Breakfast with Brands

On February 12, the Women’s Enterprise Centre held our ‘Breakfast with Brands’ as part of our ongoing supplier diversity initiative.

There’s no question that the event was a great success. The room crackled with energy and opportunities were bouncing around like little bolts of lightning. Finally, supplier diversity wasn’t just business jargon, but a real, live path to finding new markets and new business growth for women entrepreneurs with small enterprises.

What is supplier diversity? Simply put, it’s the process by which minority- and women-owned businesses can gain access to procurement opportunities with large corporations and government departments. It’s not just about corporate social responsibility, supplier diversity programs have proven to be good business for those major firms that have instituted them in their procurement processes. And it’s not about favouring one group over another, but rather creating an equal playing field to broaden the competitive landscape, engage a wider swath of the community and find a diversity in product offerings and price levels that benefit consumers and corporates equally.

That definition feels very abstract until you actually see it in action. Most small businesses we’ve encountered don’t engage with the concept very easily. They feel that they are simply too small to consider selling to major corporations in the US and Canada.

‘Breakfast with Brands’ made it all real. Mary Anderson, Toronto-based President of WBE Canada, presented an overview of the kinds of specific opportunities that are available to first, second and third tier suppliers under diversity programs. To be a third tier supplier simply means that as a small business, your ability to sell to a giant corporation is limited. But if you sell to the company that sells to Walmart, you become a second tier or a third tier company; for most small businesses, that is a much more comfortable position given capacity and resources. Through increasing markets, you can eventually increase your capacity to deliver, to access the capital needed to meet the demand of the larger markets, and thus increase your role in the supply chain.

Joining Mary in Winnipeg was Kimberly Coffman, Marketing and Diversity Leader with Delta Airlines, based in Atlanta, Georgia. Delta Airlines is a leader in supplier diversity programming and Kimberly was an articulate spokesperson for the business process, explaining that Delta requires compliance from all their major first-tier suppliers to also utilize supplier diversity in their procurement efforts so that all the way down the line, equal access is given to women- and minority owned businesses.

The best part of the breakfast event was the introduction of procurement specialists from local companies: Manitoba Hydro, Assiniboine Credit Union, Great-West Life, The Fort Garry Hotel, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, and Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation. There was a series of 10-minute speed-dating round table discussions between the buyers and the 20 women-owned small businesses in attendance.  Conversation buzzed, cards were exchanged, telephone numbers were punched into smartphones, ideas circulated and everyone left satisfied that their morning had been very well spent.

As often happens at these occasions, many of the businesses attending found that there were ready customers sitting next to them at their breakfast tables. Finding the potential to do business with each other was the serendipitous outcome of much of the conversation before the formal part of the morning with the procurement professionals even began.

More information about supplier diversity is available at the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba.  Please call us to talk about how you can widen your scope and build your business through supplier diversity initiatives.

– Sandra Altner