ethical supply chain small business sourcing

2021 Tory Burch Fellow Stephanie Summerson Hall has won over customers with the charming, vintage-inspired designs of Estelle Colored Glass. Not only has Summerson Hall won over fans with beautiful glassware, she’s also built a supply chain to be proud of, by working with a family-owned glassworks in Europe. She’s said no to unethical suppliers, taking years to find the right fit. Summerson Hall joined us for an Ask Me Anything on our Instagram to talk to our community about serving customers the right way. 

Q: Where do I start sourcing vendors for my business? 

A: Start by taking your time and doing your due diligence before investing resources. Talk to business owners operating in your desired area of interest. Join groups and attend networking events to educate yourself.

We have two major suppliers in our business, which are our glassmakers in Poland and our gift box makers in New York. We vetted almost 30 potential glassmaking businesses before we found the right fit. For our boxes, we did a lot of research on companies in the US that offer luxury boxes and we landed with our current vendor very early on. Indeed, this process is very tedious so don’t give up. 

Q: How do you navigate issues with shipping delays and customs?

A: We have shipping accounts and strong relationships with Fedex, UPS, DHL, etc. This gives us the most competitive pricing available and keeps us from being reliant on one carrier.

Q: Do you ever offer pre-orders, or do you always wait until your items are stocked and ready to ship?

A: We have always taken pre-orders. This has  backfired on occasion, when products have not arrived as expected. As a result, we try now to  start pre-orders only six weeks out or less.

Q: Have you had any issues with vendors promising one thing and delivering another? How do you deal with that?

A: We have two main vendors that are crucial to our business and that can cause our operation to be held up and delayed—our glassmakers and box company. As a result, we have built strong relationships where we do what we say we are going to and expect the same. If either party cannot perform as initially promised, clear communication and transparency is key. Over time, mutual trust has been built and all parties are forgiving if something does not go as expected. We always commit to win-win relationships. If a vendor is causing us not to grow or isn’t easy to do business with, it is time to source another vendor or address the issues quickly.

Q: How did you handle having to produce larger quantities once your products were picked up by major retailers like Williams-Sonoma?

A: We have increased our orders with our glassmaker and box company and expanded the size of our team. There  have definitely been bumps in the road and concerns about sustainability with expanding. Right now, we have insufficient warehouse space which is causing us major woes and our plans to build an additional warehouse have been delayed by the skyrocketing costs of steel.

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