Our supplier is a family-owned business, who's not always professional, i.e. very delayed responses to urgent questions, last minute price changes.
We deal with the Sales Manager, but suspect the CEO is behind these problems. Replacing this supplier is impossible because they have a unique product our clients demand. How to communicate our dissatisfaction and need for urgency without fracturing or hurting the relationship? FYI they're in a developing country that differs from typical Western standards and behaviors.
As I coming from development country, and pretty much understood your dissatisfaction with behaviors of the supplier. As you wrote that he has unique product, you should have to be side who will encourage and build a your supplier. Togather with supplier, get in proccess of develompent a bigger market, giving him instructions and financial influent to grow his production. Then, you can requesting and ask for confirmation from them serious approach and responsibility towards the obligations, without feer of hurting a relationships.
You need to reverse a thing, to your supplier business depends from you, and not you from him.
I am at your disposal for clarifications.
Every business should have a strong vendor and supplier relationships. Although this may take some years, building long lasting relationships can be the competitive edge that separates you from other businesses in your industry. Considering business are now operating across continental borders, it is good for businessmen and businesswomen to get ready for an international relationship rollercoaster.
A few tips: Consider the role your vendor and supplier plays in the success of your business. Another important factor to consider is if that role is honoring and respecting the terms and agreements that was initially discussed. When there is a conflict, it is good to first have a conversation to determine the cause. In your case, your supplier may be having a hard time meeting your demands, especially if it is international. Rather than discussing the tardiness in the delivery time, ask if the demand can be met within the allocated timeframe. Discuss, if the increase of orders have affected the delivery time. If it is financial, ask if additional compensation will ensure your orders are given a priority. Plan C, D and E, would be to fly over there yourself and show the supplier how seriously you are about your business. Perhaps this small gesture can help iron out any cultural differences that are hindering the business relationship.
The most important thing to take away from this situation is that your relationships with vendors and suppliers are like any other relationships you have outside of your business. Remember to take your time before jumping to conclusions, discuss the issue and come to a resolution without burning any bridges. Every supplier wants to maintain a good customer base and reputation. Give your supplier a chance to fix the problem and if they can't meet your demands perhaps it may be time to decrease your orders to a scale that can be met.
This is like a marriage. If you can't sit down and have an open, honest conversation you are in trouble. I suggest you call the sales manager and tell him/her that you have some important things (not issues or problems, things) you'd like to discuss. Be professional, don't get angry, don't get defensive, don't be so timid that they might walk away from you. YOU are the customer. You have a right to have a conversation.