Small businesses that are suppliers compete against other suppliers on various factors. Product and service quality is perhaps the biggest differentiator, playing a critical role in determining whether a customer keeps on dealing with a particular supplier.
Knowing what quality standards are acceptable, and having the right systems in place to ensure consistency can be a challenge for small business owners. Many big corporates in South Africa (e.g. retailers, manufacturers, financial services institutions) offer supplier or enterprise development programmes for small businesses. Typically these programmes provide training and guidance on a variety of issues, including quality assurance.
The quality assurance support small businesses receive can take the form of being trained by the South African Bureau of Standards, participation in incubator programmes, and direct mentorship by the procurement or supply chain professionals in the corporate. However, to participate in these supplier development programmes, small businesses usually need to be registered on the supplier databases of the relevant corporate.
This can be a major challenge. Not all small businesses have the advantage of being in supplier development programmes which explain quality assurance systems and methodologies.
Small business owners who are forced to experiment on their own can follow the four basic steps outlined in the Shewhart Cycle:
• Plan – Stating the desired goals (i.e. the product or service to be delivered) and how they will be achieved. At this stage, some parameters can be outlined about the quality standards the product or service is expected to meet – this can be based on the small business owner’s experience, benchmarking against competitors, or specifications provided by the customer.
• Do – Setting the wheels in motion to produce the product or service. This includes making sure that all the required inputs are available to proceed according to plan.
• Check – Checking the product or service at different stages of the production process (beginning, middle, end) to ensure it meets the minimum quality standards. This can be the responsibility of the small business owner or line managers to whom employees report.
• Act – Making the necessary corrections when the product or service does not meet the desired quality standards. Accreditation by the International Organisational for Standardisation and other internationally recognized quality standards and industry bodies can give small business owners peace of mind that they are meeting the highest possible requirements.
Before spending money on complying with the standards and getting accreditation, small businesses should find out whether the standards are held in high regard by customers and other suppliers.
Another simple approach is for small business owners to use customer complaints and feedback to gauge and improve their performance.
Post By: Fadzai Munyaradzi