Smaller supplier-larger customer relationships : an exploration of asymmetry
Recent research indicates a growing interest in understanding the nature of asymmetry
in relationships between large and small firms. Research to date has suggested that
asymmetry is often associated with an imbalance in size of the parties, unequal
distribution of power, or with one party investing more into and gaining less from a
relationship. However, there is a paucity of research on asymmetry in relationships from
the smaller firm's perspective and it is as yet unclear what asymmetry in relationships
means for smaller firms. In particular, the experiences of smaller suppliers in
relationships with larger customers have often been overlooked, and thus there is less
known about how smaller suppliers cope and manage in relationships with customers,
where they may contribute more but have fewer evident advantages.
A typology of asymmetry and symmetry in relationship characteristics and a subsequent
conceptual framework are derived from a literature review and exploratory interviews.
These provide a structure to explore asymmetry in relationships between smaller
suppliers and larger customers, and to examine the influence of suppliers' capabilities
on asymmetry in their relationships. The empirical data collection involved six
exploratory interviews and eight in-depth case studies of suppliers in the UK textile
industry. In total, the interviews for the study amounted to 48.
The findings from the study provide early indications that it may be problematic to refer
to customer-supplier relationships as purely asymmetrical or symmetrical, as asymmetry
and symmetry may be apparent across a wide range of relationship characteristics.
Furthermore, the findings suggest that smaller suppliers in relationships with larger
customers cannot be assumed to have high levels of asymmetry in their relationships, or
possess limited capabilities to effect change in their relationships. The findings revealed
some of the potentially destructive outcomes of asymmetry in relationships, but also
identified that the bridging capabilities of leading, learning and integrating appear to
have a significant influence on the development of more symmetry in relationships for
suppliers when asymmetry is problematic. Furthermore, the thesis provides indications
that different types of asymmetry may exist, and that these different types may offer
possibilities to identify and distinguish between different customer relationship options
and opportunities for suppliers.