Volume 6 Issue 10 November 2005
Partner or Piecemeal?
by Mike Biffl
A lot has been said and written about supplier partnering over the past several years, and most of what I have heard rings true. It is a way to encourage your suppliers to be invested in the success of your company, not just out to make a quick sale. When it comes to machinery, this makes all the sense in the world.
In spite of the logic behind the arguments for partnering, a surprising number of companies still talk about putting a line together with equipment from several suppliers. You hear arguments about not “putting all our eggs in one basket” or that having more than one supplier involved creates a competitive situation where each company wants to outperform the other. On the surface these arguments may appear to have sound reasoning behind them, but they overlook some important factors. They also allow the window fabricator to avoid making a difficult decision by choosing a single supplier over the others.
Putting equipment from multiple suppliers in a single line adds to the burden on the operators. If they are to be cross-trained, they need to learn different interfaces. It can be difficult for operators to remember what certain terminology means on one machine versus another. In addition, the maintenance department needs to learn the control systems, software and idiosyncrasies of different equipment. If the fabricator decides it’s time for an equipment audit, multiple companies need to be scheduled to come in and review their machines on the line. Each time this happens the line has to be taken down so the technicians can review their machines. The significant cost to each of these items is not accounted for easily but shows up as a negative on the bottom line.
As for the idea of creating a competitive environment, our company believes our competitors approach each job with the same diligence. We are in a competitive arena every day and if we do not perform, future business will be lost. Putting a host of suppliers’ equipment in a single line does not increase this competitiveness. It does limit our accountability to the customer. If our machine is running properly but the line is not performing, we cannot help you. If the line is supplied by one company, we know the problem is ours and we need to find a solution. For instance, let’s say that problems are seen on finished squares after cleaning and the supplier of the corner cleaner is brought in. He sees that the welds are misaligned so he can’t help. The welder supplier then needs to be called in to review his machine. If he finds that the cuts are oversized consistently beyond allowable tolerance then a third supplier needs to be called. This is not only costly but also disruptive to production.
Approach Partnerships Wisely
Partnering needs to be approached carefully as well. This does not mean give carte blanche to one machinery supplier. In fact, it often makes sense to partner with two suppliers for your equipment needs. We all want loyal customers but, particularly for larger fabricators, it may make sense to buy complete lines from two different suppliers. This allows for a competitive situation to avoid complacency by your suppliers but also maintains consistency in what your operators and maintenance people can expect on a given line. You can still eliminate the finger pointing between suppliers that can be generated in a piecemeal line. Each supplier can be confident that if they continue doing their job, you will be a loyal customer. However, suppliers also know that they must continue to improve and innovate because another viable and approved supplier is waiting to take their share of your business.
Partnering with your equipment suppliers comes down to two things: diligent research and trust. In the beginning of this relationship with a new equipment supplier it is in your best interest to find out everything you can. Visit their facility and if possible, their customers. Have your maintenance people talk to their service support people. Ask the tough questions.
Once a supplier is approved, you need to trust them. That can be the hardest part of all. You are fortunate that there are multiple suppliers for fabricating vinyl windows. Once you decide on partnering with one or two of them, you need to let them use their expertise to provide the appropriate equipment for what you need. Remember, we all know we are only one job away from losing that future business.
Mike Biffl serves as national sales manager for Sturtz Machinery Inc. in Solon, Ohio. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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