Tips from the inside: "Our company dates back to the pie company my grandmother started in 1927. Today, we have over 1,000 employees in six manufacturing facilities and are one of the largest suppliers of pies and baked goods to quick service restaurant chains and large retailers," says Paula Marshall, CEO of The Bama Companies. "In a sense, when I pick one supplier over another, it's like I'm buying its entire facility. It's not just about your ability to supply a product and ensure the supply; it's also about the facility the product is made in. Is it clean? Does it have a good maintenance program and good food-safety programs in place? In order for me to serve my customers, I have to be confident that I'm buying a safe and reliable product from you.

"We also look at the company cultures of businesses we're considering working with. We talk to their management people, look at their environmental programs, and talk to a lot of employees. A company that has high employee turnover would be a real red flag to us. If it doesn't have a stable work environment, that's indicative of a lot of problems that we might be buying."

What not to do: "Don't underestimate the power of your company's website. Having a great site doesn't cost a lot, and it helps give us a good first impression of someone we might not have worked with before. The Internet is an awesome tool, and we use it quite extensively."

What The Bama Companies is looking for: Ingredients, baking machinery and equipment, engineering services