Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Building the right partnerships can increase growth velocity for early stage businesses. One brand we work with at Anvyl has experienced exponential growth during the pandemic, due in part by heavy collaboration with it’s partnership base. To learn more, I met with Matt Mullenax, co-founder and CEO of Huron, a men’s DTC personal care brand, and his co-founder Matt Teri, who is Huron’s Chief Development Officer. We discussed how Huron’s success with partnerships has helped them achieve scale and how other small and medium-sized businesses can use partnerships to add long-term brand value.
“You rely on partners as an extension of your own team, so you can remain nimble but efficient,” said Mullenax. “We trust our partners to help bring our brand to life and deliver our product to customers. It’s not a vendor-client relationship; it’s a true partnership. 10 years ago, you might have needed in-house fulfillment, product development or marketing teams. Now, with the right partners, you can grow and scale your company with a fairly small corporate team.”
Mullenax and Teri recommend taking these three steps to form stronger, more connected partnerships.
1. Connect your partners to your vision.
Ideally, when a customer makes a purchase, they aren’t just buying your product — they’re also buying your brand. They feel an emotional connection to your mission and values, and this helps them build a lasting relationship with your company.
Apply this same concept to your partnerships. Before you get into any tactical conversations, sell potential partners on your brand’s story and vision. Give them a 360-degree tour of how you operate and what you’re trying to achieve, and seek out partners who are excited to be part of it. You will be working with these people for months, if not years, so think about who you want to build your brand with.
“We know the supply chain is basically the lifeblood of any brand,” said Teri. “When we partner with someone, it’s because they’re part of our team. Whether we’re talking about packaging or raw materials, this relationship matters. Sharing who we are and what we’re all about, and the passion that we have for the brand, our customers and our partners resonates with them. It’s helped us find like-minded companies to partner with.”
2. Go beyond transactional and become collaborative.
The best partnerships are built on trust, confidence and collaboration. Look for partners who want more than a simple transactional relationship and will bring useful ideas and expertise to the table. They should take a proactive role in identifying problems and working with your team to find solutions.
“During the pandemic, we were experiencing shipping delays from various service providers,” said Mullenax. “Our fulfillment partner took the initiative to bring up the issue and quickly resolve it. They brought on additional vendors who were a good fit on price, planning, safety and execution. What was initially a pain point on the fulfillment side became a way to improve the overall customer experience.”
3. Be thorough and selective.
While evaluating new partners, follow this rule of thumb: look wide but go deep. Don’t just talk to one vendor and sign a contract the next day. Have conversations with multiple vendors in any vertical before selecting the one that makes the most sense for your company. Aim to select fewer partners but form tight-knit relationships with them.
Start by researching the partners of brands that you admire. If Brand X works with this vendor, what does that tell you about their diligence, responsiveness and efficiency? Which qualities are most important to you in a partner, and how can you screen for them?
“Think of each conversation as an interview and an opportunity to tease out certain characteristics,” said Teri. “How resourceful, creative and enthusiastic are they? Can they make quick decisions and pivot when you’re up against the wall? What processes do they have in place to ensure quality and safety? Dig deep into how they operate.”
Just because your team is small doesn’t mean your growth prospects have to be. Building partnerships with trusted vendors will allow you to expand your team’s capabilities and scale your company more quickly.