Working with your contract manufacturer (CM) can be very similar to being in a relationship with your significant other — and sometimes it can be a rather difficult relationship. From time to time, we have customers approach us who want to leave their current CM. Sometimes it’s completely justified and sometimes, well, maybe it’s not. As with other types of relationships, however, there may be alternatives short of cut and run. Sometimes there are ways to improve that relationship and get what you want from your CM. We’re not exactly relationship counselors, far from it, but working things out are possible with a CM, just like with that significant other. Changing CMs can be time-consuming and costly. So instead of jumping ship, consider mending that relationship that could last a lifetime. Or at least until next quarter.
Two major recurring themes we often see between customers and their CMs are the lack of good communication and presence, both mental and physical. Sound familiar? This is probably something we have all experienced in one relationship or another. But who’s at fault? Is it yours? Is it theirs? Is it the customer? Is it the CM?
Well, let me put it this way, it takes two to tango.
Complete blame rarely goes to one party or the other unless there is a blatant infraction. However, there are areas of improvement and actions that can be taken by you, the customer, which could improve your relationship with your CM significantly. As a matter of fact, you could apply these actions to just about every relationship you’re in, romantic or otherwise (ahem, you’re welcome). So let’s dive into what makes a good relationship tick.
Good Communication: Every relationship expert out there will tell you that if you want to improve your relationship, it’s all about communication, communication, communication. The same goes for your relationship with your CM. If you are unhappy, let your CM know. Talk and especially listen, just like real life. We’ve often seen customers who don’t want to “rock the boat” by confronting their CM. I’m here to tell you that this is not beneficial for either party. You’ll never see anything change, but be sure to note that the approach is half the game. You probably won’t get too far by yelling at your CM. However, a direct, calm discussion could do wonders to improve your relationship and implement the changes you would like to see. Now let’s move on to the subcategories of good communication:
- Never Make Assumptions: Our customers want to believe that after all the research has been done, all the papers have been signed and all the hands have been shaken, their job is done. Everything will go smoothly from there, right? Actually, no. It’s not and it won’t. If you were to assume that’s the case once you’ve entered into a marriage, most of us know that you don’t check out after the wedding day. That’s how divorces happen. Don’t assume that your CM has everything under control from that point forward. And do remember every CM by definition has other customers. They are running multiple projects and have numerous lines going. You may slip under the radar from time to time: machines break, supply chains get backed up, shipments didn’t arrive on time, and parts can wander off. If there are any assumptions to be made, it is that these mistakes and mishaps will happen. Taking it upon yourself to be proactive will cut these blunders in half.
- Ask questions: If your product delivery date has been pushed back by your CM, do you just sit there idle or do you ask questions? If the prices jumped from your original RFQ, you’re going to want to know why. Now apply a similar situation to your romantic relationship: say your partner comes home quite a bit later than usual, like hours later. I may be taking a shot in the dark here, but I’m going to assume most of you are going to want to know why. You’re definitely going to ask questions and you’re hopefully going to resolve the issue. That is also true about your relationship with your manufacturer. If you don’t speak up and ask questions, nothing will ever get resolved. Better to ask what you may feel are “stupid questions” now than to not and feel really stupid later. And, sad but true, the old proverb The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease is really, really valid for contract manufacturing. There’s no need to be obnoxious or unprofessional needless to say, but do get your concerns out there.
- Be a good listener: Even if you are 100.0000% sure you are in the right, it’s still a good idea to listen to the CM’s view. They are, after all, experts in their field, and some of the topics—logistics, supply chain, reverse logistics—are pretty tricky. Plus, it always helps in the negotiating process to be able to say “I heard what you had to say, but here is how I’d like it to be.” I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing more satisfying than when you feel like your partner is really listening.
Be Present: One of the things every good relationship needs is for each party to be an active, present participant, mentally AND physically. The mental application of presence is pretty easy for our customers to understand. Where weekly teleconferences with your CM seems like it should be enough, sometimes it isn’t. A physical presence every so often is a necessity these days (but please, make sure your physical presence is more frequent in your personal relationships. A pillow won’t hold your significant other at night). It’s important to see your manufacturing line in action: observe processes and procedures, equipment, timing, and quality of the finished product. Walk the floor, chat with the operators, check out the inventory in the warehouse and check in with the night shift. Making your presence known and your voice heard tends to get more attention when you are there in person.
And just a small disclaimer: frequently being in your CM’s presence doesn’t mean they expect you to hold them at night, in case you were wondering . . .
Instead of giving up on the relationship, work on the relationship. You’ll find that utilizing good communication and a being a regular presence will do wonders. Some of the best relationship advice I ever received was from a couple who is still going strong after 30 years, “work hard for that relationship and that more often than not, that relationship will work hard for you.” Thanks Mom and Dad.