One relationship that continues to change is the one between roofing contractors and roofing material suppliers.

Today's fast-paced and competitive environment demands that you make the most of the time you spend on business relationships. Some of your relationships may be in need of change, and others may be slowly changing without your knowledge or input. One relationship that continues to change is the one between roofing contractors and roofing material suppliers, partly due to the emergence of the Internet age and improving business process systems.

The role of the supplier as one of your key sources of information continues to diminish as manufacturers have taken a more direct role with their Web sites and other media such as CDs and DVDs. These things have been around for years, but contractors have really begun to embrace such "self-service" offerings.

Suppliers still perform valuable services for contractors, including keeping product on hand for fast delivery, delivering to the jobsite and/or the rooftop, and financing. There are other services, such as sales and marketing aids and lead development. Manufacturers have taken a more proactive role with contractors in some of these endeavors.

Suppliers continuously seek ways to force costs out of their business while looking for new and better ways to add value to yours. Savvy suppliers will introduce more "self-service," allowing you into their computer systems to check your order status or product availability, and ultimately will allow you to place orders. It saves them money, and saves you time. This is still pretty much in the future, but it is the not too distant future.

Today's business computer systems are giving suppliers more robust information about their own business that may in turn affect your relationship with them. The entire supply chain is looking in both directions to qualify every transaction and every member in the chain. Your supplier will (if not already) begin to size you up as a trading partner. You purchase a certain amount, have certain needs and demands, have certain pay habits, prefer certain brands, and take advantage of a great many, or just a few of a suppliers' offerings.

In a business such as building products distribution where the margin pressure is immense, suppliers are finally figuring out that they simply cannot do business with every contractor on the block. I feel this will ultimately be a positive thing for well-run, legitimate roof-contracting firms. Roofing contractors who are able to line up with the top suppliers should find themselves the recipients of the best prices on the best materials delivered right the first time, and on time. Roofing contractors who cannot sustain a level of business, who cannot organize their business well enough to properly order materials or pay their bills on time may find themselves standing in line at some "big box" every morning while the suppliers are focusing all their attention and service on their "A" customers.

Why do you want to be an "A" customer to your key supplier? The service aspect is huge, but "just in case" is another good reason. A supplier may not be able to bail you out of every situation in which you might find yourself, but I have borne witness to contractors being helped through bad times by suppliers that have taken a year or more to rectify. Another case may be: Which roofing contractor do you suppose has all the material he needs when the storms come and supplies are suddenly tight?

Do not take your supplier relationship for granted. As the world changes and suppliers begin to measure you as a trading partner, you may want to do the same. How well do you really line up with your top supplier? Are the terms and service they offer you what you really need for your business to succeed? Take some time now and then to review your expectations against their performance. You may discover that your supplier's performance is not up to your expectations, and you need to make a change (or call a serious prayer meeting). On the other hand, you may find out that you should take your supplier out to lunch to thank them for all the great things they add to your business. In spite of the "information age" spin on this look at contractor-supplier relationships, what all this really boils down to is personal human relationships. We may use machines to buy, sell and deliver our products; but we do our business with people.