Article by: Perry Romanowski
As a cosmetic chemist you are going to have to deal with suppliers and vendors to get anything done. Here is an explanation of the relationship and a list of things that a supplier can do to make you more effective.
Cosmetic Industry Suppliers
Industry suppliers, or vendors, are companies that provide cosmetic chemists with raw materials, packaging, test equipment, and testing services. They want to help formulators with all aspects of product developing efforts. By selling stuff that helps you make money, they can make money. For smaller accounts, big suppliers rely on distributors as a middleman.
As a cosmetic chemist, you are the customer and the supplier is the sales person. When you first enter the industry, the ways a supplier can help you might not be obvious. Here is how the vendor relationship works and how you can maximize them as a resource.
Chemical sales call
When you begin your job, you’ll quickly be introduced to all kinds of sales people representing suppliers. If they sense that you have any responsibility or influence about what goes in a formula, they will set up a meeting (sales call) with you. This gives them time to talk about some of their products, find out what problems you need solved, and get to personally know you. Ultimately, they want you to use their ingredient in your formula.
Most often these meetings happen right at your place of business and they can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Sometimes the meetings might even happen over lunch and (depending on the rules of your company) the supplier will buy your food.
You can get some useful information from sales calls but they can also be an incredible waste of time. It is common courtesy to accept meetings, but don’t let them take up all your time. You are a formulator and although sales calls are helpful for research, they usually aren’t directly productive.
What can suppliers do for you?
There are a number of areas in which a supplier can help you. Here is a short list.
Provide learning opportunities — In the cosmetic industry there are dozens of classes of materials to learn about and thousands of individual ingredients. Suppliers can give you most of the basic background you’ll need to get started. Sometimes they will even host poster sessions and seminars which can quickly get you up to speed on ingredient types and uses.
Get starting formulas — When you are first creating a formula and you need a place to start, most vendors can supply you with a starting formula. These are formulas that their technical services group has put together and they are basically functional. Of course, you’ll have to make significant modifications because the formulas will be packed with high levels of the vendor’s ingredient.
Getting raw material samples — If you are interested in making a new formula you will need some raw materials to start. Often your company may not have a supply or it is too difficult to get so you can request a small sample from suppliers and they’ll be happy to provide it. Just be sure you use the samples that you request as it takes time and money to get them to you and they also represent a cost for waste clean-up if they go unused.
Get prototype samples — Sometimes a raw material sounds good but you don’t have time to try it out in a formula. A supplier can give you a finished formula created in their lab so you can see if the ingredient has any potential. I always liked to get prototypes with and without the ingredient to see if I can tell any differences. You should do the same.
Test your products — Vendors are eager to get your business so they will often conduct prototype testing if you ask. You can get them to do claims testing, panel testing, consumer testing or even stability testing. But remember, evaluations cost money and vendors need some assurances that their work will ultimately lead to a sale. Try not to abuse your vendors.
Provide trend information — In order to stand out, smart vendors will conduct information studies like surveys or market trend analysis and they will share them with you. This can be helpful for you when generating new ideas, trying to determine consumer needs and providing support for your marketing group’s stories.
Suppliers can be a great resource and if you partner with them properly, they can make you a much more productive and successful formulator.