Van Leeuwen
Matchmaker between customer and supplier

Matchmaker between customer and supplier

Jelle Otte,
Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube, Zwijndrecht, the Netherlands

The Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube Group has over 40 locations throughout the world and many of them have their own stock. Each location carries the responsibility for purchasing and maintaining its own stock. Within a specific geographical region, the category manager supports and advises local buyers on specific product groups. In this blog, I will explain how this works and how we benefit from category managers.

Combining purchasing activities

I am the category manager for the product group of fittings and flanges in Europe. An important aspect of this role is making deals with our most important suppliers, or key suppliers. We do this because in each region, we usually purchase our materials at the same mills, which have been audited and approved by our own specialists. Specifying certain terms and conditions  on a higher level allows the local buyer to fulfill his or her task faster.

Improve relationships with suppliers

The category manager also plays an important role in strengthening business relationships with suppliers. While individual buyers from the different locations work at the operational level, a category manager works from a more strategic level. In saying that, I mean that category managers work towards medium-term goals. The deals we make with our key suppliers set out parameters like product specifications, payment conditions, conditions of purchase and supply conditions. Think, for example, of specific packaging demands, applying marks or stamps, or demands which are connected to specific documents. By setting up these agreements for the long term, we improve our relationships with our suppliers. This makes it easier to work for both sides, which in turn saves time in the purchasing process.

Material interchangeability

Making sure that all products within the same region are purchased according to the same specifications is another important task of category managers. The category manager adapts the product specifications to the customers’ demands. When the demands change, so do the required product specifications. As a result, all stock within the region is interchangeable, which is a major benefit. If one location has low stock of a certain item, that item can simply be ordered from a different stock. This makes us less dependent on delivery times at mills. Because I’m both category manager and purchase manager for fittings and flanges at our location in Zwijndrecht, I experience these benefits directly.

The best conditions

In my role as category manager I receive lots of information about my product group, covering both the sales and purchasing sides. Our sales people tell me what customers need and I notice any changes in their demand. At the other side of the spectrum, by keeping in touch with our suppliers, I am also up to date on product quality, pricing and delivery times. Plus, I make sure to stay updated on developments at the individual mills. Think, for instance, of expanded product capacity, new certifications, etc. Are we able, to give another example, to set up EDI connections with our suppliers’ systems, so that we can simplify the transfer of information even more? Obviously I share my obtained knowledge of the market with my colleagues. Furthermore, I offer my advise and support when questions in my area of expertise arise within the sales or purchasing departments at Van Leeuwen.

In short, as a category manager, I am the matchmaker between the customer and the supplier. I receive our customers’ demands from our sales people and translate them to optimal purchasing solutions. In order to do that successfully, I try to reach agreements which ensure the best conditions with our suppliers. I enjoy having my share in improving the product we offer to our customers. After all, that’s what it’s all about!



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