging from research on supplier relationships to a growing, but under-researched, sector of the hospitality industry. Keywords Supplier relations, Quality management, Supply chain management, Conferences, United Kingdom Paper type Research paper
Introduction The MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector within the UK is experiencing increasing competition due to an expansion in the number and range of facilities operating in the market (see MRU, 2000). This paper argues that supplier management can be a key ingredient in improving the performance within the sector. The sector is supported by a wide range of suppliers providing services such as security, transport, technical support including AV services, crewing and exhibition design, as well as marketing promotion and business support. As is shown in Figure 1, it is the job of venue management to ensure that suppliers, some of whom come into direct contact with customers/conference participants, provide the level of support
International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management Vol. 19 No. 4, 2007 pp. 319-327 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0959-6119 DOI 10.1108/09596110710747652
IJCHM 19. Hinton and Tracey (2003. p. hospitality and leisure management . 2002). particularly those which may involve end-customer/supplier contact as in the conference and events industry fall into this category. Within the tourism. For example. An exception to this is a study by Dean and Terziovski (2001) which found that although the extent of supplier partnership is rather low. 2006). indeed several studies have shown that within the service industry supplier relationships are judged to be of less importance (Huq and Stolen. 18) argue that in the meetings and conventions industry that “individual transactions have a cumulative effect on the overall evaluation of service quality”. and its close association with total quality management and business excellence models all emphasise the business beneﬁts of developing relationships with suppliers and external partners. Supply contracts for services. 2006). Silvestro. Given that service quality issues have been ranked by industry panel members as of “prime importance” (Weber et al. Supply chain management.4 320 Figure 1. Key to realising non-ﬁnancial beneﬁts is reported to be the human resource elements of supply relationships (Koulikoff-Souviron and Harrison. The relationship network in conference and event management required by clients and venue managers. with ﬂexibility ranked ﬁrst.. A study of business-to-business buyer-supplier relationships reports that two of the top three ranked beneﬁts are non-ﬁnancial. followed by lower costs and then stability (O’Toole and Donaldson. rather than a single point of contact in the exchange relationship (Koulikoff-Souviron and Harrison. 2003).g. 2006). These beneﬁts are particularly visible when suppliers are delivering services that involve frequent inter-organisational contact. service organisations involving suppliers in system change and development performed signiﬁcantly better in ﬁnancial terms that those which do not involve suppliers in quality practices or performance improvement initiatives. 1998). Much of the literature on the beneﬁts of supplier management is based on studies undertaken in the manufacturing industry. 1996. it can be argued that supplier management is an important source of competitive advantage in conference and events management. Positive beneﬁts of supplier management have also been reported in the retail sector (e. Sheu et al. The aim of this paper is to report on ﬁndings relating to venue managers experiences of supplier management in the industry..
A database of 1. Nevertheless it is acknowledged that a degree of “separateness” is healthy to ensure that “the relationship retains its vitality” (Koulikoff-Souviron and Harrison.. educational. 2005. consultation and co-operative decision-making between the parties. 2006. Supplier relationships 321 . the survey aims to provide a baseline for further research. Given the lack of current evidence relating to supplier management practices in the conference and events sector. 90). such relationships are likely to be more egalitarian. p. Notwithstanding these prescriptions. a focus on delivering results (rather than control). (2006) focus on hotel buyer criteria in relation to food suppliers. 2003). sharing and mutual trust. . To ensure geographical spread venues were also taken from national tourist board information on events venues in Scotland. but does not report on the extent to which purchasers are interested in developing the relational aspect of the transaction. Research design The paper reports on ﬁndings from a survey of venue managers within the UK conference and events sector. however. better quality as a result of increased supplier involvement. more stable prices supply. 2004. Lam. provides an insight into the broad range of factors important to hotel purchasers. Data is presented on venue managers’ attitudes to supplier management. except in relation to food supply chain management. emphasising “togetherness” and sharing of responsibility. multi-purpose. on-time deliveries and ability to provide emergency deliveries. The database is stratiﬁed into sub-sets using four main venue classiﬁcations: purpose built. including contract award criteria. easier management due to a reduced number of suppliers. reduced inventory. Lamminmaki. . and well-developed lateral communications. Thus. found that the potential advantages of partnering relationships with suppliers include: . and for Northern Ireland. with the client or purchaser (or venue manager) passing an element of discretion for how the task is performed to the supplier. and the perceived barriers and beneﬁts to building supplier partnerships. selecting organisations from across the UK using a variety of venue ﬁnding internet sites. and . a sense of intimacy based on closeness. Hemmington and King. Thus. a study by O’Connell et al. price. . 80) in her study of food supply chain management. 2005). Espino-Rodrı ´ n-Robaina. More recently. Eastham (2001. the difﬁculty in avoiding antagonistic relations should not be under-estimated (see Emiliani. there is little published research on the extent to which relationships with suppliers are perceived as an important element in organisational quality or operations management strategies. 2000. a high degree of trust is placed in the supplier. including the quality of the products on arrival. p.000 conference venues throughout the UK was ﬁrst constructed. and the joint development of processes or procedures in relation to service delivery and monitoring (Rogers. Padro In order for the business beneﬁts discussed above to arise it is suggested that managers should focus on developing factors such as: a common vision.literature. 1996. less time spent searching for new suppliers and tendering. 2005). Other studies in the sector have focused on outsourcing within the hotel ´guez and industry (Hallam et al.
venue manager). quality accreditation and environmental policies. visitor attractions). in April 2005. and only 10 per cent reporting a decrease in business for the year 2003/2004. and 21 per cent in sales/marketing/business development roles. (4) prior relationship. The self-administered postal questionnaire was piloted to 60 venues from across the speciﬁed classiﬁcations. after some adjustments to the survey instrument. theatres. As a key factor affecting the reliability of the data is the knowledge of the person completing the survey. The top ﬁve factors are: (1) technical expertise. This response rate compares favourably with that recorded in other surveys on outsourcing (for example.g. the 8 per cent response rate reported by Beaumont and Sohal’s (2004) study of outsourcing in 2000 Australian organisations). racecourses. enabling analysis to be made in relation to the status of respondent. Analysis of the contact details provided by 82 per cent of respondents provides assurance that informed views have been accessed: 23 per cent of respondents work at senior management level (e. and (5) ﬁnancial stability. The high proportion of unusual venues included in the sample is in reﬂection of ﬁndings from the BACD British Conference Venues Survey that in 2002 unusual venues account for around 27 per cent of all conference venues. Unusual venues report the largest increase and largest decrease in their volumes of business.g. and unusual venues (e. head of conference and exhibitions). heritage buildings/castles. (2) cost. unusual (40 per cent). Educational establishment reported the least growth in their conference and events business. giving a 16 per cent response rate. For example. all survey respondents were asked to provide contact details and job titles. educational (15 per cent) and purpose built (12 per cent). multi-purpose (32 per cent). The following discussion presents a brief overview of the ﬁndings.4 322 mainly universities and colleges. director. evenly spread across the four categories of venue. (3) reputation. 38 per cent at operational management level (e. museums and galleries. Contract award criteria Respondents rated the importance of nine criteria that may be considered when awarding contracts to suppliers. football clubs. before summarising the implications for practicing managers. The main survey returned 151 fully-completed questionnaires by the set deadline.IJCHM 19.g. pointing to the greater volatility in this sector. general manager. conference and events manager. Of less relevance appears to be location. Key ﬁndings Business activity The survey conﬁrms that the conference and events sector overall is still growing in the UK with 50 per cent of respondents reporting an increase in the number of conferences/events held. It is not surprising that technical expertise is rated so highly because a key . with full distribution to 940 venues taking place.
As shown in Table I. 8. and (4) top-class health and safety. which was only mentioned by 18 per cent of respondents. 5. These venue managers described in their own terms the main beneﬁts and drawbacks that accrue from such relationships. 6. team working and communication/rapport are all included under this category and several respondents clearly stating that such factors led to a “seamless operation” from the customer perspective. 2. while 80 per cent described disadvantages (149 items by 115 respondents) associated with having long-term supplier relationships (see Table I). 2. 7. The most frequent advantage described by 46 per cent of respondents relates to beneﬁts pertaining from having a positive working relationship. 3. Four other criteria speciﬁed under the “other” category and ranked as “highly important” by the respondents adding these factors to the list are: (1) responsive and professional.reason for outsourcing is to access knowledge or skills that do not exist within the organisation. 4. termed here as the “they know us” factor. mutual support. consider their organisation to have long-term relationships with their suppliers. as these quotes demonstrate: Suppliers are familiar with standards and working practices and therefore time is saved in explaining requirements each time. Familiarity. (3) “buy-in” to our culture. was raised by 37 per cent of respondents. The high number of respondents coming from unusual venues where conference and event management is not a core part of the business also explains this ﬁnding. (2) quality of product. Supplier relationships A very high proportion of respondents. Factors such as inter-personal trust. 90 per cent provided examples of the beneﬁts (244 items listed by 130 respondents). % a respondents Disadvantages (n ¼ 130) 46 38 37 21 18 9 6 5 4 1. 3. as does understanding of regular client needs and experience of past events. 9. overall managers report non-cost or intangible beneﬁts more often than cost or price. The suppliers’ knowledge of the venue facility and working practices accounts for some of these beneﬁts. 91 per cent. friendly relations. Good working relationships Consistency Familiarity Responsive and ﬂexible Cost beneﬁts Re-booking simplicity Security and control Service development and innovation New business beneﬁts Note: aAdds up to more than 100 as some respondents listed more than one factor Table I. Of those answering this question. 4. 5. Supplier complacency Higher cost Purchaser complacency No problems Over-dependency % respondents (n ¼ 115) 67 22 18 8 3 Supplier relationships 323 Advantages 1. Advantages and disadvantages of supplier relationships in conference and events management .
Fewer respondents. As one respondent admitted “You take them for granted and let things slip”.] sometimes the supplier feels they can let you down easier than a new client. Only a very small number of respondents (5 per cent) listed service innovation (e. there is a perception that long-term suppliers bring a lower level of risk in relation to the level of service quality that is received. The speed with which suppliers can respond to requests at short notice is felt to be important in this sector because. as one respondent commented. Other factors described by respondents include: booking convenience (9 per cent). This was a separate concern from “over-dependency” (either of the supplier or purchaser). 324 Over one-third of respondents (38 per cent) described consistency or reliability of the suppliers’ performance (the “we know them” factor or “we know what we’re getting” factor) as a key beneﬁt arising from long-term supplier relationships.] no great effort is made as the contract appears to be secure. However. the challenges of . . Regular suppliers are also felt likely to be more ﬂexible or adaptable and willing to compromise or “do favours” for the venue managers.g. and new business referrals (4 per cent). The third most frequent issue raised as a disadvantage relates to “purchaser complacency” reported by 18 per cent of respondents.4 They understand your needs. abuse of trust. Typical respondent comments in this category include: [. Clearly then. . where it became difﬁcult to withdraw from a contract when a relationship sours – this was only mentioned by a small proportion (3 per cent) of respondents. the non-cost beneﬁts of long-term supplier relationships are clearly highly valued by many managers. . get to know your trends and can question anomalies with honest concern. provided a response about disadvantages arising from long-term supplier relationship and a narrower range of views on the nature of the disadvantages were expressed. and security and control (6 per cent). they are likely to improve the efﬁciency and effectiveness of a business operation by freeing up management time and improving service delivery quality. only 80 per cent. or lack of new ideas. These comments suggest that managers accept that some of the blame for higher cost or deteriorating performance had to be laid at their door for failing to monitor suppliers sufﬁciently or take time to look for more competitive quotes. “coming up with new ideas”. “in the conference industry requirements are often last minute”. Implications for practioners The conference and events industry provides an interesting context within which to study supplier management because of the mix of venue type. . Statements relating to higher costs and lack of competitiveness in prices received the second highest frequency (22 per cent). “learning from previous events and marking improvements in the next”) as a factor. while these beneﬁts are more intangible in that they cannot easily be measured or reported on. service development and innovation (5 per cent). In particular. Increased responsiveness and ﬂexibility are also frequently given as a beneﬁt (21 per cent of respondents). with 67 per cent of those providing a response to this question worrying that standards can slip due to over-familiarity. The most frequently described problem has been termed “supplier complacency”. [.IJCHM 19.
Involve suppliers in a 360 degree performance appraisal of the organisation’s systems and procedures. Be aware that suppliers can become complacent if they feel that management are not monitoring their performance. allowing them the opportunity to feedback to the organisation their views about any performance gaps. Involve suppliers in any in-house quality assurance activities or frameworks. This study suggests that managers operating in this sector. will also be balanced against their performance in relation to internal business perspectives. . . Not only are advantages reported that enhance quality of the customer (participant)/supplier interface. as Emiliani (2003) argues. . Ensure suppliers know that their price competitiveness although reviewed in relation to other contractors. Help them to help you innovate. Furthermore. like those in the study by O’Toole and Donaldson (2002). however. This co-dependency provides an incentive for a high level of trust in the relationship to be fostered. . a degree of separateness is healthy to avoid supplier/purchaser complacency and maintain vitality in the relationship. Nevertheless. where appropriate. beneﬁts relating to quality of service delivery are all cited more frequently than more ﬁnancial or cost beneﬁts. responsiveness and ﬂexibility of suppliers. your customers. In conclusion. . Short-term or arms-length contracting modes may simply not be seen as a Supplier relationships 325 . Furthermore. Set up systems to regularly review supplier performance against internal and external customer satisfaction. Give suppliers performance improvement goals to work towards. many managers recognise that these managerial beneﬁts may come at the cost of paying a higher price for supplier services. encourage them to adopt quality standards themselves. Given these ﬁndings it follows that managers in this and in other sector of the hospitality and tourism industry should consider the following pointers for successful supplier management: . This higher cost may not be a problem if also accompanied by higher quality. the low number of respondents reporting service innovation as a beneﬁt suggests that the full ﬁnancial performance beneﬁts that Dean and Terziovski (2001) report can arise from involving of suppliers in system changes and process improvements. Management time can be freed up and service quality improved by having suppliers who know your set up. and. but also in relation to the freeing up of management time due to a reduction in the need to monitor supplier performance. it is likely that the specialist nature of many suppliers in the MICE sector makes long-term ties mutually beneﬁcial for the supplier and venue manager. they understand that good working relationships with suppliers built up over a number of years is likely to deliver improvements in consistency and reliability of service delivery as a result of an increase in the knowledge. In particular. . to ensure beneﬁts are sustained managers should be aware that.capacity management in a very competitive sector. particularly service quality. have a well-developed level of awareness of the ﬁnancial and non-ﬁnancial costs and beneﬁts associated with developing long-term supplier relationships. are not yet being realised within this sector. your staff and your operating systems. and the range of specialist services that can be required by clients.
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